Letters | Friendly Encounter


Friendly Encounters Also Sneak Up at You

A recent op-ed addresses a reality we are sadly accustomed to reading or hearing about (“Jew Hatred Sneaks Up at You in the Most Unexpected Places,” July 5). However, surely there are times when we are moved by moments of connection between people of different faiths, and those stories need to be told more now than in the past.

In July 2017, my wife and I traveled to Hungary, Austria and Germany. It was not as carefree a trip as those we have taken in the past, because what happened in those countries during the Holocaust weighs heavily on the Jewish soul. I was reminded time and again that the sin of indifference and complicity enabled the slaughter to increase in intensity and depravity. There were many times on our journey I did not have words to describe what I was feeling. It felt as if oxygen had been sucked out of me.

After five days in Budapest, we boarded our river cruise. On our way to Vienna the first day, I used the time to draft thoughts for the High Holidays in a quiet place on a small ship that held 200 passengers. People saw me writing, and a few fellow passengers asked me what I was doing. One thing led to another and folks learned I’m a rabbi.

The next day on the windblown top deck, I was hailed over by “good ol’ boys from Texas.” I would later learn they carry concealed weapons in America the way I walk around with loose change. They asked me, “Y’all really a rabbi?” and it was all good from there. At their request, I taught them one Hebrew word a day. When daily walking tours from the ship occasionally crossed paths in cities we visited in Germany, the Texans would see me and call out, “Hey rabbi, how’s it going today?”  

Our faiths are different and so too our political leanings, but our willingness to bridge the divide mattered. We talked about our families and the faiths in which we were raised and, a year later, I am still in touch with one of the Texans who lives in Houston. This was something unexpected that happened on a river boat cruise in Germany. You might say it snuck up on me, and happily so.

Rabbi Elliot J. Holin | Founding Rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park


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