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Lessons from an encounter on a London Bus

Friday, 4 May, 2018 - 6:19 pm

dreamstime_xs_54431125.jpgGrowing up in London included many uniquely British experiences, which included things like seeing the Royal Family from time to time, visiting Harrods and not buying anything, and of course travelling on London’s Double Decker Red Buses.  When travelling on the buses it was always more fun sitting upstairs on the bus and especially in the front seat where you almost felt like you were the driver from twenty feet up. Of course having the Conductor going around and collecting tickets and issuing a little piece of paper from his machine that he wore around his neck was part of the experience and drama.

Even within London buses there were some buses that were just a lot more fun, as these buses had an open doorway at the back of the bus, through which people would get on and off at bus stops, or better yet, run along and jump on as it was moving or jump off as it was slowing down. One such bus was the number 73 bus that went through our neighborhood and when you rode on it, you knew that you were experiencing a uniquely London ride on those noisy, squashy and rumbling red buses.

I have some distinct recollections of some special moments which used to occur when we would give up our seats for the elderly on those busses. You see, my parents raised us with the Jewish dictum “Mipnei Seiva Takum” “one rises for the elderly”, and to us that meant that we always gave up our seats for those who needed it, including and often for an elderly man or woman who was carrying lots of bags.

I distinctly recall one man getting so emotional and telling us how much he appreciated seeing young boys having respect for their elders and it was the first time that someone ever stood up and gave him a seat. Of course that moment stayed with me forever, but as I think back to it, I know that it was thanks to the values and respect that my parents imbued us with, in how we treat those around us, respect the elderly, and in how we represent the Yarmulkas on our head and our obvious Jewish identity.

The truth is, that it wasn’t just about standing up for the elderly, rather we always knew that looking Jewish the way we did, came with a big responsibility in how we act and behave. Whether we liked it or not, people would look at our behavior as reflective of our Jewish identity and values that we lived by. For this reason, in addition to not fighting with my brothers because it was wrong (we did our fair share), or not throwing rubbish on the floor because it was wrong, I always felt an added sense of responsibility, being that my behavior was never reflective simply of me, rather it was always perceived as a reflection of the Jewish education, values and the Torah that we live by.

This concept is actually spoken of in this week’s portion, where we are instructed to always Sanctify G-d’s Name and are told not to Desecrate G-d’s name. While there are different meanings to these instructions including ones that go the very core of our Jewish identity, another dimension of these verses, is about the responsibility that we all carry as being part of the Jewish people. Whether we like it or not, we all carry the badge, and our actions are never judged as individual actions alone, rather they are always reflective of the values and tradition that we live by.

A friendly smile or a rude stare, make all the difference in how we engage in the store or the street, and have the ability to either bring a person close and help them appreciate the values, or G-d forbid, it can do the opposite and cause a person to dislike those values and all who live by them. Of course the underlying reason why we are kind, should be just because it is the right thing to do and this should become an inherent part of the way we act. Yet at the same time, being representatives of our faith and values, is another added component that makes the responsibility to act that way, that much greater.

This is not about convincing people to become Jewish or not, as that is not part of the Jewish Mission.  Rather it can be looked at, as living up the values and ethics with which we have been endowed with by G-d which at the same time, can help influence and inspire the society around us to also care for what is right and good for themselves and for all of mankind.

Good Shabbos / Shabbat Shalom


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