Saturday, October 11, 2008

And now?

Yom Kippur a powerful time.

And this year was extra powerful. Boruch Hashem, we had a full-house for the Shul services, everyone was focused on davening and connecting and the atmosphere was electric. We ended Neilah on a high with the sounds of "Shema Yisroel" and the lively Napoleon's March reverberating in our ears.

Soon enough, the last Shul members headed home and the kids went to sleep. In the quiet I mused over how Yom Kippur catapults us into transcendence, and then leaves us in suspended animation. Our challenge is to crystallize the experience, capture the high, take it home and live differently for the next year.

But how?

By the next morning, I had my answer.

Dr. Schneur Levin had been my paediatrician. I have very fond memories of his boundless love for us kiddie-patients, his quirky humour and his eccentric homemade remedies. Visits to the doctor fun and his house-calls (yes, he still did house-calls) lifted the mood of the whole family.

I hadn't seen Dr. Levin for at least 25 years. I "outgrown" him and moved on to a regular GP a couple of years before my Barmitzvah and we only crossed paths sporadically over the next few years.

On Friday morning, I heard that Dr. Levin had passed away. I decided to attend his funeral to say a final thank-you for all the amazing things he did for me as a kid.

As the funeral procession made its way through the lines of graves, I walked alongside an old friend's father.

'They could have written a book on him," he said, "I could tell you a hundred of stories about him".

"Ok," I prompted, "Then at least tell me one."

Dave told me how Schneur Levin had attended the "Jewish Government" school in Doornfontein. Apparently, the school still operates today as a regular government school (there are no Jews living in that part of Johannesburg any longer).

Some years ago, Dr. Levin visited the school, probably for "old times sake". He chatted to the staff, walked the familiar corridors and reminisced about the "old days". He also paged through the old school journal and found the entry from the day his brother had fallen in the playground and broken his leg.

The journal entry recorded how the school had called for an ambulance, which had cost the equivalent of 25c, to take him to hospital.

Now, Dr. Levin knew that his parents did not have that sort of money in those days and realised that the school must have paid for the ambulance.

Without hesitating, he calculated the 30-or-so years worth of interest on the 25c and handed the school an donation to that effect!

That's when I realised it was no coincidence that Dr. Levin was escorted from this world on that day. After all, he held the clue to translating the inspiration of Yom Kippur: Be a mentsch.


Anonymous said...

That was a nice blog. I'm not Jewish but I decided to fast for Yom Kippur this year and reflect on the past year. I had a lot to be thankful for, a lot of things I had resolved to do year after year that I just didn't have the will power to do, then this year was like some sort of breakthrough because suddenly I had done more than a few things on my list, when that happens I know it is G_d. Fasting food and water didn't feel very good but I did it somehow. Then I wanted to celebrate the feast of tabernacles but there are just so many details, I suppose that's an excuse. I can't help but want to be like G_d's people, I know I'm the outsider but I do believe I was adopted into G_d's family, so that makes me very curious about all those Torah commands G_d gave concerning feasts and festivals that I never practice. Its a bit overwhelming. But I wanted to contact you because you answered a question for me on answerbag, now I have two more but no one has answered them. I have so many questions about the Jewish faith, because I wrote a Young Adults' novel and one of the characters is Jewish. So I don't want to get anything wrong before sending the story out for consideration by a publisher. Can you please contact me? Or can I contact you?

Rabbi S said...

Hey Jadzia

Sounds like the Yom Kippur experience was quite testing : )

Please be in touch, you can reach me at


Rabbi S