On Tuesday, December 9, a man with a knife stormed into the New York City Chabad headquarters yelling “I want to kill the Jews” and stabbed a 22 year old student in the neck. Chabad has always been a special home away from home for me and this is why:
When I first got to Thailand, I was embarrassed to find pizza cafes and “hamburgerer” joints overcrowded with Americans forsaking a culinary kingdom for subpar imitations of their own staples – pizza sauce should never be ketchup.
However, after almost a month in Thailand – a month of Thai breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and second dinners of either “American spicy” or “Thai spicy” – I finally understood my fellow countrymen. All I wanted was an American sized carb-bomb to snuff out the smoldering debris that used to be my intestines.
Perusing through Bangkok for dinner on my final Friday night, my stomach shuddered at the scent of each passing pad thai stand and curry shop until I happen to stumble upon a Chabad. Challah!
I’ve always understood Chabad as a bunch of Orthodox folks with the single guiding principle of: give me your tired, your poor, your Jewish masses yearning to eat free.
That being said, a giant loaf of challah could be the one cure to extinguish the nuclear fallout from the three-week onslaught of atom bombs successively dropped in my gut.
The man at the Chabad door looked at me quizzically.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a thick Israeli accent.
“Yes, can I join you for services tonight?” My clothes were torn and tattered and so was my body – this was a few days after I bit gravel in a motorbike crash.
“This is a service for Jewish people,” the man said dismissively.
“I am Jewish,” I replied as he skeptically examined the 6 foot 2, blond-haired, blue-eyed raggedy traveler before him. Fully Jewish, at that. My folks are both 100% Jewish as were their folks before them. But somewhere along the line, some frisky Cossack must have dipped into our gene pool during any given Polish pogrom and produced a long lineage of Aryan looking offspring.
“It’s not for you here,” he brushed me off. Annoyed, I pulled out my passport and read him my last name. “Bluestein. Blue. STEIN.”
Unfortunately, the boy in the 9 year old passport photo with glasses looked more like Harry Potter than the Viking marauder presenting it.
“It’s you or did you have it made up the street?” he accused, referring to the city’s dozens of shameless counterfeiters.
“It’s an old photo. How do I prove to you I’m Jewish?”
“Emmm. What are the four questions of Pesach.”
Challenge accepted. There I was, standing outside a crowded marketplace in Bangkok in December reciting a Passover prayer for an Israeli security guard that seems to think I’m collecting data for the Wehrmacht.
“Ma nishtana ha layla hazeh, mikol haleilot,” I sung out.
Just as I was getting into it, a rabbi stepped out of the front door and interrupted me, delighted to see a weary traveler uttering a completely irrelevant prayer.
“Stop messing with the boy,” the bearded black-hat said to the snickering guard. “Come in!” he demanded.
I proceeded to join the Bangkok Chabad in a beautiful service and, as expected, was invited to a tremendous dinner afterward with the rabbi, his family, and at least 3 loaves of challah.
Judaism is a way of life built around tradition, as Jews on any corner of this planet will be saying the same prayers, singing the same songs, and eating the same challah on any given Friday night.
One of the most important of those traditions is hospitality. Ever since Abraham took in the three wanderers from Mamre, Jews have sought the mitzvah of opening their homes and hearts to others.
Nowhere have I seen this sentiment of hospitality expressed more than in Chabad Houses abroad, where no matter your background, language, or level of devotion, you can always find home.
Chabad-Lubavitch may be divisive, but one of its core tenants is that sentiment of hospitality, one which I aspire to replicate in my own home.
From Montreal to Toulouse to Thailand, I’ve found so much comfort in that Jewish hospitality that has bonded strangers, wanderers, and hungry, hungry Hebrews for thousands of years.
After my first birthright trip, I was stricken with the terrible genetic disease known as “wanderlust” – passed down to me by my great32 grandfather, Moses. Hungry, Hungry Hebrew captures my benign observations disguised as rants as I meander around the world