I worked for a particularly cantankerous man in Johannesburg many years ago. He was prone to picking up his phone, screaming into it and then pounding it on the desk until it broke. He cursed and swore, he chain smoked while pacing around the carpets of his file cluttered offices. He ordered food, barely tasted it, changed his order, barely tasted it, took phone calls mid-sentence. He was the most outrageous person I had ever met.
I had moved from Pennington on the South Coast and was unaware of many of the nuances of life off the beach and the simplicity of my slow prior life. It was during this time that my marriage came to a grinding halt and I was suddenly alone with two small children. I was like a deer trapped in headlights. Paralysed with fear.
Well this man not only changed my working hours from mornings to full time, he also accommodated my little children when they finished pre-school and play school so that they could play in his garden and enabled me to fetch them from school every day. His trusted houseman, Walter became a fixture at my house and assisted with fetching and carrying and maintaining my house and garden. I was so relieved at the time that I think I totally overlooked the enormity of the kindness. I was suddenly included in happy Shabbat dinners and gleaming children’s eyes. I was made to belong.
It is now many years and careers later that as I sit on the sidewalks of the Atlantic Seaboard and hear this distinctive drawl from beautiful long , gleaming haired beauties and the more intense look of the hook nosed men that I am transported back to my time. You see, I had no notion of what it was to live a Jewish life, I was taken in, but I only understand more about it now. It is not necessarily a faith, it is a way of being and living your daily life. Lighting those candles on a Friday night and giving thanks for your week, for the safety of your family, for the safety of those you love and committing to do good deeds, is a way of life. I understand now, that I was simply a good deed, a “Ma’asim tovin”in the broader sense, but particularly a “Gemilut hassadim” – an act of loving kindness was bestowed on me and my family. The joy of the meal that follows the lighting of the candles, celebrates the food, the occasion and the joy of cooking.
Jewishness is not simply a function of the intellect, but an expression of heart and soul, of psyche and senses. For Jews, doing good is what defines a mensch – a good human being.
Thank you for making me a part of becoming a Mensch – truly grateful – Old Jewish Soul
2 thoughts on “A Mensch”
Hi Shan – just back from attending my first Jewish wedding in Jhb / have attended many Shabat’s the last 8 months . Totally agree about being Jewish – it’s special and I admire the love and warmth they show each other and outsiders like me . It’s a cultural issue more than a religious belief . I even own a zebra yarmulka- promise :)) take care and keep writing
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A beautiful way of life, thanks