A Kind Word

I remember a German woman who asked at the end of Shabbat if she could call her mother in Germany. She had arrived on Friday night and was so moved that she decided to return for Shabbat lunch and seudah shlishi (third meal of Shabbat) It was urgent! Of course the Machlis family was happy to oblige. After the usual pleasantries with her mother, this woman in her mid forties asked her mother if she was Jewish? The silence that hennyfollowed told volumes. Her mother, in her late 80’s had hoped to take this secret to her grave. I’m not sure what happened to this woman. But this woman met Harav Machlis like he meets many of his guests, on his walk from his home in Maalot Dafna to the Western Wall each Shabbat morning where he leads a prayer service for the late comers and stragglers. He loves to greet visitors from abroad. He says it makes an impression. “Israel and the Jewish people are unique and people visiting should understand  that we value people.” Many times he finds this guests in the Arab market. Bnai Brith trips or families on vacation shopping in the Arab market. His sincerity and kindness speak volumes in that simple, Shalom. Most often he will invite these strangers for prayer services followed by lunch at his home. It’s that simple interaction that opens peoples eyes and minds. To get an invitation in a foreign country for lunch sparks curiosity and has led many people to follow. If that’s not enough, Jeff Siedel of the Jewish Student Center in the Old City usually has a nice group of stragglers waiting to go back with Harav Machlis to his home for lunch. Sometimes one or two and sometimes ten and
twenty. And for close to three decades, Henny was there to welcome each guest. For many people, its their first real experience to learn about Judaism, religion, God, Shabbat and even about oneself. The openness of their home and the ability to interact, learn and enjoy a sumptuous meal is unparalleled. Henny understood what a home could be. She just turned it into a small Temple where one could experience the Shabbat delight and a true closeness to God and his or her fellow human. Henny created a home that allowed true genuine spiritual growth.

May her memory be a blessing for all!

Greatest Up Close

I hope I will have the strength to write a series of posts about a family that continues to inspire so many people like myself.

It was Friday night, Shabbat Teshuvah, 1995 that myself and four other friends decided to go to the Machlis family for dinner. We all heard a lot about the Machlis experience, and Harav Machlis himself was our afternoon teacher at B.M.T. had been asking since the beginning of the semester to come for Shabbat.

Everything we were told about the Machlis experience was true. People from around the world, Jewish, non-Jewish, religious, secular, all ages, the poor, the destitute, spectators and curious and more all came together under one roof to experience Shabbat. We found a place to sit facing the kitchen. It looked the most comfortable and thought we would have a good view as the evening unfolded. But we ended up moving several times since we had to add more tables and chairs to accommodate the constant flow of people arriving. During this time, Henny was preparing food, welcoming guests and attending to her children. But we didn’t get the impression that her pregnancy was on her mind. But we were in shock. Henny was past due, expecting any moment and didn’t show any signs that she was going to slow down. It was Shabbat like usual. Henny went back and forth between the kitchen and the Shabbat table ensuring that everyone was eating and enjoying themselves. She shared words of inspiration, talked with the countless guests, all with a smile and calmness. Henny gave birth two days later.

machlishomeFor the next two years I made myself a regular at the Machlis home. Not just on Shabbat, but during the week as well.

It was in their home that I learned about myself, Shabbat, the value of people, the purpose of money, family, smiling, acts of kindness and much more. In there home, thousands of people like myself learned about life from Henny, Harav Machlis and their kids.

One night during the week Harav Machlis saw me standing at the bus stop. He stopped to ask what direction I was going. I answered that the food being served at school was not to my liking and that I was going to town to get a bite to eat. He told me to get in the car and that he was also going out for dinner. He knew a restaurant in town, the chef; the best in town. Sure enough, Henny was cooking for her kids plus one. But never did I get the feeling that I was out of line or disturbing their family life. The only real signal that I received was that they cared and enjoyed my company.

That was the first lesson I learned from Henny and Harav Machlis. It all starts with people. The highest value in life is treating people well, with respect and loving kindness.