Leibel Baumgarten
Jul 7, 2016 · 2 min read

The Jew I met in Borough Park

It was just my second day on my new job when I met him. He walked into the office, a jovial Chossid, and I could tell immediately he was that guy — the office joker. He seemed happy to meet me, the new guy, perhaps so he could recycle jokes.

After a few cracks about the dull office atmosphere, he asks, “When is the yohrtzeit?”

“Shabbos,” I respond, as my heart sinks. I know how this goes down: I, the lone Lubavitcher in a Borough Park office, gets to be the butt of jokes that denigrate and ridicule Chabad. It’s usually fine, I can handle a joke, but I am really not in the mood.

“Are you coming here for Shabbos? Yoel Kahn is coming. There are signs all over.”

Really? That’s the best you got?

“I want to go to the Ohel,” he says, “but it’s going to be crazy tonight.”

Pleasantly surprised, I tell him the crowds should be relatively light tonight (Wednesday) and he should be able to spend a few minutes in the Ohel without even waiting in line.

“People don’t realize who the Rebbe was,” he tells me. “I’m reading this book now, it’s called ‘Rebbe.’ Have you read it?”

“By Telushkin? Not yet,” I admit.

Looking at me like I’m crazy, he informs me it was a New York Times bestseller. “The Rebbe was a genius. People don’t realize just what an incredible leader he was.”

Before I can respond, someone else interjects with a common question since the advent of Instagram, “Why do Lubavitchers get engaged at a cemetery?”

After answering the question, I almost forget our previous discussion. The joker didn’t. He tells me he goes to the Ohel often.

“I have a son with special needs. So I take him to the Ohel with me. You’re gonna think I’m crazy to say this. You’ll think I am … eccentric, that’s the word people use about me. I go in to the Ohel with my son and I say, ‘Rebbe, you sent Shluchim all over the world to put on Tefillin with Yidden. Right here is a Yid who wants to put on Tefillin, but can’t. Rebbe, take care of my boy.’”

I’m quiet. I have no words to speak.

“When I leave the Ohel, I feel like… You are going to think I’m crazy … I feel…” He points to his chest and says, “I feel like the stones are gone. The Ohel is a special place. The stones are just….gone.”