The importance of being outwardly Jewish

I work in a University environment at RMIT. I’ve noticed over the last few years an increasing number of Jewish students. Traditionally, Jews populate Melbourne and Monash Universities because of their stature and that they house both Law and Medicine. Jewish kids are diversifying now. It’s no longer the case that parents kvell solely when they can say “my son is doing medicine” or “my daughter is doing law”.  The modern parent knows that the age-old dictum of חנוך על פי דרכו — educate according to the needs/capabilities of the student/child — is critical. Furthermore, the old notion of one degree, one profession is stale. Commonly, people move not only from one employer to another, but often from one profession to another. Generic skills and capabilities, such as clear thinking, problem solving and social aptitude are important.

"Macho Man" Randy Savage (yes, he's Jewish)

RMIT has world-class strength in Design (Art, Architecture, etc), Computer Science & IT and Engineering so I am not surprised that we are now seeing more Jews at RMIT. But how do I know there are Jews? Sure, I could fool myself that nobody will notice me and stand near a Chabad student stand, or an AUJS stand or similar, but hey, I’m more likely to be accused of being a schnorrer or pervert at my age if I hang out over there! No, the reason I know there are Jews relates to my office door. This story has happened more than once; especially over the last few years.

Many years ago, I wrote to R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (through his right hand man R’ Yossi Efrati, and this was well before he assumed the Litvish mantle of Posek or Gadol HaDor) and asked whether my office door needed to have a מזוזה. I argued that I basically “lived” in my office from the early morning, till the evening. I ate there, I davened there, and sometimes I even learned Torah there. It wasn’t my office per se in the sense that I was the only person who had a key (there always being a master-key, as in any organisation) but I was the only person with a personal key. I can go through all the reasoning upon request, together with R’ Elyashiv’s answer. Let me know. R’ Elyashiv replied that I should affix a מזוזה but that I should do so without making a ברכה because of the doubt.

It’s 10am on a Friday morning and I am coming and going through my office door, and notice a curly-haired, blue-eyed, student who is sort of hanging around. I don’t think anything of it. There is a lecture theatre near my office and students often meander the corridor waiting for a lecture. I enter my office and leave the door ajar. I often do that, especially on a Friday, when traditionally there aren’t as many students and it is quieter. After a few moments he appears in the doorway and says:

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice your מזוזה, do you mind if I come in”

He asked where there was a Shule nearby for Shabbos! I informed him that East Melbourne was the closest but that I’d put him in contact with Rabbi Daniel Ravin (the Chabad Shaliach on campus). Ha! The student was from Venezuela, and had been to Rabbi Ravin’s house for lunch the previous Shabbos. Anyway, I looked up and found a mobile number for Rabbi Dovid Gutnick of East Melbourne and passed it on. He then said:

“is there any way that I can go to Rabbi Ravin’s house without driving on shabbos”

I was taken aback. I wouldn’t have picked him as a Yid as he stood near my office, and now he’s trying not to drive on Shabbos! It touched me. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to fraternise with students on a social level according to University rules, so I’m out of the picture. I responded that he should speak to Rabbi Ravin about this problem. I suggested he was living in the wrong end of town; he is only here for a semester, though.

He kissed my מזוזה as he left.

So, I’m a somewhat a sentimentalist—I looked up at my מזוזה  and thought how different this morning might have been if there was nothing on my door. ‘ברוך ה

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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