Rabbi Yossi Marcus' son at the shuk in Israel
Rabbi Yossi Marcus' son at the shuk in Israel

How I met my brother

When our tour guide Gadi rolled down the window and addressed the security guard as “achi” — “my brother” — I was surprised that he just happened to have a brother working at the Masada parking lot, particularly as his “brother” responded with a Russian accent and did not say much more then “yashar, yashar — keep going straight.” I soon learned that everyone Gadi addressed was “achi” and that I was in a country inhabited by a very large family.

I learned more about this family at Tel Aviv’s “Dialogue in the Dark” museum, where visitors experience what it’s like to operate with zero vision. We were guided from one pitch-black room to another by the calm and encouraging instructions of Meir, whom we met only through his voice. He taught us how to navigate our way through touch and sound, even how to order a drink and pay for it. Only at the end of the tour did Meir surprise us with the completely unexpected fact that he himself was blind from birth.

As we had our drinks, I overheard the receptionist come in and tell Meir in Hebrew that his ride to Jerusalem was leaving and that if he missed it he’d have to take a bus. Meir told her he had to stay because he had promised us some time to converse with him. The receptionist then asked us in English if we could give Meir a “tremp,” a ride. Of course we agreed, and had the added benefit of a mitzvah and a chance to converse at length with Meir.

After we dropped him off at his apartment building, my wife remarked that such an experience would be highly unlikely at a California or New York museum. But if your brother is heading to Jerusalem, it’s only natural to ask for a tremp.

Then there was the late Friday afternoon when I realized we had run out of milk for the baby. I rushed out to Emek Refaim to buy some, but all the markets were already closed for Shabbat. I finally found one café still open, but it didn’t sell milk. The proprietor saw I was desperate and offered to sell me a bottle from his own stash. I proffered a large bill for which he didn’t have change, so I said, “Take the money and I’ll come back after Shabbat for the change.” To which he said: “Keep the money, and pay me after Shabbat.” This man had never met me before and, at least superficially, we seemed very different, what with his bare head and me with my large kippah and Hasidic beard. But he apparently saw me as a brother.

My last “achi” experience was very emotional. A terrorist had murdered four soldiers in Jerusalem. My brother Chaim decided to take our extended family, in Israel for my sister’s wedding, to visit the parents of one of the soldiers, Erez Orbach z”l. A day before the wedding, we showed up at Erez’s home. His parents were deeply moved by our visit and began telling us all about their son. About how he had originally been rejected by the army because of a rare condition and how he had fought to be accepted. About how much Erez cared and did for others. They told us how moved they were that “complete strangers” from California had come with all their children, along with the bride on the day before her wedding, to visit them in their time of sorrow.

As we bid them farewell, the father embraced Chaim, and choking back tears said simply, “Todah, achi…”

Rabbi Yossi Marcus
Rabbi Yossi Marcus

Rabbi Yossi Marcus is the director of Chabad of the North Peninsula and editor of the Kehot editions of Psalms, Haggadah and Pirkei Avot.