Meeting the Rebbe

Tomorrow night, we’ll be hosting the Biala Rebbe of Jerusalem, Rabbi Avraham Yerachmiel Rabinowicz, in our house. Some of our friends, and a bunch of random people we don’t know, will come over and ask the Rebbe a bunch of questions about basically anything.

It’s pretty random. Or, if you see it that way, it isn’t random at all — in that mystical hippie-like way, or that Rebbe-like way, that everything on Earth that happens is connected.

biala rebbe
I first met the Rebbe when I was in yeshiva in Israel. One of our rabbis started taking up the habit of hanging out at the Rebbe’s synagogue each week during his visiting hours, every Wednesday and Thursday nights from 10 or 11 P.M. until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I don’t know what he said in order to get us to come, but one night, we tagged along. There was a bunch of us. One, Dan, was actually his first cousin — separated by marriage and cultures and languages, since the Rebbe only speaks Hebrew and Yiddish.

Our appointment was scheduled for 10:30. Of course, this was Israel, where time runs differently than it does in the rest of the world.  Also, just sitting in the synagogue was kind of like sitting in a hospital lobby in reverse — that is, instead of seeing all sorts of people in various modes of depression and despair, you’re seeing all sorts of people in various modes of despair and joy. People asking for blessings to have children, to meet their One True Love, to succeed in business, to find out what the hell they’re doing with their lives.

Mostly, if you couldn’t guess, I was in that last category, although at times, over my year in Israel, I fit into almost all of the other categories. (Almost. That having-kids thing was still way over my head, at that point.) I wasn’t sure about anything. Whether I’d gotten married (which I had a few months ago) for valid reasons, or just because we were Orthodox and we both figured we had to. Whether I should be in yeshiva or trying to get more writer gigs. Whether writing my memoir about struggling with dating girls and being Orthodox, which I’d sold to a publisher just before I left for Israel, was a bad idea, or whether it was going to help other people with the same issues.

I never felt like I shouldn’t be saying any of this, talking to the Rebbe about hooking up with girls and wanting to be friends with girls or missing my best friend, who’d just died. Weird, yes. Awkward, no. I just sat down, let my bad Hebrew fly, and with it all of the stuff I’d been holding in when I spoke to other people. Even my best friend. We were too much a part of each other’s lives. This strange, quirky man with the massive beard and the wise smile on the other side of the table, I felt like I could say anything. We didn’t have any of the same friends. We never ran into each other on the street. We didn’t even speak the same default language — and for me, when I said something in Hebrew, it didn’t feel like I was saying actual words. Instead, it felt like a dream, a foggy half-reality where you have memories but you aren’t totally sure what you’re saying until it’s already been said.

So tomorrow night we’re hosting him in our house. We wanted to cook him dinner, but he doesn’t eat these days — he just drinks raw juices. Good thing we have a juicer. Itta ran to the store today and stocked up on some extra carrots and apples. That part, at least, we know what to expect. What goes into the Rebbe’s mouth, we’ll be prepared for. What comes out of it when we ask our questions — that’ll be a whole different story.

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