When most folks, myself included, think about Hasidic Jews, they don’t think of open-minded and gregarious folks who venture outside of their tight-knit communities. A new video made by an influential rabbi, Rabbi Yoel Gold, aims to change that perception of a community of Jews many deem “ultra-Orthodox.”
Rabbi Gold told the story of one of the most powerful rabbis in the largest Orthodox enclave in America in Lakewood, New Jersey, which is home to more than 50,000 Jews; a town which is on track to quadruple its population between 2000 and 2030. Rabbi Geldzahler died several years ago, and after his death (called his niftar), his daughter heard inspiring stories of his work helping those within the Jewish community. What surprised her, however, was a chance encounter with a gas station attendant who knew her father for several years prior to his death.
Driving down the Garden State Parkway, Chana Malka Geldzahler realized she was about to run out of gas and pulled over into a gas station. The attendant, a “little person” around 3 feet tall, asked Ms. Geldzahler about a photo that was in her car, which was sitting in the front seat because she was moving. The photo was of her father, one of the most renowned rabbis in the United States, but Vinny, the gas station attendant, just knew the rabbi as a favorite customer.
Vinny told Ms. Geldzahler about his wonderful relationship with her father, who was also the “Rosh Yeshiva” (a teacher) of a local Jewish school. Her father had told Vinny that he would be lecturing his students on Vinny’s story, about how if he was able to overcome his difficulties related to his disability and hold a full-time job and work hard, they, too, could do anything they set their minds to. Vinny told Rabbi Geldzahler’s daughter, “He was the first person to ever make me feel tall.”