On Friday I have several friends coming over to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, so I needed to prepare. My friend, Mai, is one of them. She had lived in a Jewish neighborhood here in Milan, so we decided to go on an excursion across town to buy some challah bread for the celebration.
But since neither of us is from a Jewish background, we weren’t aware that the shops close down several hours before the holiday. I had thought that the holiday started tonight, but it actually started last night.
So we were disappointed to find shop after shop closed. When we found the coffee shop also closed, I stopped to read the sign on the door, which explained about the holiday. A woman at the bus stop in front of us began talking to us, but with the glass between us and her, we couldn’t understand what she was saying. So we went to the bus stop and she said it again, but she was speaking Hebrew.
Seeing the puzzled looks on our faces, she said, “English?” And she told us that the coffee shop was closed for Rosh Hashanah. She asked about our backgrounds. I introduced myself, and when I said Texas, she responded “Houston?” It was the only city in Texas that she knew because she has a relative there. When Mai told her that she’s from Brazil, she stood and did her best attempt at a Samba and spoke a few words in Portuguese. Then she introduced herself: Rivkah.
Then she wondered why we wouldn’t know that the shops all close early, and figured out that we weren’t Jewish. So she asked why we were there. We told her that we had come to buy challah bread for the celebration. She said, “But why? I saw Jesus . . . somewhere. . . .” I pointed to the Jesus label on my purse. That was what she had seen. “So why do you celebrate Rosh Hashanah?”
We explained that we are Christians who celebrate the Hebrew roots of our faith. She understood immediately that this is because Christianity came out of Judaism. She stood and invited us up to her apartment. She had been out sunning herself at the bus stop before she had to leap into action before the holiday starts.
Her husband and son were sleeping. We entered quietly and she went to the freezer and got out two small loaves of challah and gave them to us. As we thanked her, she waved it off, saying that she was doing a mitzvah, a good deed that will go on her record before God.
She explained that she had grown up in a non-religious Jewish family in Israel. But some years back, she decided to become religious. She had found her husband on a dating website and now they are married and both orthodox Jews.
Then she asked us a favor: pray for her and her family. Of course we said yes. She wrote their full names out for us: son, self, and husband, and specified the prayers we were to pray for them, which I dutifully wrote down because writing English is a chore for her.
We left quickly, knowing that she had a lot of work to do before the holiday starts. We were both astonished at how God had set this whole thing up just so that we could meet Rivkah. And since she had converted to orthodoxy, this says to me that she’s a seeker. God promised that those who seek Him will find Him.
And when I got home, I prayed for them according to Rivkah’s request, and concluded with the Aaronic blessing:
Y’varekhekha Adonai v’yishmerekha (Hashem bless thee, and keep thee);
Ya’er Adonai panav eleikha vichunekha (Hashem make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee);
Yissa Adonai panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha shalom (Hashem lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee shalom), (Bamidbar (Numbers) 6:24-26, OJB).
Shana tova, everyone! Happy New Year! God is good!
 Her name is a nice one in her native Brazil, but doesn’t work so well in Italy, where it means never.
 Note to self: Google calendar only shows the first full day of the holiday, not the evening it actually starts!
 This time of year, the Jews do good deeds before the Day of Atonement, when God writes their name in the Book of Life.
 Jeremiah 29:13. See also Deuteronomy 4:29; 1 Chronicles 28:9; & 2 Chronicles 15:2.
 Orthodox Jewish Bible.