The 5 Minute Conversion

A Chabad Chassid and a Hezbollah trainee meet on a subway and strike up a conversation… If you think this is a joke, then think again. – An extract from “The Abraham Principle”

My wife and I were traveling on a Toronto subway, sitting and talking, when a young man took up a position in the aisle directly in front of us, holding an exceptionally well-worn copy of “Hezbollah: Party of God.”

At eighteen inches, I was uniquely situated to appreciate the intimate relationship that probably existed between the Mediterranean looking youth before me and the graying, dog-eared, spine-crumbled manifesto cradled in his hand. It seemed as if this may have been the only book he’d read and re-read in the past few years. And why did he choose to stand right here – directly opposite the only identifiable Jew on the subway car? A chill went up my spine.

As I looked up, his eyes met mine and our gazes locked. I knew I had to say something – why else would G-d have put me here? – but what? The Chassid within me spoke up, not quietly, but not loud. “It’s one G‑d for the whole world, right?”

Surprised, he hesitated, “…Yeah.”

I went on, “He wants, goodness and kindness. Right?”

His gaze shifted, he glanced at me again, and then away, “…Yeah.”

Feeling hopeful, I extended my hand. “Let’s shake on it.”

“I cannot do that,” he said, raising both arms while stepping backward, as if I had offered to wrap him in a swine carcass.

“Only what we agree on,” and then I counted out the three points on my fingers. “G‑d, goodness, and kindness. Nothing else.”

Big pause – a glare – two seconds… “I gotta think about it.” He turned and walked off. My heart was thumping. I tried not to look his way although my mind was on his jacket – was there a bulge around the waist? What if I had agitated him? A few minutes later, he returned. “I thought about it …Okay.”

Pleased, I offered my hand again. This time he took it, and we shook – almost held – hands for a good long while. In my fifty-odd years I’ve shaken a lot of hands. I’ve had limp fish handshakes, bone crusher handshakes, perfunctory up-down roboticals, and mazal-tov-reception-liners. This was different. I felt love. It felt like something between a long-lost relative and an estranged son coming back home. We let go and he walked away. A few minutes later, he was back again, just as the train was slowing down.

“Good evening sir, good evening madam” he said. The train stopped, and he was gone.

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