Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | June 15, 2016

Turning Points

Turning-PointsYogi Berra, the legendary former New York Yankees catcher, coach and manager, was known for his colorful phrases, referred to as “Yogi-isms.” They sounded good until you thought about them for a minute, like, “Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel,” or “You can observe a lot by watching.”

One of his other famous lines was, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Clearly, you can’t take both choices of the fork in the road; you have a decision to make. What he likely meant was that when you have to make a choice, be bold and do it, rather than stand idly at the choice, afraid to move.

The truth is that such moments in life come often, and how you choose can make all the difference. The following unbelievable story illustrates the power of these choices:

A woman was in the Bikur Cholim room of a local hospital. Because Klal Yisrael is a nation of chesed, many hospitals have rooms in which Kosher food is provided for the benefit of our brothers and sisters who may have to be in the hospital with a family member. I myself benefited from such a room when my wife went into labor over Yom Tov and I was able to find grape juice and challa rolls as well as other food.

So this woman was there, and an older woman who didn’t appear Jewish came in to get some food. The younger woman said, “This food is Kosher, set aside for Jewish visitors, but I’m glad you came in. Can I help you?”

“Actually,” said the woman, “I am Jewish.” Silently noting the older woman’s dress slacks, the younger woman realized what an opportunity she had to make a Kiddush HaShem. “That’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “It’s always nice to meet a fellow Jew. May I ask what brings you to the hospital today?” The older woman softened at the warm greeting and seemed to let a weight melt off her shoulders as she sat down next to the younger woman and sighed deeply.

“My father is 96 and he’s here with a heart condition. I know he’s old, and so am I, but he’s still my Papa and I feel like a little girl; I’m so worried about him.” “Oy,” cooed her new friend, “we never grow too old to need our parents. I’m so sorry you are going through this. But you know what might help? Tehilim.”

“What’s Tehilim?” asked the older woman. “It’s the Psalms of King David,” replied the first. “He was the sweet singer of Israel and into his words are poured the hearts of every Jew. We recite these words to beg HaShem to help us when things are tough, or to praise Him when they are good. I would be happy to recite some with you.”

The older woman was floored. Here was a woman she’d never met before, yet she cared about her and her father! She was willing to take time out of her life, likely visiting her own loved one, to care about another person. She suddenly felt more connected to the Jewish People than she ever had before.

Before she left, she took the name and number of the other woman and they remained in contact. The older woman had always thought that because she was involved in Jewish charitable causes and went to services at a synagogue sometimes, her Jewish identity was solid. Now she realized how much more there was for her to learn.

She began having study sessions with her new friend and began to light Shabbos candles, study Torah texts in English, and davening. Her favorite new topic? Tehillim. In the words of Dovid HaMelech she found the connection to HaShem and her people she’d always had but didn’t know about.

Imagine how that one choice in the hospital led to so much good! That’s what I think Yogi meant by taking the fork in the road. When that younger woman started the conversation, she ended up so much farther.  But the story isn’t over.

As I told you, it was an unbelievable story. That’s because it didn’t quite happen that way. You see, when the older woman went to get food, the younger woman said, “Please don’t take anything, it’s reserved for Jewish people.” The older woman was taken aback, but responded, “I AM Jewish.” “You don’t look Jewish,” said the younger woman. “You’re wearing pants!”

Indignant and hurt, the already pained woman replied, “I’m dressed as an American Jew.” The younger woman still didn’t get the hint. “There’s no such thing!” she retorted. That was it. No compassion for a girl worried for her father, no love for another child of HaShem suffering a difficult circumstance, and no effort to ease the pain of another human being. There was no Tehilim, no Shabbos candles, and certainly no Kiddush HaShem.

When she came to a fork in the road, this woman chose the one that led to a dead end. Sadly, the older woman in our tale shared her burden with a non-Jewish friend, who related it to the only Orthodox Jew she knew, who related it to me. Having heard this, I could not sit silently. I made the choice to share this story for the benefit of all who would read it.

We all have choices, but unless we contemplate the far-reaching consequences of those choices, we may never realize that instead of rest areas, those should have been turning points, changing the world in ways we can hardly imagine.



  1. OUCH! Man, that is some SERIOUS tochachah…and unfortunately, I think it’s something people need to hear.

    • It was a terrible story and I grappled with how to get the message across. The way it was written, most people should feel the let-down and be able to turn it into a positive decision not to let this happen on their watch.

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