The following article by Sam Orbaum originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post and has been much republished and redistributed since. And for good reason - amazingly, his story is true. Anyone who has had the good fortune of getting to know the Machlises and the kinds of things that they do on a daily basis, realizes that the only major mistruth in Orbaum's article is its severe understatement. But, I would excuse him that. No serious nonfiction writer could possibly put the entire Machlis story to paper without risking the loss of all credibility with his audience. Their love, devotion, selflessness and 24/7 charity doings sound far too fairy tale-esque and unbelievable for people to believe without experiencing it for themselves ~ an experience, might I add, you will most certainly enjoy.For the Love of Judaism
by Sam Orbaum
Mythological tales are told of saintly Jews abounding in humility, knowledge and wisdom, wondrous people just as close to God as to humanity.
I found one. And he's no myth.
I can be forgiven for having harbored cynical doubts after hearing about Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, and before meeting him. Here in Rabbiland, there are many with many fine attributes, a few with none, and perhaps fewer who are so lofty that -- in Jerusalem's religion industry -- they are failures.
Rabbi Machlis -- "Please," he would say, "Call me Mordechai" -- is a failure because he does not play the game. He is not loud enough about how quiet he is, he shuns the politics of power, prestige and influence, he doesn't understand the fashionability of false modesty, of cult of personality, of mystic stature-building. Doesn't hobnob or hustle, publicize or promote.
All he does, for heaven's sake, is do good. (And he'd really prefer I didn't write about it, but I declined to ask his permission.)
As Shabbat approaches, his household is busy preparing. It's a large family, so there's a lot to do, but they like having guests, so there's always a bit of extra work and added expense.
Not three or four guests.
A hundred. Maybe 150.
That's how it is every week in the Machlis household in Ma'alot Dafna, that's how it's always been -- for the past 18 years.
Why? Well, his wife is a great cook, and Shabbat is a beautiful experience, and they love people, so why not?
On second thought, the greater mitzva-macher is his wife, Henny. A semitrailer-load of splendid food goes through her small kitchen -- for Friday dinner AND Shabbat lunch. And they don't just serve a spoonful of this, a shtikl that: from the 18 chickens she cooks, to the three different kugels and array of salads, to the choice of four desserts (not to mention the gefilte fish, chicken soup, cholent, and even vegetarian alternatives), you can fress, take seconds, and go home heartily content.
Never mind that the family is (so I'm told) deeply in debt, that they pay for everything themselves, that they wouldn't think of scrounging for donations or institutional funding. Never mind that they are not salting away a nest-egg for their 12 children. They have this crazy notion that bounty should be shared, never mind if you can afford it.
Mordechai and Henny feed the thronging masses not just food, but morsels of learning, servings of hospitality, and great vatfuls of love of Judaism. They're not agenda-driven missionaries ramming religion down your throat -- because they're not collecting souls, they're nourishing them.
You eat, you listen to what Mordechai -- and Henny -- have to say about Torah wisdom and morality, and perhaps you'll stand up and contribute your thoughts, as many do. You sing or just listen; utter the prayers, or not; eat and leave, or stay and talk: even after the family has gone to bed, the door swings open and more people come in -- as late as midnight -- to nosh or shmooze. (Why they bother to have a door I don't know.)
It's one of the most enthralling Jewish experiences I've ever had in this city, where Judaism can be warped into such ugliness.
BEYOND THE food, and the food for thought, this is a remarkable encounter with people.
It can get unruly, vehement, or emotional to the point of tears. When the ingathering gets a chance to be heard, they don't always heed the rabbi's plea for sensitive, respectful political correctness. Hot, roiling debate might take hold.
But just as likely, someone might describe how they discovered their Jewish roots, beg forgiveness for anti-Semitism, or recall with reverence how the Machlis family changed their lives, and everyone will be quietly sobbing.
What startled me most was that close to half the assembled were gentiles seeking an intense Jewish experience. Mordechai and Henny are Americans in their mid-40s, and the proceedings are in English, but the Judaism is neither watered down for the most ignorant guest, nor pedantic and enigmatic for the most knowledgeable.
Indeed, there were a number of haredim and modern Orthodox present, mixed in with an amazing assortment of newly-religious, newly-Jewish or soon-to-be, elderly Sephardim, families and singles, neighbors, self-styled disciples of the rabbi, a few oddballs and kooks, the poor, the lonely, people under one influence or another. And of course, the Machlis children, a dozen beautiful youngsters aged one to 19.
Having grown up in such a pulsating environment, they are like the flower children of a '60s commune. "We don't need MTV," one of them chirped, "We have Shabbes."
There was a young man from Slovakia who had arrived on aliya five days earlier. A leggy, underdressed beauty from California, here with her husband on their honeymoon. A group of young South African Christians, one of whom had to go out for air because he was overcome by emotional tumult. A Christian Australian family, a day after arriving on their first visit. A middle-aged Florida tourist who spoke earnestly of Jesus, challenging Mordechai to respond wisely. And four young men who looked very much like soccer louts, German Christians profoundly self-conscious to be there, but -- encouraged by Mordechai's effusive warmth and sincere respect -- courageous enough to stand and state their feelings.
One of the Germans, Manfred, almost apologetic for his presence, needed us to understand that his name means "man of peace." Another of them asked me, wide-eyed and whispering, if this is how all Jewish homes are. I could barely answer for the lump in my throat.
People speak, awed, of the Machlis sense of charity and kindness. Stories are told...
When Mordechai walks home from the Kotel, he greets Arab shopkeepers with a friendly "Shabbat Shalom."
A homeless man sleeps in their van, and they never know who they might find on their couch in the morning.
The poor and hungry know they can walk in anytime and fill their pockets from the Machlis pantry.
A sorry old drunk was invited to the eldest Machlis daughter's wedding, and was honored by getting to dance with the bride's father.
Does it ever get to be a bit much? Doesn't this family sometimes crave a quiet, intimate Shabbat without intruders, just the 14 of them?
"Sure," said one of the girls, a 16-year-old identical twin. "We go away once every few months, just the family."
I was relieved to hear that.
"But," she added quickly, "We worry that some people won't have a Shabbat meal, so we leave food outside."
And that's the way it was... and is (except that the Rav and Rebbetzin now have 14 kids) ~ stop by the Machlis residence at any time and you're bound to see them feeding the hungry of body, mind or soul. On literally a daily basis Rav Mordechai and Henny dispense free food, monetary assistance, advice, encouragement, scholastic knowledge and help of all sorts to the many and varied groups of people who make their way to the Machlis's humble abode. To call their home an inspiration is quite the understatement, it is in fact Jerusalem's greatest soup kitchen, hospitality center, yeshiva, counseling hub and social center, all wrapped into one.
AND SO the purpose of this website
is threefold --FIRST of all
~ on your next trip to Israel you Do Not want to miss out on the wonderful opportunity of meeting the Machlises, seeing what they do, participating in at least one of their Shabbatathons or other special events. These are truly interactive events where everyone has the opportunity to share whatever they would personally like to impart to the rest of the assembled. It is a Fabulous experience and should be a necessary mainstay on every tourist's itinerary. Now, Rav Mordechai and Henny don't know that I'm putting this website up, but no doubt they would love to personally invite you to their home for a Shabbat meal or otherwise.
Their address is: 137 Maalot Dafna # 26
Jerusalem 97762, Israel
Note: You may wish to call in advance of the Sabbath or holiday to make sure it isn't one of the few days that they get away with the family. Their telephone number is 02-581-3910 > From outside Israel dial your country's exit code followed by 972-2-581-3910}SECOND of all
, the purpose of this website is to start connecting the many thousands of people the world over who have experienced the Machlis's home and would like a venue to share their experiences. Of the many thousands who have enjoyed the experience, the majority of us unfortunately do not live in the State of Israel but would love to hold on to the inspiration and to learn of the latest goings-on and teachings coming from that corner of Jerusalem. And so(!), should you be so inclined, feel free to drop me a line at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
telling of your experience at the Machlises, your teachings, others' teachings, the Rav's teaching or whatever suits your fancy. And, providing you give your permission, I will post your note to this blog. Please also be sure to let me know whether you're okay with my including your name and/or email address along with your note.AND FINALY
(and truth be told, this inspired my initial interest in putting up this blog) it breaks my heart to know that Rav Mordechai and Rebbetzin Henny could do so so much more if they could only afford to do so. For years and years they personally sustained their soup kitchen, hospitality center and the rest of their 24/7 chessed-a-thon all by themselves. Naturally however, millions of dollars doesn't grow on trees, and I happen to know (though again, they don't know that I'm putting up this site) that it's getting increasingly hard for them to continue to do what's all too necessary for thousands of Jerusalemites, tens of thousands of tourists and the world - and God - besides.
And so I figured that I would offer you the opportunity to buy in to the amazing works of the Machlises by helping to support all of the beautiful things that they do. ~ Hence the paypal logo.