Jewish History Blog
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. After introductions had been made, the editor told him the following story.
His mother, Mary, had immigrated to America from Ireland as an uneducated, 18-year-old peasant girl. She was hired as a domestic maid by an observant family. The head of the house was the president of the neighboring Orthodox shul.
Mary knew nothing about Judaism and had probably never met a Jew before arriving in America. The family went on vacation Mary’s first December in America, leaving Mary alone in the house. They were scheduled to return on the night of December 24, and Mary realized that there would be no Christmas tree to greet them when they did. This bothered her greatly, and using the money the family had left her, she went out and purchased not only a Christmas tree but all kinds of festive decorations to hang on the front of the house.
When the family returned from vacation, they saw the Christmas tree through the living room window and the rest of the house festooned with holiday lights. They assumed that they had somehow pulled into the wrong driveway and drove around the block. But alas, it was their address.
The head of the family entered the house contemplating how to explain the Christmas tree and lights to the members of the shul, most of whom walked right past his house on their way to shul. Meanwhile, Mary was eagerly anticipating the family’s excitement when they realized that they would not be without a Christmas tree.
After entering the house, the head of the family called Mary into his study. He told her, “In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did.” Then he took out a $100 bill — a very large sum in the middle of the Depression — and gave it to her. Only after that did he explain that Jews do not have Christmas trees.
When he had finished telling the story, the editor told Rabbi Wein, “And that is why, there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and never will be as long as I am the editor.”
The shul president’s reaction to Mary’s mistake — sympathy instead of anger — was not because he dreamed that one day her son would be the editor of a major metropolitan paper, and thus in a position to aid Israel. (Israel was not yet born.) He acted as he did because it was the right thing to do.
That’s what it means to be a Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify G-d’s Name. It is a goal to which we can all strive.