On Tisha B’av, tens of thousands of people around the globe were mesmerized by the Tenth Man, a dynamic presentation produced by Project Inspire. The true, real-life story is not just an isolated anecdote of ahavas Yisroel and its long-term effects. It shows us the power of each individual to truly make a difference. It’s the little things that matter.
He stands in the bustling shul for nearly an entire day, waiting for someone to notice him.
Several minyanim of Shacharis fade to Mincha, and he’s still waiting. Looking out of place in a silver suit and flamboyant kippah, the stranger glances about anxiously, with anticipation and yearning.
The audience is mesmerized, watching the results of an incredible, real-time encounter that actually took place in a shul in Flatbush.
The Tenth Man is the powerful, compelling story of Felix, an emigree from the former Soviet Union, who kept showing up at his local shul, trying to learn more about his heritage. It is also the story of our hero, Dovid Weiss from Monsey, who davens in the same minyan in Jackson Heights, Queens, every Sunday for years.
Dovid notices Felix, who is holding a siddur, trying to daven, to blend in.
At first he hesitates. Then he tells himself, “Just do it.”
He approaches Felix and asks him if he wants to put on tefillin, not anticipating the reaction.
Felix is incredulous, awed, and grateful. He winds the tefillin on his tattooed arm, later saying it felt as if someone was giving him the shirt off his back.
The encounter ends. Dovid goes back to his car, puts away his tefillin. And then it hits him. He has just walked away from his ‘moment,’ his chance to do the right thing. He walks back in to offer Felix a ride home. They converse, make up to learn together.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Felix is Chaim, a bearded young man with a white shirt and tie, learning in Yeshivas Madreigas Ha’odom. He is a fully-committed Jew, a shomer Torah u’mitzvos.
But that’s only half the story. The other half is an original situation, set up and ably narrated by Rabbi Yaakov Salamon, who shows us what typically happens when a stranger comes to shul. He stands there for hours, waiting to be greeted, waiting for someone to notice him.
To their credit, several dedicated mispalelim take the time and make the effort to approach the newcomer and greet him. Several of the others (who were later interviewed) were apologetic when asked why they didn’t. They had plenty of justifications. They were busy. In a rush. Tired. Distracted. Some didn’t even notice his presence.
There are those for whom noticing a newcomer is natural. Who smile and say hello to the Yid on their right. Who take an interest in the tenth man at the minyan. People like Dovid Weiss, who took a minute to reach beyond his comfort zone, to offer a newcomer a pair of tefillin, and offer him a ride home. He took the ‘sholom aleichem’ to the next level, with incredible results.
As Rabbi Yossie Friedman, Managing Director of Project Inspire and the film’s producer, explained, “This story is a wake-up call, a reminder of the numerous opportunities for kiruv that surround us all the time. If we are aware of the potential we have to change a fellow Jew’s life, just by extending a welcome, by listening and truly caring, we will notice these opportunities as they come our way.”
All it takes is a bit of awareness, and a mega-dose of ahavas chinam. As Rabbi Eytan Feiner so powerfully stresses in the introduction, “If the bais hamikdosh was destroyed through sinas chinam, it will be rebuilt through ahavas chinam, through loving our fellow Jew and taking an interest in their lives.”
May this be our last Tisha B’av in golus, as we merit the ultimate redemption, together with all our brothers and sisters from the four corners of the earth.