The Africans Who Came for Shabbos

The Africans Who Came for Shabbos

This week we hosted the first guests I remember who had to lower their heads to get inside our front door. Averaging nearly 7 feet tall, this Friday night we hosted a group of professional volleyball players who were recruited from various African countries to play for an Israeli team.

When we all stood for kiddush, I felt like a smurf in the company of giants. At the beginning of the meal, the players, who were brought to our home by their coach (whose Jewish half-sister arranged for this unusual Friday night gathering) were quiet and reserved, clearly uncomfortable.
But before long, the players had us all laughing (the running joke of the evening revolved around the 28-year-old “grandpa” of the team, whom his team members teased rolled around the court in a wheelchair as his grandchildren cheered him on.)
And they told us about their native countries (“People think that Africa is all poverty, disease, and war. But my mother didn’t want me to come to Israel because she heard it’s a war zone here! What the media shows you is only a small part of the story. Come visit Africa! See for yourself!”)
And they also shared what they like about Israel (hummus!) and don’t like (the way people drive!).
At one point, my husband challenged (I hope in jest) our guests to a beach volleyball match in day in Tel Aviv–Weisbergs vs. the Giants. One of my sons added, “And then you could go swimming.”
At that point, “Grandpa” got a worried expression on his face and started shaking his head back and forth. In his French accent he announced, “I don’t know how to swim! I’m afraid of the water!”
My husband suggested he could teach him how to swim, but “Grandpa” was unmoved. Just the thought of entering the water clearly terrified him.
And that took me by surprise. Here is this giant of a man. Almost 7 feet tall. A professional athlete.
And the idea of swimming filled him with terror!
I wanted to shake him and say, “Look at you! How can you be afraid on anything?! You’re a giant!”
But then something occurred to me…
I thought of how I tend to get stuck in a rut, reject trying new things sort of like “Grandpa: “I can’t, because I never have!” or “I can’t because I’m no good at that!” or “I can’t because I’m scared!” Or “What if I fall?” or “What if I fail?” or “What if I go out on a limb and end up looking stupid?”
Maybe just like I wanted to shake “Grandpa” I need to shake myself up too.


  1. You are so amazing Chana Jenny, articulating what I am thinking, when I don’t even know that what I’m thinking, until I see it in writing –
    What if I fall
    What if I fail
    What if I look stupid

    Thank you for giving me the courage to try!

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