It’s not often that a Hasidic rabbi’s Facebook post goes viral but that’s what happened Wednesday when Rabbi Zalmen Wishedsk uploaded a photo that showed him smiling next to a man he identified as “Roland,” his neighbor in the window seat on a flight from Switzerland to Israel.
The rabbi’s post, written in Hebrew, described his seatmate as a 54-year-old German house painter flying to Israel to volunteer renovating the homes of Holocaust survivors. In a follow-up conversation with Tablet, Wishedsk said that Roland would be spending four weeks in Israel and had been volunteering there for the past five years. The story started to spread across social media after the rabbi’s post but really took off when an English translation was tweeted out by Emanuel Miller, whose Twitter bio says he is a political analyst and former journalist.
(Received via WhatsApp.) Sitting in the window seat on this flight to Israel is Roland. Who is Roland? Roland is a 54-year-old blue-collar worker from the south of Germany who is a professional house painter by trade. He travels to Israel once or twice a year. pic.twitter.com/yoDHf6BOLl
— Emanuel Miller (@emanumiller) October 10, 2018
Speaking with Tablet by Facebook messenger Wednesday afternoon, Rabbi Wishedsk said his meeting with Roland happened Monday on a 6:15 flight from Basel to Tel Aviv. He further identified Roland as working with a German organization, Zum Leben. According to a Google translation of the group’s German website “The Saxon Friends of Israel help Jews personally, Jewish organizations and Christian partners in Israel.”
“I think it’s a very special initiative,” said the rabbi who was born in Israel but now works with Chabad in Basel, Switzerland.
Here’s the full English translation of the rabbi’s initial post, that published to Facebook by Miller:
Sitting in the window seat on this flight to Israel is Roland. Who is Roland? A 54-year-old blue-collar worker from the south of Germany, Roland is a professional house painter by trade. He travels to Israel once or twice a year.
When Roland gets off the flight he will not go to the beach or to eat humus. He will meet up with several other professional German friends and together they will go wherever they are needed and renovate the homes of Holocaust survivors.
According to Roland, the work is extremely rewarding and redeeming because at some point he usually sees through the project that the Holocaust survivor’s heart fills with joy. Some even speak to him in German, a language they haven’t spoken and have despised for the last 70 years. And most importantly, Roland claims that he’s there to show Holocaust survivors in Israel and around the world that the Germans are not the same people they were 70 years ago.
Thank you, Roland.