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The Chasidic engineer and A.B. Yehoshua

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Yesterday the writer A.B. Yehoshua, winner of the Israel Prize, passed away. Michael Alush, former senior engineer for Israel Aerospace Industries and a Chabad chasid, sent me the following story about one of their meetings. It sounds to me like a modern Chasidic tale:

"A number of years ago I took such an early flight that I had to pray Shacharit in the plane. After taking off, they offered me a seat in business class. I got up. still wrapped in tallit and tefillin,

and I sat down next to... A.B. Yehoshua. Without any hesitation, he turned to me and said: 'To be like that in the synagogue, I get it - but here in the plane do you really need to go around in tallit and tefillin?' I answered him: 'Why not? The Holy One blessed be He is found in a plane no less than in a synagogue.'

This was the beginning of a wonderful conversation. I told him that other than my work in the area of drones (planes without pilots), I translated the books of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz into French. I also related that I was the cousin of Jean-Luc Alush, the translator of A.B. Yehoshua's books into French. I then learned that the author himself was on his way to France to receive a prize for a book which my cousin had translated. When I suggested that he put on tefillin, he answered: 'I am an atheist.'

Later on we read together a paragraph from the book "Neshama" (Soul) that I translated into French: 'At least atheism moves a person from apathy to emotional involvement. Even the transition from "I don't care" to '"This upsets me" - is a step up!'. I remember that he then smiled.

Upon landing we parted, but this was not the end. Several days later I was invited to give a lecture at the Superior Engineering School of Toulouse. A day before the lecture, the organizers asked that I appear without any external religious symbols. In other words, without a kippah.

I sent an email to my cousin, Jean-Luc Alush, and he answered me that he was still in Paris with A.B. Yehoshua who had spoken to him about our conversation on the plane. But he then added that A.B.Yehoshua, who had vigorously complained about my religious symbols on the plane, when hearing of the lecture organizers' request, told my cousin to convey to me the message that I should not listen to them, that I absolutely must lecture with a kippah and that I should not relent. I subsequently wrote them in this spirit and, in the end, they even apologized for their request.

Since then we kept in touch, and he was always warm and cordial.

The above is dedicated to the memory of Avraham Gavriel ben Yaakov Yeshoshua".


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