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Not Just a Shabbos Goy

Sara Trappler Spielman

For gentiles who lend a helping hand to Jews and their institutions, it goes way beyond switching on a light.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It’s Friday afternoon and Richardo Virgil Virgo — Virgil for short — a black gentile who moved toNew York from his nativeJamaica in 2001, is busy preparing his shul for Shabbos.


It’s quiet at this hour. While the Jewish families who will come to daven on Friday night and Shabbos morning are home preparing for the Shabbos Queen, Virgil is careful not to overlook any details. He’s picked up the wine and groceries from local shops, and cholent and kugel from restaurants and delis. Virgil has placed the cooked food in a warmer “so it’s nice and warm for the kiddush” on Shabbos morning, he says. He cleans the floors and sorts the seforim, lines up the chairs and sets the tables, covering them with white tablecloths. Occasionally, he picks up a printed pamphlet with Torah material and quietly reads stories to himself for inspiration. He puts the soda and nosh in the rooms where the kids’ program is held Shabbos afternoon.

No one would have known just a few hours earlier, before Virgil arrived, that this empty space was a shul. Beis Shmuel, in the CrownHeightssection of Brooklyn, is located in the basement hall of a building that doubles as a boys’ high school. The hall, which is often used to hold simchahs, events, and lectures during the week, is now transformed.

One recent Friday afternoon, the president of Beis Shmuel, Moshe Pinson, stopped by the shul and informed Virgil that there would be a larger kiddush that Shabbos. “I saw the cheesecake,” Virgil told him. “So I know it’s Shabbos Mevarchim.”

“You don’t need to tell him anything about anything, it’s all in his blood,” Pinson says about Virgil. “He says to kids, ‘It’s Shabbos, you can’t do that, it’s carrying.’ If I say it’s almost Succos, he takes care of the s’chach. He’s responsible, caring. He gives the kids candy for behaving and he says to them, ‘Make a brachah.’ He’s become everyone’s personal Shabbos goy here. Everyone loves him. He gets five to ten calls a week asking for his help — to fix their yard, to help with their succah, to walk their babies in the stroller.”

Every Jewish community thrives because of people like Virgil, gentiles who feel close and committed to the Jewish People and contribute in countless ways to the community’s welfare. Jewish homes and institutions around the world count on non-Jewish assistance, but for many gentiles, it’s more than just a job; the Jewish community becomes a second home. They quietly blend in, learning the customs and quirks, helping the Jewish world run smoothly.


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