click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop

The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop

Working to protect Rabbi Teitelbaum, he gained insight into the essence of the Jewish people.


Living in New York City is tough on cars. Pot holes and sharp debris on the road leads to bent rims and punctured tires.

One day while driving near my home in Queens, the inevitable happened. My tire went flat. I pulled over, took out my cell phone, called AAA, gave my location to the dispatcher, and waited.

About half an hour later a Latino man in his mid-60s pulled his truck behind me. He got out, looked at the car and then looked at me. "Hello, my name is Donny," he said as he extended his hand. He then began speaking in Yiddish.

"Are you Jewish?" I asked.

He shook his head smiled and said, "No."

I laughed and asked the obvious question. "So where did you learn Yiddish?"

"I picked it up many years ago when I was hanging out with one of your buddies," he said teasingly. "Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum from Williamsburg. You heard of him?"

"The great chassidic leader?" I asked in disbelief.

"That's the one," he replied.

Donny would dress like a chassid and scan the crowds looking for infiltrators.

Donny explained that he was a retired NYPD cop. While on the force, his job was to protect Rabbi Teitelbaum – not only from outsiders but also the throngs of chassidim that push to get near him. Donny was assigned as the rabbi's bodyguard – at home, in shul and at public gatherings.

Donny described how he would dress like a chassid – a Latino with beard and sidelocks (peyos), scanning the crowds, looking for infiltrators.

"How could you tell a real chassid from an impersonator?" I asked.

"You guys are always hunched over your books," he explained. "If someone was standing a little too straight I kept my eye on him. He was either an outsider... or someone who ain't serious about his studies," he laughed.

Donny reminisced about the kindness of the rabbi's wife, and how she supplied him with a steady stream of cholent and kugel.

Donny then asked if I knew the expression "Yiddishe kup."

"Of course'" I replied. "It refers to Jews as a smart and clever people."

Donny became serious, knowing he had me where he wanted. "I heard you guys used to live in Israel with your capital in Jerusalem. I heard that you had a Temple – a beautiful place where you all got together for the holidays – right?"

I nodded.

"I also heard that about 2,000 years ago you were exiled because you guys didn't get along with each other. True?"

I nodded again.

"I also heard that if you guys could just learn to get along with each other, God will move you back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple."

Donny then leaned toward me, looked me straight in the eye and said, "So if you guys are so smart, how is it that in 2,000 years you haven't figured out how to get along?"

I had no answer.

The Torah tells us that unity of the Jewish people was a prerequisite for the revelation at Mount Sinai. The verse describes the encampment of the Jews by the mountain, united as “one person with one heart.”

It all starts with the realization that while Jews many be different from one another, we are all one family. We are part of the same unit, connected at the core, sharing the goal of Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place.

The upcoming holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. Now is an ideal time to work on attaining this consciousness and unite as a people.

Let’s make Donny’s question no longer a question.

Click here to read more inspiring articles on Shavuot.

June 4, 2016

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 11

(9) Jerry, February 16, 2017 11:05 PM

ya gotta believe!

After passing my Army physical, we were all in a large room.From there we were separated according to religion.I was put in a room with 50 other soldiers.Inside, a colonel addressed us, saying, when you come across a fellow Jew, try to be helpful,..& you will be rewarded.
I did, & I was rewarded,"what comes around, goes around"!
Korean veteran

(8) Lawrence Greenberg, June 9, 2016 4:28 PM

So look who can speak Yiddish!

My mother grew up speaking Yiddish at home, and in fact knew not a word of English until she was six years old.

A good many years ago, my mother worked for a beer distributor in Nassau County (Long Island). The single largest seller by volume was Schmidt's (of Philadelphia). The company rep was named John Rillo, who was as Italian as anyone you have ever met, and a perfect old-fashioned gentleman.

One day, my mother was on the phone, speaking in Yiddish with one of her cousins. Mr. Rillo was nearby, waiting for my mother to get off the phone. When she did, he said something which alluded to part of her conversation, indicating very clearly that he had understood what she was saying. She was surprised, to say the least. So they got to talking about it. By sheer chance, Mr. Rillo grew up in an Italian neighborhood adjacent to a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia where, you guessed it, he learned to speak fluen

(7) Yael, June 8, 2016 8:14 PM

Beautiful message and story! Rabbi Greene--we are lucky to benefit from your wisdom now in the writing arena. Keep spreading your amazing light onto the world!

(6) Esther, June 7, 2016 8:05 PM

not what's missing

Our Yiddishe Kup is just as sharp as ever. It's our Yiddishe Heart that needs to be woken up.

(5) Anonymous, June 7, 2016 6:42 PM


See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment