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Prayer, charity and selling a used car


“Listen, Ali, it’s Ramadan, your holy month. On the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, as on our Yom Kippur, the Gates of Heaven are wide open and prayers are more likely to be answered. You pray in Arabic, I’ll pray in Hebrew, and with God’s help, someone will want to buy Betsy’s old car.”

There are those who enjoy selling used cars. I am not one of them.

Once my wife’s car had celebrated a decade of existence and began to groan, “It’s time to sell me,” we bought her another car, and I asked Ali Abu Rumi, our dedicated mechanic, who is renowned for his exemplary customer service, to sell the old one for us.

Weeks went by and not one buyer called.

It was a Friday when Ali phoned to update me in pessimistic tones: “Sagi, I don’t know what to tell you. I took your vehicle to all kinds of public areas and put a big ‘For Sale’ sign on it, but not a single prospective buyer called. There’s nothing to be done. The used car market is very weak at the moment. It’s tough to sell any used car, let alone one as old as yours. If you like, I can give you a few thousand shekels for it if you’re anxious to get rid of it.”

I was almost tempted to sell it to him for a nominal sum, but I decided not to give up and suggested getting God involved – after all, who can help if not HaShem?

“But Ali,” I added after I suggested praying, “it’s not respectful to bother our God (whom we call different names but who, it is reasonable to assume, is the same deity) with something as trivial and unimportant as selling a used car. God is very busy with far more important matters, so if we want help from heaven, we must pledge to give charity.”

So on that Friday I pledged that if we sold the car for a reasonable price, I would make a donation to a charity to be determined by the two of us.

The next day, about an hour after Shabbat ended, Ali Abu Rumi phoned me at home.

“Sagi, you won’t believe it! I prayed and God answered. I had taken your car to Hoshaya to pick up another vehicle for servicing. I parked it for five minutes at the side of the road, and half an hour later, I got a call from someone who wanted to buy it – a neighbour of yours called Tsur!”

And that is how my neighbour Tsur came to phone us to buy Betsy’s car for his daughter. A short negotiation was sufficient to reach a deal. The next day the car was sold and ownership transferred, to the satisfaction of all involved – including those who received my donation.

I draw three conclusions from this story.

First, never despair, even when selling a very used car in a very weak market.

Second, nothing is better than giving charity for advancing a cause up on high.

Third, when a Muslim and a Jew pray together, especially on a Shabbat in the month of Ramadan, the prayer resounds more loudly than two prayers said separately.

Sagi Melamed is vice-president of external relations and development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and president of the Harvard Club of Israel. He is the author of Son of My Land and Fundraising.