Reality Check : Meet Jackie Sebaaly

By: Jennifer Bitton

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The month of Elul is a unique gift.  During this one time of the year, the gates of teshuva are opened wider for us.  The opportunity to elicit a deeper change and a sincere yearning to return to our source.  As Rosh Hashanah approaches, many of us decide to commit to a new mitzvah for the upcoming year.  An opportunity to show Hashem we are committed to making a true and lasting transformation one step at a time. My problem is, I keep choosing things that don’t deeply resonate with me. I end up not following through the entire year. I never really affect tangible change.

A few weeks ago, I was reading a blog posted by a friend. She had read an article discussing how to break out of your shell and not shy away from speaking to new people. She decided to take upon herself a 30-day challenge. Each day, she would walk over to a person she didn’t know and get to know them. These were the people around her community in her daily life who she saw every day but actually knew nothing about.  From the grocery store cashier to the mailman to the local school security guard or the elderly couple that sat in the park. She would let them know about her project and ask for an interview. She was surprised to learn that most people were excited to share and even agreed to have their picture taken to post along with the story. Each day, for 30 days, she posted a new story with a new person. I admired her courage and looked forward to reading her interviews each day.  Eventually, I called her to ask if I could bring her idea to Chicago. However, my reasons for doing it would be different.

These interviews would be my approach to, G-d willing, a lasting change.  My mitzvah would be understanding Shema. The complete and total oneness of Hashem throughout his entire creation. Every tree, every rock, every animal and every person are all just extensions of that oneness.  We all have a story. Each and every one of us has hopes and dreams for our lives. We all make mistakes and we are all living in this world together. The same way I see my life moving around me so vividly, is the same way my neighbor sees his. Who said that my reality is more important than his? We all get so caught up in our individual stories, that we forget that these are only pieces of the biggest story… Hashem’s story.  Our egos get in our way of connecting to and appreciating the people and the world around us. I’ve always had the desire to view reality this way, but never a truly concrete way to achieve it. Maybe doing these interviews would help me escape my own ego and learn to see the world for what it truly is, Hashem’s story.

    I would love to be able to share these interviews with the readers of Chicago Jewish Home.  Maybe we could all learn something new about people and begin to appreciate, respect and connect to the oneness around us.  So, here is interview #1. G-d willing, I will be able to stand by my commitment and begin to see permanent change. Gmar Chatima Tova!  We should all be inscribed for a healthy and happy new year.

Meet Jackie Sebaaly:

Many of us know Jackie as the seamstress from Ralph Tailors on Touhy Avenue.  She’s friendly and genuinely wants her customers to be happy. Before now, that is really all I knew.

Jackie was born in Lebanon in the 1950’s. By the 1980’s, a civil war had broken out throughout Lebanon. The Muslim Palestinians were trying to take over Lebanon and were murdering every Christian Arab in their path. The airport had been taken over, and it was almost impossible to escape. Through constant bombings and destruction,   Jackie, her husband George and her two young children miraculously managed to escape by boat to Cyprus, Greece. Eventually, the family was able to immigrate to America, where Jackie met up with her brother who had already been living in Chicago.

After quickly becoming settled in Chicago, Jackie bought the business, Ralph Tailors, from an orthodox Jew by the name of Ralph Brodsky.  One of Ralph’s main requests of Jackie was that the establishment remain a place for Orthodox Jews around the community. Jackie had never known any Jewish people personally, but quickly learned to love and admire the lifestyle and dedication of this community.  As per Ralph’s request, Jackie left the mezzuzah on the door, and now 40 years later, the mezzuzah still remains.

“Over time, I’ve learned about the Jewish rules, like not shaking hands with men.  I even began to live my life according to the Jewish calendar. I believe this has brought me success!”

As I continued to speak with Jackie, it became clear what she felt were her biggest accomplishments. Jackie’s two children are now grown adults with families of their own.  Her daughter has an MBA in business and is a senior marketer for a successful medical company. She is married with two children of her own, and runs marathons raising money for St. Jude’s hospital.  Her son also is married with two children. He earned a Masters degree in chemistry and works as a chemical engineer.

“I came here with zero. However, when you see your children growing up and becoming successful, those bad memories become good”.

I asked Jackie about some of her hobbies. Her favorite hobby is cooking traditional Lebanese food for her children every weekend.  She loves to cook. Her favorite foods are the traditional kibbeh and falafel. She also enjoys keeping up to date with the latest fashions around the world.  The Lebanese fashion designer, Elie Saab, is her favorite.

At the end of the conversation, I asked Jackie if she could give the world one piece of advice what would it be.

“If you love what you do you’ll be successful.”

 

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