By Yoel Nissan Guller
was Purim and the synagogue overflowed with men and boys and women and girls. There
were mini-Mordachais, tiny Queen Esthers, a few clowns, spacemen, cowboys and
even a pre-teen dressed in a black coat and hat with a long grey beard down to
his waist. The women with children in the Jewish School all had on cardboard crowns
that their children had decorated in crayon and glitter. Three older boys were
dressed as jugglers and were entertaining in the corner. Many of the men wore
funny hats ranging from the Cat-In-The-Hat headgear and Where's
Waldo's hat to a Viking helmet complete with horns. Even the Rabbi wore a
purple wig with shoulder-length hair! They had all come to hear him read the
Megillah and chatted and joked, waiting for the Rabbi to start.
wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing every single word of the Megillah, so
as soon as the Rabbi was ready to start there was total silence. Everybody
listened intently. That is, until he mentioned the name of the evil Haman. Then
the room exploded with sound! Groggers whirled. Rattles shook. Hands clapped.
Feet stomped. People shouted, "Boo!" The noise was incredible!
Afterwards everyone stopped and laughed and then settled down to listen
silently as the rabbi continued. Soon he mentioned Haman again, and it started
all over! By the time the rabbi finished the Megillah, everyone was exhausted
from making all the noise and from laughing so much but they were in a
the reading, while everyone stood around and talked, Mendy Jacobs and his
friends Shlomo Stein and Dovid Goldsmith raced home. They had MeShaloch Manot
to prepare to distribute it the next day.
set up a production line. Mendy folded the boxes; Shlomo put a piece of fruit,
a bottle of grape juice and some hamentashen in each one. Dovid threw in some
candies, lollipops, a small grogger, closed the boxes and put them on
Mendy's sister's little red wagon. Soon the wagon was full and they
all went home to go to sleep so they could get and early start distributing
them in the morning.
after daybreak they all met back at Mendy's house. They took the wagon
and started to distribute the MeShaloch Manot. They went up and down the block
to each and every house and then on to the next block. This year they had
enough boxes for the houses on four full blocks.
each took turns leaving the boxes at the houses. They would take a box,
silently go up to the front door, carefully place it there and sneak back.
they arrived at number 816 it was Mendy's turn. He took a box and Shlomo
stopped him. "You're not going to leave one there, are you?"
asked Shlomo. "That's mean Mr. Green's house," added
Dovid. "He's Jewish, isn't he?" asked Mendy. "So
what?" that others said in unison. Mendy reminded them that their Rebbe
said we must love all Jews.
Mendy opened the gate and slowly walked to the front of the old house. Slowly Mendy
climbed onto the rickety wooden porch. Gently, he set down the MeShaloch Manot
and turned to leave.
the door flew open! "What are you doing there?" shouted Mr. Green.
jumped off the porch and ran as fast as he could. The others saw him running
and they ran too. They ran and they ran three, four, five blocks. It was only
when they were sure that they weren't being followed that they stopped to
catch their breath. Their hearts pounded against their chests. Their pulses
raced. Perspiration poured down the faces.
told you not to go there," shouted Dovid. "Yeah," echoed
Shlomo casting a stern eye at Mendy. Mendy could say nothing. He was just
thankful that he got away.
that the boys avoided the block with mean Mr. Green's house. That is
until the Friday Mendy made a mistake. He had just come from class and was
mentally reviewing the day's lesson. Absentmindedly he walked past 816.
he felt a hand on his shoulder. "You!" said a deep voice. "I
have been looking for you!" It was Mr. Green.
heart jumped. His knees felt weak.
did you leave that box of food for me?" said Mr. Green.
was MeShaloch Manot for Purim. I-I-I thought you were Jewish," stammered
Green's eyes glared. "I am Jewish!" he snarled. "I'll
have you know that I come from a Torah observant home." Sensing
Mendy's fear, Mr. Green softened his voice. "My father even used to
lead the prayers at the synagogue around the corner."
was amazed. "But that was a long time ago," said Mr. Green sadly.
"Come sit down with me and I'll explain." They sat down on
the steps of the old porch and Mr. Green continued. "I used to go daven
with him every morning and every evening," said Mr. Green – not
exactly talking to Mendy but more to himself, reminiscing. "I remember
how proud I felt walking home with him especially on Friday nights. Everyone
that we would pass would wish us a Gut Shabbat. And when we arrived home
– oh it was so wonderful! Papa would stop at the door before we would go
in. He would tell me to smell the wonderful challah and chicken soup. Then we
would close our eyes, wait a moment, and enter the house. The Shabbat candles
burned bright. The table had a beautiful white cloth and the best china. The
silver shined and the crystal sparkled. There were fresh flowers all around. It
was so wonderful."
Green's faces glowed with happiness. Mendy sat mesmerized listening to
him. "Then, right after my twelfth birthday," continued Mr. Green,
"my father became ill and had to be hospitalized. A few months later we
lost him. My mother tried her best for us but it was difficult. It was the
Depression and you took whatever job you could get. My mother took in
laundry and eventually got a job cleaning offices after hours. Things were very
difficult. One of the jobs required my mother to work late on Friday.
Eventually she had to work on Saturday too. The holidays passed with almost no
notice. Kosher meat was too expensive." Mr. Green let out a heavy sigh.
"By my thirteenth birthday I had stopped going to school and was
delivering papers in the morning and groceries in the afternoon."
were Jewish but had just stopped doing anything Jewish. Eventually I did go to
night school and then on to City College but I learned Shakespeare and Dickens
instead of Rashi and Rambam. I can't even read Hebrew anymore. Your
MeShaloch Manot is the first Jewish thing. I have done in 57 years," he
said with a tear slipping down his cheek. "I've been looking for
you to say thanks."
just sat there dumbfounded. Suddenly he realized, "Shabbat!" It was
Erev Shabbat and he had to hurry home to get ready for synagogue. He excused himself
from Mr. Green and ran off.
night, as usual, Mendy waked to synagogue with his father but somehow it seemed
different. He kept thinking of Mr. Green and what it must have been like for
the paryers Mendy and his father slowly walked home. "Is something
wrong," ask Mr. Jacobs. Mendy told him about Mr. Green. By the time he
had finished explaining they had arrived at home. Mendy closed his eyes and
sniffed the air. "Smell, Aba," said Mendy. Mr. Jacobs sniffed the
air and the wonderful scent of fresh Challah and chicken soup brought a smile
to his face. They both closed their eyes and stepped inside. When they opened
them, the Shabbat candles, bright silver and sparkling crystal, the glorious
flowers and beautiful white table cloth filled their hearts with joy. It was
certainly fit for the Sabbath Queen.
Shabbat Mendy thought about Mr. Green. He was wondered what his Shabbat was
like and if he even kept Shabbats. He remembered Mr. Green's face as he
reminisced about his childhood and how sad he was that he couldn't even
read Hebrew anymore.
Shabbat, Mendy searched through his bookcase. He had a plan.
on the way home from synagogue, Mendy stopped by Mr. Green's. "Hello
again," said Mr. Green with curiosity and a big smile, "what brings
you by today?"
brought you a book," said Mendy. "It's the one I used to
learn to read Hebrew. Sorry about the crayon marks. My sister did that when she
was very little. I'll be glad to help you learn." Mr. Green smiled,
thought for a moment and nodded his head accepting Mendy's offer.
Mendy stopped by Mr. Green's and went over his progress. They studied.
They talked. Soon Mr. Green was reading proficiently. The words and their
meaning began coming back to him. The old prayers began to sound familiar.
Jacobs carefully followed his son's activities. "Mendy," he
asked, "Would you like to invite Mr. Green for Shabbat dinner?"
Mendy jumped at the chance. With his father's permission, He ran to Mr.
Green to ask.
first, Mr. Green was reluctant but after seeing how much it meant to Mendy, he
Friday, on the way back from synagogue , Mr. Jacobs and Mendy walked by Mr.
Green's house and escorted him to their home. At the front door the three
of them stopped and sniffed before entering. When the door opened, Mr. Green
was overwhelmed. It was just like he remembered from his childhood – the
lights, the flowers, the crystal, the silver. "This is a real Jewish
home," he said smiling broadly.
were many guests at the Jacobs' home including Shlomo and Dovid and their
families. Shlomo and Dovid were shocked. "Are you crazy?" they
asked Mendy. "You are having Mean Mr. Green over for Shabbat?"
Mendy smiled and said, "Mr. Green is really nice. You just never got to
the diner table there was singing and laughing and discussions of Torah. Mr.
Green felt better than he had in a long time. It was as if he had come home
from a long journey.
of the guests, not knowing Mr. Green's story, asked Mr. Green for a
D'var Torah. Mr. Green stood and explained, "I do not remember much
but one story that stays in my memory is about Abraham. He would pitch his tent
at the crossroads of two major trade routes. His tent had four openings –
one in each direction – so he could see any travelers and invited them
for his hospitality. He would run, not walk, to greet them. When they accepted,
he would ask Sarah to prepare a feast for them. He had servants, but he only
trusted Sarah with the importance of preparing for guests. Sitting here at the
Jacobs' table, I feel like I am in the presence of Abraham and
were shouts of yashir koyach and two guests at the far end of the table started
to sing a Hassidic niggun. The evening continued with all the joy of Shabbat.
too soon it was time to go. Mr. Jacobs and Mendy walked Mr. Green home. They
didn't talk much but they were all filled with that special Shabbat
have been away too long and have forgotten so much," said Mr. Green at
his door. Mendy suggested that he talk to the rabbi at the synagogue. Mr. Green
nodded and said he would.
Green could not sleep that night. The events of the evening danced wonderfully
through his head. By Sunday, the excitement and warm feelings had not gone
away. He walked to the synagogue and spoke to the rabbi. Soon Mr. Green was
attending classes and even had a chevrusa. He became a regular at the daily
minyomim and even had his home koshered.
last, Mr. Green was back where he was supposed to be and all because of a
little gift of food and a young man remembering that his Rebbe said, "We
must love all Jews."
from the February 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine