A Purim Story


The Purim Gift


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The Gift

By Yoel Nissan Guller

It 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.

They 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 wonderful mood.

After 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.

They 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.

Shortly 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.

They 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.

When 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.

Quietly 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.

Suddenly the door flew open! "What are you doing there?" shouted Mr. Green.

Mendy 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.

"I 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.

After 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.

Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. "You!" said a deep voice. "I have been looking for you!" It was Mr. Green.

Mendy's heart jumped. His knees felt weak.

"Why did you leave that box of food for me?" said Mr. Green.

"It was MeShaloch Manot for Purim. I-I-I thought you were Jewish," stammered Mendy.

Mr. 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."

Mendy 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."

Mr. 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."

"We 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."

Mendy 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.

That 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 him.

After 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.

All 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.

After Shabbat, Mendy searched through his bookcase. He had a plan.

Sunday, 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?"

"I 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.

Everyday 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.

Mr. 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.

At first, Mr. Green was reluctant but after seeing how much it meant to Mendy, he agreed.

That 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.

There 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 know him."

At 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.

One 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 Sarah."

There 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.

Almost 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 feeling.

"I 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.

Mr. 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.

At 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

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