You just never know what (or who) will walk in to your office, and what they will be wrestling with. In recent days, a young man who was raised as a Christian, but has always felt connected to Judaism. He attended synagogue for years without converting to Judaism while growing up, then spent a number of years going to church. Now he spends time at a ‘Messianic’ congregation (Jews for Jesus.) But he wants to come back to synagogue life, and see if he can get it all settled in his own mind. Where he will wind up at this point is anybody’s guess.
Then a couple with two children, an older son and younger daughter, both in their early 30s. The daughter is dating someone who is not Jewish, and the couple is worried – what will happen if they marry? How will the children be raised? What kind of home will they make? Their son, on the other hand, is dating someone who is Jewish, but frum (observant). The couple is worried – what will happen if they marry? How will the children be raised? What kind of home will they make? This is the American Jewish community today. Two young people raised in a Conservative shul. One might marry a non-Jew, one might marry an Orthodox Jew. What is the line in “If I Were a Rich Man?” Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
But by far the strangest comes last. A member comes to my office. Toward the end of our conversation he reaches into a bag, takes out an envelope and says ‘Rabbi, this is for you.’ Clearly there is money in the envelope. I feel like I am in a scene from ‘The Godfather.’ ‘For the synagogue?’ I ask. ‘No, Rabbi, for you.’ I wait until the gentleman leaves. Immediately I go upstairs to our controller’s office, and open the envelope in front of him. There is … a lot of money in it. In crisp $100 dollar bills. (marked or unmarked?) We decide to put it in the synagogue charity fund, where it will help someone pay rent, or a health or electric bill, or get medicine or food. The gentleman will be sent a nice thank you note for his contribution. You just can’t make this stuff up.
I am reminded of a poignant line from the late, great Harry Chapin, in one of his classic songs, Taxi. A down on his luck taxi driver picks up a fare, who happens to be his old flame. He drives her to her home, a fancy mansion, and they recognize each other along the way. When they arrive, she hands him a twenty for a fare that was $2.50. It is condescending at best, insulting at worst. He swallows his pride, or more likely doesn’t have to, as it has been lost long ago in the painful arc of his life. The end of the stanza: I stashed the bill into my shirt.
Can you imagine if the line had been ‘I stashed the bill into my pushke?’