Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Tisha B’Av in Sunshine

Zalman Velvel
Yankee went up the sliding window and tapped on it. The receptionist opened it.
“I would like to speak with Mr. Fein.”
“Do you have an appointment, Mr. ….?
“Rabbi Levi. And no, I don’t have an appointment.”
“I’m sorry, Rabbi Levi, but we are on strict orders from Mr. Fein that no one is allowed in without an appointment.”
Rabbi Levi waited anyway. The others in the waiting room stared at him. He stood out like an olive in the middle of a plate of cream cheese in Sunshine, Florida, a little town west of Miami. He wore a long black coat, a black hat, and a long dark beard.
He waited for three hours, and then gave up and left a message with the receptionist that he wanted to speak to Mr. Fein. During the next month, Rabbi Levi tried twice more to get in to see Michael Fein, with the same disappointing results. Finally, he came by at the end of the day and waited in their company parking lot in his rusty old Dodge, next to the jet black Lexus with the license plate “Fein 1.”
When Michael Fein came out at 6:30, Rabbi Levi studied him as he approached. Michael Fein was a man who cared a lot about his appearance – his hair was meticulously styled, his complexion was perfectly tanned, and his suit was expensive and well-pressed. He was carrying an imported leather briefcase.
Rabbi Levi jumped out of his car and called out, “Mr. Fein, can I speak with you for a moment?”
Michael Fein stood still and looked cautious. “Do I know you?” he asked.
“I’m Rabbi Levi, the new Chabad Rabbi in Sunshine.”
Michael studied him, and then a light went on in his eyes.
“Are you the rabbi that has been coming to my office?”
“In person.”
“You don’t give up, do you, Rabbi?”
“No … not when it concerns another Jew.”
Michael thought about that statement, and then shook his head.
“Well, you sure picked a lousy spot for an Orthodox congregation. I don’t think there is one Jew here that is observant. Rabbi, you should find a better place, like Miami Beach. There are more of your kind living there.”
Michael reached into his pocket for his car keys, and Rabbi Levi stepped forward and touched his arm.
“No, my place is here, in Sunshine. And my “kind” is all Jews … like you.”
Michael stared at the Rabbi’s hand touching his arm, and the Rabbi pulled it away. Michael then reached around and took out his wallet. Once again, the Rabbi touched his arm.
“No, I didn’t come to ask you for money, Mr. Fein, although if you want to make a pledge later, I wouldn’t object,” Rabbi Levi smiled for the first time. “I came here to personally ask you to join our congregation.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Yes, I’m very serious. I want you to come pray with us.”
“Us? Your congregation?! How big is your congregation, Rabbi?”
Rabbi Levi smiled again.
“Counting you and me … there’s two.”
Michael Fein shook his head, and then smiled for the first time. Then he started laughing. He dropped his briefcase and held his stomach, and laughed so hard and so loud that Yankee thought he might have been drinking, but he didn’t smell any liquor on the attorney’s breath.
“You’ve got chutzpah, young man. I like that in a Rabbi.” Once again, Michael studied him. “Look, if I’m going to join any congregation, and I’m not saying I want to join yours, I want to make sure that congregation is going to be around for my children’s bar and bat mitzvahs. How long are you going to be here?”
© Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
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