Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Are the Jews Happy Here?
by Zalman Velvel  

Good evening. How are you? Did you have a good time?

I am going to end tonight with how last year’s Founders’ Dinner began for me. I had the good fortune to be sitting next to Rabbi Yosi Jacobson, the keynote speaker. For those of you who are not familiar with him, he is a brilliant, funny, caring young man. While I was right in the middle of buttering a warm roll, he turned to me and asked, "Are the Jews of Fort Myers happy?"

Just like that, right out of the blue. Are the Jews of Fort Myers happy?

I put down the roll and pondered the depths of that question. Finally, I replied. "Yes, we are happy here. The shopping is excellent, and there are at least two or three good Sushi restaurants."

I picked the roll back up was about to take a bite … when he interrupted me again.

"What happens after you have finished shopping and have had enough sushi? Are you happy, then?"

Once again, I put down the roll. "Rabbi Jacobson," I answered. "That’s a very good question. I spent most of my life wondering what it would be like to have ‘enough sushi’, and only just recently, at Bob Schwartz’s 60th birthday party, did I hit that milestone, probably because someone else was paying for it … and I can tell you, without any fear of contradiction, that the feeling of having ‘enough sushi’ left me very happy … And as for shopping, well, Rabbi, my wife does almost all of it in our family, and as near as I can tell, she has NEVER yet has reached the point where she was finished shopping … so I can not comment on how she will feel after she reaches that milestone, if she ever does."

Now, since he started with the questions, and my roll was now cold, I decided to ask a few of my own.

"Rabbi Jacobson," I asked. "Do you believe the highest goal of a Jew is to just be happy? Is that the standard by which one is supposed to judge a group of our people? If so, tell me, is a Jew at his or her best when we’re happy, or when times are tough?"

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. He simply nodded his head.

And then I said, "Rabbi, I believe the starting point for a group of Jews begins with a different question, one of the first questions ever asked by man. Do you know what question I am referring to?"

"I can think of many," he said. "Why don’t you tell me which one you are referring to?"

"Am I my brother’s keeper?" I said.

He nodded again and started stroking his beard.

"Oh boy!" I thought. "I did it now. When a Rabbi starts stroking his beard, everyone knows the really serious, mind-bending questions are about to follow." I buckled my seatbelt and waited.

Finally, he asked: "So are you?

"Am I what, Rabbi?"

"Your brother’s keeper?"

"Well, I try to be. I believe that is part of the Jewish way … to keep watch over each other … and get involved … and sometimes maybe we say or do something that really gets under each other’s skin, something that makes our kishkes churn, like only a member of the tribe can do to another member of the tribe … and then maybe we argue … and maybe sometimes we want to never speak to each other again … BUT IN THE END, I value my fellow Jew, and will be responsible for him. We are connected, and that connection lasts forever."

Why am I bringing up this conversation with Rabbi Jacobson? Because his question has followed me for the last year, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was really asking a different question, a very basic question, a question more basic than mine.

That question is, "What does a Jew really have in this world, after all the ‘things’ we occupy ourselves with pursuing?"

If he was here, and I wish he was because he makes me laugh, I would answer, "Rabbi Jacobson, when I look out and see the Jews of Fort Myers sitting here, at this very expensive dinner, so they can help out Chabad, I realize that all we really have, after all the shopping and all the sushi, and the like … all we really have … is each other … and God.

And that is enough … more than enough.

So, in closing, I want to thank you for coming out tonight, and being, once again, your brother’s and sister’s keeper.

Thank you, and God Bless you, and good night.

How did you feel about the story? Please send me your thoughts, feedback and comments. Also, would you like me to give this presentation to your audience? Please let me know as well … Thank you!

You may print this story for yourself, but you may not copy it without permission from the author.

Copyright 2004-2009 by Zalman Velvel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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