|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.
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Copyright 2004-2009 by Zalman Velvel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Zalman Velvel is a funny Jewish short story, comedy, writer working with Stand Up Comedy Performer David Sayh, great for Jewish Culture and Gifts