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Chapter Twelve

The Best Day In The World

    After Pesach Dovid still hadn't found a job and we were pretty much out of money. So one evening I called my in-laws to ask them to help pay the rent for April. They weren't home, so I left a long message on their answering machine (I have never learned how to leave short messages) explaining our financial situation and asked if they could help. When my mother-in-law called me back, she said that they weren't home when I called because they had gone out to dinner to celebrate their anniversary, and of course they would pay the rent for us. I felt like such a piece of slime -- not only had I forgotten their anniversary, but I was bothering them for money as well. My mother-in-law never forgets anyone's birthday or anniversary.

     Sometime around Shavuos my sister called to say that she was sending me the last part of Grandma's money. I didn't even know that there was going to be any more money, and it was truly a miracle because we had nothing to live on at that point. The most important thing we needed the money for was to pay the sofer the rest of what we owed for our oldest son's tefillin. We knew that the mitzvah of tefillin was one of the most important mitzvahs that a Jewish man does and we felt it was essential for our son to have his own tefillin. We had paid the sofer half of the money for the tefillin from the first part of Grandma's money, and now thanks to Hashem and Grandma again we were able to finish paying for the tefillin.

     We owed a lot of money to a lot of creditors so by the end of the summer when it was time for our son's Bar Mitzvah we didn't have any money left to make any kind of celebration. Even just a week and a half before the Bar Mitzvah we still had no idea how we were going to have even a small celebration. We didn't want to embarrass our relatives so we kept making excuses for why we didn't have the celebration planned yet.

     I knew that if we ever needed help with something like this here in Crown Heights we were supposed to call Shimshon and Martha Stock. They run an organization called Chevra Simchas Shabbos V'Yomtov, and every penny they collect goes right into helping poor people have food for Shabbos and Yomtov, among other things. I knew this because I was still in touch with Chanie Perelmuter (Shimshon and Martha's lovely daughter), who had moved to California. Chanie had told me that if I ever needed help here in Crown Heights I should call her family and I should know that they would help me. I called them, but they were out of town, so I left a message on their answering machine.

     Chanie's parents were extraordinary people who went above and beyond the call of duty when it came to helping out a fellow Jew. They also possessed personalities that provided for hours of amusement. Martha was much more tame than Shimshon, who was clearly a wild and crazy guy. While Martha managed to maintain a ladylike presence as she ever so quietly delivered witty remarks that could knock you on the floor, Shimshon had no trouble loudly proclaiming his opinion in a way that made everyone sit up and take notice. I thought it was great the way he described himself and his family when he said "we're not fat, we're well-built people." And when he spoke, he had this interesting kind of nasal quality to the tone of his voice which went up and down in a steady and controlled rhythm. He also had a habit of drawing out words to make them sound longer than they did normally, which caused people to pay close attention to what Shimshon was saying. Often he even made up words which didn't exist and used them to drive people absolutely crazy. He was a master of comedic timing, and he used his talent brilliantly to constantly captivate his audience. When Shimshon and Martha were together it was almost too much amusement for a human being to bear. And yet being around them gave you such a good feeling you never wanted to leave their side. They were chock full of a warmth and love and laughter that endlessly flowed from their round and twinkling faces. I really needed those two lovable faces now more than ever, but there was nothing I could do but wait and hope to hear from them.

     In the meantime, someone else had given us a few hundred dollars to help, and some of my friends sent money, but we still needed more help and we didn't know what we were going to do. Then the phone rang and it was Shimshon. He said "I'm back. Don't worry, we're taking care of everything." Baruch Hashem, my whole body relaxed at that moment. Shimshon told me to hang on the line and not to say anything. So I listened as he made a phone call to the Crown Deli in the Boro Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The conversation went something like this:

    Crown Deli: "Hello."

    Shimshon: "Who are you?"

    Crown Deli: "Huh?"

    Shimshon: "Pay attention, I want to ask you an important question. Did you make sure to stratafluff the kugel?"

    Crown Deli: "What?"

    Shimshon: "It's Shimshon, I'm back."

    The person at the Crown Deli had finally caught on to what was happening.

    Crown Deli: "Ohhhh!"

    I was rolling on the floor laughing hysterically (but I didn't say anything because when Shimshon tells you not to say anything, you don't say anything.)

    Shimshon: "Listen, we're doing a Bar Mitzvah for some people and here's what I need. I want fish and salad and kugel and chicken for 60 people, and make it nice. Don't give me none of the leftover stuff."

    Crown Deli: "All right, we'll have it ready for you."

    (Nobody argues with Shimshon.) Then he dialed another number, this time to the Albany Bake Shop here in Crown Heights.

    Albany Bake Shop: "Hello."

    Shimshon: "Who is this?"

    I think this time the person actually told him their name.

    Shimshon: "Listen to me, I have a very important question for you! Did you make sure to stratafluff the cake?"

    Albany Bake Shop: "What?"

    Shimshon: "It's Shimshon."

    Albany Bake Shop: "Ohhhh."

    By this time, I was even more hysterical (but I still didn't say anything).

    Shimshon: "Listen, I need some rolls and some cake for a Bar Mitzvah, and don't give me the crap, I want the good stuff."

    Albany Bake Shop: "Okay, we'll have it ready for you."

    After all that, I don't remember if I was laughing or crying or both. What do you say about a man like this who will do anything it takes to help out a Jew in need. I'll tell you what you say. Baruch Hashem for Shimshon Stock, he should be healthy and well and live to a hundred and twenty and then some.

     A couple of days later Shimshon's lovely wife Martha called and said, "Don't worry, we have all the paper goods you'll need. You just come and enjoy the Bar Mitzvah. We're taking care of everything." And they meant everything. When we came to the shul for our son's Bar Mitzvah celebration I was so moved my what they had done for us. Everything was set up so beautifully. It was all decorated in red, white and blue, with candles on the tables, and it was just too magnificent for words. They even had their granddaughters there in plastic aprons helping to serve the food. I commented to Martha about how nice it was that her granddaughters were also there helping out, and she said, "This ... is Chinuch." Martha is a smart lady. She and her husband have raised three of the most kind and caring children in this world (keneinahora). And there they were at the Bar Mitzvah celebration influencing their grandchildren to be the kind of Jews that Hashem really loves to see. Helping us in this way was an unbelievably overwhelming and caring gesture. Many other people had also called us offering to help. I thanked them but said it seemed that Shimshon and Martha had everything under control.

     There was one thing that we hadn't even considered because we were so worried about how we were going to feed people. Once again Hashem helped us out. A few days before the Bar Mitzvah celebration we got a call from the Burstons, some close friends of the Eliezries. They called to offer that Rabbi Burston, a professional musician, would come and play music at the Bar Mitzvah celebration. The Burstons' son was going to have his Bar Mitzvah a few days after our son, and they also invited us to his Bar Mitzvah celebration. Then we got an unexpected call from the musician who was supposed to play at the Burston Bar Mitzvah. He explained that one of Rabbi Burston's parents had passed away suddenly and they had to go to out of town for the funeral. They asked the musician to please play at our son's Bar Mitzvah celebration so that we should still be able to have music. It was so kind of these people to think of us at such a difficult time in their own lives.

     Because most of our son's classmates were away for the summer, I was worried that he wouldn't have any friends to share in his simcha. But that day, some of the boys came home from camp, and Baruch Hashem, three boys who had been in the same nursery school class with our son at the yeshiva in Boston were able to come to the celebration. The men and boys sang and danced and lifted our son up and made his Bar Mitzvah celebration very, very special.

     Sometimes you hear the expression that all Jews are part of one family. That expression was certainly revealed during the course of putting our son's Bar Mitzvah celebration together. Without any insult to our biological families, we will be forever grateful to our "family of Jews" who came through for us when we really needed the help. And keep in mind that this was only two months after the passing of our most beloved Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was an enormously difficult time emotionally for Lubavitchers, but still these very special people made an effort to extend themselves to us and help to make our simcha exactly that -- a real simcha.

     It was almost the best day in the world. Why do I say that? Because truthfully, the best day in the world happened the day before the Bar Mitzvah. That was the day my husband took me to see a doctor in Boro Park. I had been having trouble with hemorrhoids since Pesach and I couldn't stand the pain anymore. The doctor was very nice. He told me what to do to help things clear up and he said I would get better. I really needed to hear those words. I also appreciated his kindness, especially because in addition to the physical pain I was having, I was still getting over being emotionally upset from worrying about how our son would be able to have a Bar Mitzvah celebration. Hashem had sent us the Stocks to help clear up my emotional pain, and now Hashem had sent me this wonderful doctor, Dr. Steven Weinstein, to help clear up my physical pain as well. For many months before, and including that day, I found myself thinking a lot about my mother. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the physical and emotional pain she had gone through, which ultimately led up to her taking her own life.

     All of this was still going through my mind as we walked out of the doctor's office. It was raining, and rain always makes me feel good. My husband said that the deli where Shimshon was getting the food for the Bar Mitzvah celebration was only a couple blocks away. He suggested that we go there just to see what it was like. I thought that was a great idea, so we walked in the rain to the Crown Deli.

     It was a real heimishe place. I loved it. My husband ordered cabbage soup, and it tasted just like the cabbage soup his grandmother used to make. He had fond memories of her, so he really enjoyed that soup. I began to relax as I realized how far we had come and how much we had grown in our lives as Jews. Our oldest son, Yosef Baruch, was about to have a Bar Mitzvah, not the kind my husband and I grew up knowing about, but a real Bar Mitzvah. On our walk back to the car, we stopped to buy a birthday cake for Yosef. Finally, after so many months of being upset, I began to feel that everything in our lives was going to be okay. Now I really understood what our connection with Mount Sinai was all about, and I thought to myself, "This is the best day in the world."