Weekly Chasidic Story #1181 (s5780-44/
6 Av, 5780 / July 27, 2020) This week
of the Yellow Pages Rabbi
[Beep]."Hi. My name is Christina.
My grandfather has been unconscious for ten days; he is on home hospice, and we
need a rabbi.
Connection: Weekly Torah -- The SHMA YISRAEL
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing.
Miracle of the Yellow Pages Rabbi
In the mid-1990's,
before cell phones, Facebook, or other social media, I relied on my answering
machine and fax machine to conduct business. My phone number was listed in the
Yellow Pages, and I'd get fifty to a hundred calls a day that I would screen and
call back as my busy schedule would permit. Often, I would ask people to send
me a fax with requests or questions. As luck would have it, The Chai Center came
up as one of the first Jewish organizations in the Yellow Pages, which was great
One evening, I was in my office, an upstairs wood-paneled
room that runs the length of the house, lined with my entire library of Hebrew
and English books. It was midnight, a cold, rainy winter night, and the phone
rang twice before the call went to the answering machine - long enough to hear,
short enough to ignore.
A voice started to record: "Hi, there. I got
your name from the Yellow Pages, under synagogue
.My name is Christina. My
grandfather is dying and has been unconscious for ten days; he is on home hospice,
and we need a rabbi."
Christina is not the most Jewish sounding name,
I thought. This was intriguing enough to answer. I picked up the phone. Christina
gave me a rundown again, and I told her I'd be right over.
I went to an
unfamiliar neighborhood near Culver City, somewhat downscale and, from its vibe,
not exactly little Jerusalem. As I approached the address, I saw and old RV in
the driveway. Back then not many Jews took trips in RV's so it made me think this
wasn't a very Jewish-identifying family.
As I went inside, I didn't see
what I believed to be a single Jewish face except that of the man lying in the
hospital bed. "This is my grandfather," one woman said. I saw an old
man, unconscious, lying in bed and surrounded by a group of extended family, mostly
Latino. It was 1 a.m., and the story began to unfold.
Sam, the elderly man,
had worked for the U.S. Postal Service for nearly fifty years and lived in this
neighborhood with his non-Jewish wife, Maria, all that time. Maria knew that Sam
was Jewish and had asked Christina, the granddaughter, to call for a rabbi for
a Jewish burial. The wife said he had cousins in Riverside, and one used to call
Sam 'Uncle Shimon.' Good, he had a name!
I then asked what his father's
name was. It was David. Perfect: Shimon ben David.
During my nineteen years
working as a campus rabbi at UCLA, I also acted as a chaplain at UCLA Medical
Center. I knew that when someone is close to dying, you need to get squarely into
the person's face and speak loudly so that he or she can hear you. So, I told
Maria and the dozen or so family members, people who may well have never seen
a Jew other than Sam in their lives, that I was going to get in Sam's face and
speak loudly, because when a person is in a coma or otherwise unconscious, you
have to yell. They all nodded with silent approval.
I told them that I
was going to call on his Jewish soul with his Hebrew name and chant a special
prayer for the soul of Shimon ben David: Sam, son of David.
I moved extremely
close to Sam's bed and yelled into his ear the most important one-liner in the
Jewish religion: "Shma Yisrael, HaShem Elokeynu, HaShem Echod"
-- "Hear, Israel. G-D is our G-d G-D is One."
Sam, lying in bed
with his eyes still closed, said in response, Baruch shem kavod malchuso l'olam
vaed: "Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever."
They were the first words he had spoken since falling unconscious ten days earlier.
silence. I turned around and saw twelve heads leaning over me, listening intently.
Suddenly, all the people in the room started yelling, "The rabbi made a miracle;
the rabbi made a miracle!"
Finally, Maria thanked me for coming, but
asked that I not return. "Rabbi, we"ll call you when we need you."
I called every day for several days, and every day someone would answer
the phone and quickly end the call. Finally, on the third day, I called, and once
again Christina said she would call me and then hung up the phone.
then, as soon as I hung up, Christina called me back to report that while I had
been on the phone with her just moments earlier, Sam had passed away. It felt
good to know that Sam died as I was on the phone thinking about him, one soul
connected to another.
I was able to convince his wife, Maria, to have a
kosher burial for Sam in a Jewish cemetery, telling her that he was born a Jew
and should be buried as one. We gathered a minyan to help complete the
Jewish funeral ceremony, men who stood up for Sam purely because it was a mitzvah
to do so.
Shimon ben David left this world in the highest way.
Extracted, re-titled and lightly edited by Yerachmiel Tilles from "I Love
when that Happens" -- copyrighted by Rabbi Mendel Schwartz (his
son) in 2018.
Connection: Weekly Torah -- The SHMA
Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz [7 Kislev 5705 -12 Shvat 5777 (Nov. 12,1944-Feb.
7, 2017)] was a staff rabbi of the very first campus Chabad House in the world,
in Berkeley (California) and then Los Angeles. In the 1980's the widowed Schwartzie
married Olivia, and in the same decade they opened Chai Center, independent
of Chabad, to give full expression to his creative--and wild--ideas for adult
education for "every Jew that moves." Over the years he had a life-changing
effect on thousands of Jews. For the last two decades of his life, he was Ascent's
"Summer Rabbi-Scholar in Residence" - accompanied by Olivia, of course.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them
live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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of the Full Moon"
the Full Moon" vol 2 - holiday stories)
now available for purchase
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1 of Yerachmiel Tilles's 3-volume set, "Saturday
Night, Full Moon",
also available for purchase on
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