| Standing Ovation |

All Joking Aside

“I would love to do this job, Mr. Dorfman. However, we are Orthodox Jews and we cannot take such a job”

It was a few days before Purim, about 30 years ago, and I decided to pay a visit to the Neginah Orchestra office. At that time, the office was located on 13thAvenue, and it was known for being the happening place for musicians and singers — they’d be coming and going all the time, picking up paychecks, getting sheet music, or just visiting and hanging out. When I got upstairs, I noticed the office was pretty crowded, and the topic of conversation somehow evolved into a discussion about practical jokes that had been played on various musicians in the spirit of Purim. Everyone was convinced that they personally would never have fallen for any of those pranks, that they’d never be fooled.

Now, you know I can never resist a good joke myself, so I went into a quiet room, called my good friend Bunny Freedman, who I still consider to be the undisputed king of practical jokes, and told him I had to get these guys, for real. He didn’t need any further instruction from me; he took it from there, on his own.

I walked back into the thick of the hubbub and joined the group. About two minutes later, the Neginah phone rings and Steve Levine, the receptionist, picks up. He listens for a few seconds, starts hushing the people around him, and frantically tries to get the attention of Shelly Lang, who became owner of Neginah after he bought it from Isaac Gross in the 1980s.

“Shelly!” Steve shouts, as he puts the caller on hold for a second, “We got a live one here! You gotta take this call!”

Shelly picks up the phone and listens as the caller is looking to book a bar mitzvah in Detroit. He lets Shelly know right off the bat that money would be no object, and that he’s looking for a totally over-the-top-band, with all the fixings. As the conversation progresses, the bill keeps rising and rising. He wants a 32-piece band. He insists on MBD. He wants French horns, a harp, and percussions. He also requires a ten-man adult choir (and in those days, nobody had choirs at their simchahs).

At this point, everyone in the room is getting ready for the contract negotiations when the unthinkable happens: The client, who introduced himself as Max Dorfman, the biggest automotive dealer in the Midwest, says, “One more thing, Mr. Lang…”

Shelly, who’s already counting the profits, says, “Anything, Mr. Dorfman.”

“Well,” says the caller, “I also need five musicians to play the day before in the synagogue, when my son gets called up to the Torah.”

“When will that be?” asks Shelly.

“Saturday at 11:00 a.m.,” Max replies.

Shelly’s face fell. He cleared his throat and put the call on hold. He gave the office a quick recap of his phone conversation and the dilemma he now faced. Everyone in the office was in an uproar, weighing in with their opinions, halachically, morally, and whatever else they could come up with. Shelly shushed the office and picked up the phone on Max again.

“I would love to do this job, Mr. Dorfman. However, we are Orthodox Jews and we cannot take such a job.”

“Are you telling me you’re willing to forfeit the entire bar mitzvah package over a small musical accompaniment at our synagogue?” asked a shocked-sounding Mr. Dorfman.

“I’m afraid so,” replied Shelly. “It’s just not something we could ever do.”

“I hear you, Mr. Lang,” replied Max. “Can you just do me one small favor? Tell my good friend Ding that I said hi.”

Shelly asked, “You know Ding? How do you know Ding??” Shelly was starting to look a bit off color when Mr. Dorfman said, “Let’s just say that Ding and I, we’ve had our share of practical jokes in our days…” and with those words, my friend hung up — and proved, once and for all, that anyone, even the most sophisticated musicians, can fall for a practical joke.

And what happened to me, you ask? I never ran out of an office so fast in my life.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 901)

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