| Shul with a View |

Match in a Bottle

“No, please leave the shampoo! That’s my shadchanta!”


When Mrs. Shira Stern* called me on Chol Hamoed Pesach, I knew it was serious.

Shira’s husband, Moshe, got on the phone and told me that the night before, his wife’s grandfather was taken by Hatzolah to Hackensack Hospital. As a young couple with small children, they couldn’t just drop everything and head to the hospital.

I told them I was on my way to the hospital and would update them as soon as possible.

When I arrived at Reb Shlomo’s room, he greeted me with a warm, “Shalom aleichem! I have no idea why I was brought here! I feel fine. I was a little dizzy last night, so my granddaughter calls Hatzolah? Can’t a 93-year-old man be dizzy without being taken to the hospital?”

I knew Reb Shlomo from the times he visited his granddaughter and her family, and despite the circumstances, I was thankful to spend time with him. How often does one get an opportunity to speak to a Yid born in Lodz in 1930?

I also knew he loved schmoozing. Reb Shlomo did not disappoint, and soon he was regaling me with stories of his time in the Foehrenwald DP camp, where he stayed until he finally immigrated to the United States in 1948.

He was describing life in New York in the late 1940s and 50s, when he suddenly stopped speaking. A nurse had entered the room and begun to tidy up the various cups and plates on his tray table. As she picked up a small empty plastic shampoo bottle, Reb Shlomo let out a shrei. “Please don’t touch the shampoo!”

“It’s just about empty,” the nurse said as she prepared to toss the small bottle.

“No, please leave the shampoo! That’s my shadchanta!”

The nurse looked at Reb Shlomo quizzically, conveying a sense of compassion for this clearly confused nonagenarian.

I, too, was concerned with his obsession with the shampoo.

When the nurse left (without the shampoo), I asked Reb Shlomo, “What’s this about shampoo being the shadchanta?”

Upon noticing my confused expression, Reb Shlomo laughed and said, “I know what I said, and I mean it. Shampoo was my shadchanta.”

Then he told me this tale.

“For the first few years in America, I would go to the HIAS office [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish organization that provided humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees] in Manhattan every Friday. I would receive basic necessities and vouchers. I would also receive the one item we never had in the DP camp, shampoo.

“I cherished my American shampoo, and every Friday, I carefully wrapped it in my pouch to take back home with me to Brooklyn.

“One day when I emerged from the subway in Brooklyn, I felt something wet on my hands. My special shampoo had spilled all over my official papers. I was beside myself, as I needed those papers to work and was upset about my spilled shampoo.

“Suddenly a woman was by my side on the subway platform, and producing a few napkins, she said, ‘Here, take these,’ and then helped me wipe the shampoo off my papers. That was a great chesed and very kind of her.

“But that wasn’t all. When I finished with the last napkin and turned to thank this woman, she handed me back an almost full bottle of shampoo.

“She had squeezed the shampoo from each shampoo-saturated napkin, back into the bottle.

“When I realized what this woman did for me, I knew I had found my bashert. And that is how I met Ethel, my wife of 70 years.

“Since then, I never throw out any shampoo, no matter how little is left. How can I? After all, shampoo was my shadchanta, and I must show it gratitude.”

And all along, we thought Reb Shlomo was confused.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 965)

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