“G-d doesn’t count Jews. He weighs them”
“This, they should give, everyone who goes through the counting, half a shekel of the shekel hakodesh. Twenty gerahs equals one shekel….” (Shemos 30:13)
It’s interesting that there was a specific weight (around seven grams) issued for the half a shekel of silver each Jew was required to contribute. This connects to a profound comment made by Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch, renowned leader, commentator, and activist on behalf of German Jewry.
In 1830, he was appointed to a respected rabbinic position as the chief rabbi of Oldenburg. He served there for 11 years, after which he became the chief rabbi of the illustrious community of Moravia.
Yet in 1851, when he was asked by a handful of Torah observant families in Frankfurt, Germany, to assist them in combating the strong opposition they were facing from the new, radical reform movement that had its headquarters in Germany, Rav Hirsch heeded their call and left his eminent position to take up the new post (Rabbi YY Jacobson, TheYeshiva.net).
I’d never met her and had no idea what she looked like, but I knew her voice so well. We chatted and schmoozed, discussed my daughters’ engagements and wedding plans, and of course, hashed out which washing machine I’d buy them.
Her name was Etty, and she was my go-to appliance guru. When I moved into my own home close to two decades ago, I no longer had to deal with rent or a landlord, but I also had no appliances. I sought help to navigate the tricky process of becoming an appliance owner; it seemed more complicated than becoming a homeowner. Then I found Etty.
My mother-in-law, who was helping with the purchase of said appliances, was convinced that American appliances were the only way to go. Etty, who worked for a local company, tried to explain to me (and Mom) that Israel is not America, notwithstanding the availability of Heinz ketchup in the makolet. Yet I wanted to make Mom happy, and so we became the proud owner of a Whirlpool washing machine and GE oven. The oven was a source of nachas — the only self-cleaning model available then in Israel. But the washing machine… suffice it to say that it developed a few loose screws while still in infancy, and nary an Israeli repairman could fix it. Chalk one up to Etty.
She and I discussed the pros and cons of front-loaders and how to break it to Mom that USA stands for Use Standard Appliances. We purchased the machine Etty suggested, and it enjoyed longevity in the lifespan of appliances (though it did break Erev Pesach, of course). Our third-hand (or fourth-hand?) dryer croaked soon after, and Etty helped us with that, too.
Rav Hirsch served as rabbi in Frankfurt for 37 years until his passing in 1888. He built an extraordinary Jewish community, and institutions that flourished beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination. The community is still known today as the “Yekkeh community,” with its headquarters in Washington Heights, New York.
Just when I thought I was set with appliances for life, I entered the next stage —marrying off my girls. Now they needed appliances, too, and the needs in their closet-sized apartments were very different from mine with a houseful of kids. But Etty was as effusive in her mazel tovs as she was in her calm assurance that I’d get everything done in time, as she offered her opinions and personal faves for kallah shopping. She subsequently outfitted all my daughters, even swinging a Covid apartment setup, and managing to have that order delivered before we even found a venue for the wedding (less than 24 hours before the chuppah).
With personal follow-up and warmest wishes, I’d hang up the phone with Etty knowing we were in good hands.
When asked why he left one of the largest rabbinic positions in Europe to assist nine small, courageous families in Frankfurt fighting for their Jewish life, he’s reputed to have answered, “G-d doesn’t count Jews. He weighs them.”
When I saw the community posting about her petirah, I was in shock. Etty? Etty of the smiles in her voice, the personalized care, my advisor, my phone mate? I didn’t even know her last name!
Her loss struck me keenly. How would I manage without her? I’d miss her, not for her appliance acuity, but because she’d genuinely cared, reaching out to touch my life in so many ways. I’d never met her, but I’d lost a friend.
L’illui nishmas Yehudis Ettel bas Reb Levi
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 834)
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