“You are truly a kind man. just like your brother told me you would be”
The elderly man looked so sad and so helpless.
He was in front of me in line at the doctor’s office checkout window. The receptionist had just told him he owed a co-pay of $20 for his visit.
At first, he removed a $10 bill from his pocket. He then fumbled through his other pockets until he found a $5 bill. He pulled out a few single dollar bills and then produced three quarters, a dime, and seven nickles.
The receptionist, somewhat impatiently, counted the money. “That comes to $19.20. You’re still 80 cents short.”
The elderly gentleman dug his hand deep into a side pocket, yet no more money was forthcoming.
The man looked down and said in an embarrassed tone, “I’m sorry, that’s all I have.”
There was silence in the waiting room full of masked patients. No one moved. Everyone pretended not to hear the conversation at the receptionist’s window.
I immediately opened my wallet, took out a dollar, and handed it to the man. “Here, please take this money and pay the bill.”
He said to me, “Shukran lakum — thank you. You are my brother.”
Passaic, New Jersey, with about 15,000 Orthodox Jews, is well known to us. Many forget that just a few short miles away is Patterson, about which one newspaper recently wrote: “Patterson, New Jersey, is nicknamed Little Ramallah, with an Arab-American population estimated as high as 20,000.”
This doctor’s office is in Patterson. The waiting room was full of people of all ethnicities and races, including many Muslims.
After he handed the receptionist the dollar, it was my turn. I quickly paid my bills and headed for the door. The elderly fellow was still there, reaching for the door, and I opened it, held it for him, and allowed both of us to leave.
Once again, he said to me, “Shukran lakum.” He then added, “You are truly a kind man. just like your brother told me you would be.”
I looked at him quizzically. I had no idea who he was referring to.
“You look confused. Let me tell you something. I was born in 1931 in Palestine. As a boy, I lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Ungarin Shul [also known as the Ohel Yitzchak Shul].
“I was the Shabbos goy. I would come and put on the heat and light the candles. I was friendly with all of the chassidic boys, and I even learned Yiddish. After I put the lights on, someone would always give me a piece of kugel and a drink.
“One Shabbos I came, and after putting on the lights, I was told there was no kugel. The Jews had heard that the locals were planning a riot that day, so they canceled the food normally eaten after the prayers.
“I must have looked disappointed. One of the older men, a rabbi, who looked like you, came to me and said, ‘There will come a time when you will be asked for payment, and you won’t have it. And at that time, a Jew will come and pay for you. You should know that that payment will be your reward for putting on the lights for us today. G-d never forgets those who are kind to the Jewish People.’
“Since then, I have thought about that statement from the rabbi. And today, 83 years later, it came true. The rabbi was right. G-d never forgets one who is kind to the Jewish People.
“Shukran lakum,” he said to me again, and turned to leave.
And then suddenly, he looked back at me, and added, “Zei gezunt.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 893)
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