Photo: Anthony Green

My late mother knew Hebrew perfectly. She had received an excellent Jewish education in pre-war Lithuania and was a highly-regarded Hebrew school teacher in America. Once, on a visit to Israel, she was checking out at our local supermarket. “Eser shekel, geveret” (ten shekels, madam), the cashier said. This is grammatically incorrect. The word “eser” is feminine, and the word “shekel” is masculine. “In Lithuania,” my mother gently corrected her, “we would say ‘asarah shekalim’.” “Geveret (madam),” the cashier responded, “Are you joking with me? There were no shekels in Lithuania.”

***

We were shopping one morning at an outdoor mall in Givatayim. Walking past a Bank Hapoalim ATM, I noticed some bills sticking out. Obviously, the person who had made the withdrawal had forgotten to take his money. My first thought was that it was an older person, like me. I didn’t know what I should do. So, I stood by the machine, hoping that the person would realize his mistake and return for his money. I also wanted to make sure that no passer-by would take the money for himself. But no one came. Finally, I decided to pull the money out and report it to a cashier inside the bank. “Thank you,” the cashier said as I handed him the bills (NIS1,000, by the way). “We’ll do what we can to locate the person. We have the time of the withdrawal and the number of the account.”  “By the way,” he continued, “you didn’t have to worry. After a certain amount of time, the machine automatically swallows money that is forgotten.” Dear reader, I just thought you might want to know.

***

In Israel there is a saying, “pa’am shlisheet gleeda”. It means, if we bump into each other for a third time, we must go out for ice-cream. Our daughter is a family doctor who works in one of the health-fund clinics. I went to visit her one day, and when the elderly secretary saw me she literally shrieked aloud: “I can’t believe it. Oh, I just can’t believe it!” I didn’t understand what she didn’t believe until she explained to me that at my volunteer work in the outpatient clinic at Sheba Hospital I had been very kind and helpful to her. I didn’t recall, but I was very pleased that I had been able to be of help. “I just can’t believe it,” she called out once again. “What a happy coincidence - that you were so kind to me and are also Dr. Libenson’s father.”

Some months later I was transferred from the outpatient clinic to a new job at the hospital – accompanying patients from their rooms to their medical tests. I entered a certain room and I heard that same shriek, “It’s you again. Oh, my God. I just can’t believe it.” Yes, it was the same secretary who was now hospitalized, and I had been assigned, by coincidence, the task of bringing her to her test. When I told my daughter, she said, “You are her guardian-angel.”

Now I am entering the realm of fantasy. What if Sheba Hospital had a Good News department and I was assigned to it? Patients would knock on my door and I would deliver the Good News: “You are 100% cured. You are absolutely fine. You have nothing to worry about from now on.” And then I would hand them a document attesting to all this. So, there I’d be, sitting behind my desk. There would be a knock at the door. I’d say, “Come in,” and she would enter. She’d take one look at me and shriek, “It’s you again. It just can’t be. I just can’t believe it.” And I would say, “What’s your favorite ice-cream flavor?

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About the author

Eli Libenson

Eli Libenson is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, and served as a Conservative rabbi in Plainview, NY, for 13 years before making aliyah in 1984. He taught junior ...
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