How small is our world? I’d say it’s pretty small. I was leaving the VA
hospital after teaching a class in spirituality as I do each week with the drug and
alcohol rehab group, when I found a woman pushing an older gentleman toward
the chapel. She asked if I could hold the one door open as she pushed the
gentleman inside. There is an automatic door opener which didn’t seem to be
working at the time.
Once inside, she asked how she’d be able to get the man back out if the door
still didn’t work. I told her I’d be happy to stay while they spent some time in
prayer. I was on my way out, but I wasn’t in a rush so I unlocked the door of the
small office in the back of the chapel to catch up on emails.
After about 15 minutes the Veteran and the young woman were ready to
leave. I pushed the automatic door opener and it worked perfectly. Apparently
when they originally tried to use it upon entering the chapel, they were too close to
the doors which won’t open if someone is in the way. Now that it was clear it
The gentleman extended his hand and as I took it he told me he would be
104 this May. I quipped that 104 is the new 40, and he laughed. He asked me if I
worked at the VA (my badge was covered by my coat that was already on) and
what he should call me. I told him I was a VA chaplain and most people call me
rabbi. He seemed genuinely pleased to meet me.
He was, like many of our Veterans, wearing a military cap with WWII
across the top and a series of bars below indicating his rank and achievements. I
felt it was an honor to meet him, and asked him about his service. He said he began
below deck and by the time he finished his service he was an officer.
His grand (or great grand) niece had gone for the car and I asked him where
he was from. He said Mocanaqua. “It’s near Shickshinny,” he added. I said then
you must have known Abe Simon. He said, “I knew the whole family very well.
Simon Motors. They were the kindest people around.” He told me that he
remembers his mother telling him “Anything the Simons ever needed you do for
them.” He remembers knowing at an early age that they were Jewish, and that they
were always helping out folks in the community. If some child needed shoes, the
Simons made sure they got them. If someone needed food, the Simons provided
whatever was needed.
Anyone who knew Abe Simon, of blessed memory, knew that this
gentleman was telling the truth. Abe and Fay Simon were stellar members of our
community, and we’ve missed them through the years. And it was a 104 year old
WWII Vet that reminded me of them in this small world.
But it gets smaller still. I visited someone named Murray Brown that same
day. He was listed as a Roman Catholic- as most of our older Veterans are. He
looked familiar to me, but there was no indication in the files that I had seen him
before. We spoke for a while and he asked about my congregation. When I told
him he asked if I had known his father, whose name he shares. And I now knew
why he looked familiar. He was the image of the Murray Brown I had known, and
who had been, many years ago, a resident of the nursing home at the VA.
Murray wasn’t Jewish, but he sure seemed as though he was. He attended
our Shabbat services with some regularity with his wife (they had both been
married and widowed) Juliette Stein Brown. Juliette was also related to the
Baltimore and Thalenfeld families. Originally from France she had a beautiful
accent and was an actress in her earlier life. She rode once in a car with President
John F. Kennedy, and in her younger years babysat for the children of the King of
Morocco and on every cruise she took she was at the Captain’s table. I said that in
heaven she’d be seated at God’s table.
I told the story of a nice fellow who passed away and went to heaven, and
found himself seated next to God Himself. At dinner time God offered him a
sandwich. As the man ate, he looked down into the underworld and saw that they
were having a huge feast. The next evening, God once again offered him a
sandwich, and as he looked down he again saw the people having a huge meal. On
the third day, when God offered him a sandwich, he asked, Dear Lord, how come
down there they have a big meal every evening, and up here in heaven you only
offer me a sandwich? And God answered him and said, I didn’t want to bother
cooking for just the two of us.
It is truly a small world we live in, and it is always nice to see that outside of
Jerusalem, the next closest center of the universe seems to be Wilkes-Barre!