Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Candyman (6/17/2010)

Those of you who don’t follow sports can probably skip the next few paragraphs as you won’t be able to relate. Watching (and attending) sporting events is one of the things I miss here in Israel. Yes, it was very cool when the Israel Baseball League had its only season (we were Bet Shemesh Blue Sox season ticket holders). But, overall, with the exception of football games (which air at night here), I really do not catch that many games.

I have a Slingbox connection to U.S. sports TV (which is how I get to watch my beloved Chicago Bears), but even when I tape other sports games to watch at a later time, the time difference makes it difficult to really enjoy watching. Most games that I tape are night games, and by the time I get home from work the next day, I almost always know the results in advance of watching, which ruins the experience. If the specific game is really important to me to watch, I end up spending the day avoiding all online activity or speaking to anyone who may spill the beans (and even that is less than 50% effective).

As a diehard everything Chicago (except the hated White Sox) fan, it was especially exciting that the Chicago Blackhawks reached the finals this year (and were crowned champions). What wasn’t so exciting was the schedule of games. Each game started at around 3:15 a.m. here in Israel. Since we wanted to watch “live” and not take the chance of getting the results before watching, we woke up between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. to watch the games (fast forwarding through commercials and breaks).

By the time Chicago won the series, I think I may have been happier that the games were over than about the fact that Chicago won. It was exhausting to be up every other day so early and a relief that I could go back to a normal sleeping pattern.

Even the Friday night game was a killer. Goldie and I had bought tickets for a comedy show on Motzaei Shabbat and instead of watching the game at 9:00 p.m. with Chaim, I watched it until 2:30 a.m. when we got home.

The show, Comedy for Koby, was outstanding, so I am happy we went. Comedy for Koby is an outstanding program of the Koby Mandell Foundation. Twice a year, a Jewish L.A.-based comedian, Avi Lieberman, brings three comedians for a multi-city tour here in Israel. The show plays to packed houses in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Bet Shemesh, Modiin, Raanana, and Efrat. With a private donor underwriting the tour, the shows raise money to send children who are from families with terror victims to a terrific summer camp program.

We had heard about the show, but for some reason, Goldie and I had not gone to one before. Our schedule did not allow us to go to the Bet Shemesh show; instead, we went to the Modiin show with two other couples, Jason and Chani Schwartz (Chani was a guest columnist in this space a few months back) and Dr. Herman and Mia Weiss (olim from West Hempstead). The Weisses had a friend from West Hempstead with them as well, Natasha Swirlowitz.

Everyone had a blast. The comedians were hilarious (we especially liked Bob Zany—great comedy name—who was funny from start to finish), and when Avi Lieberman had a dialogue with my boss (who is also a local Modiin rabbi) and skewered him, my entire week was made.

With the lack of English-speaking entertainment here outside the major cities (and even in the major cities the supply is limited), the Comedy for Koby show was a welcome oasis for us. We eagerly anticipate their next tour.

A couple of days later I went to be menachem avel the family of Izzy Naiman, ob’m. Izzy was the candyman in Rabbi Rosenthal’s shul in Chicago (the shul is now a Lubavitch high school). Each Shabbat, every child in shul would go over to Izzy and had to wish him a Good Shabbos and shake his hand in order to receive the coveted Bazooka gum that he would bring in from Israel on his annual trips.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Israeli Bazooka was generally only available in Chicago for Pesach. Having him import boxes and boxes of the stuff for us was a big treat and something every kid in shul looked forward to each week. Yet, as I look back, it was not the gum that made the biggest impact on me. The thing that stuck with me the most was his insistence that every child offer him a proper Good Shabbos greeting and that the boys shake his hand when doing so. It lent a dignity and formality to his greeting.

He also had a special policy of hosting us for a meal when we would spend a year in Israel. I still have the picture that was taken at the Plaza Hotel’s patio breakfast when Yaakov Lopin (a childhood friend of mine from Chicago who davened in the same shul) and I joined Izzy there for breakfast. Very fond memories. So I was dismayed to see the e-mail notice of his passing and resolved to be menachem avel his family.

Upon arrival at the shiva house, all I had to say was that I was “one of the Bazooka boys” and even though only his wife remembered me, the whole family “knew” who I was, so to speak. They told me how their father used to drive them crazy to make sure they shipped him gum when supplies were running low and how much joy he took in being the candyman in shul and in sharing the lives of all the kids of the community.

I was glad I went because it gave me a chance to share with them what an impact Izzy had on my life. You see, I too am the candyman in shul and have been for quite some time. While my father also was a candyman (albeit in a different shul) and I certainly was motivated by him as well, it is Izzy’s dignity and formality that I pass along in my shul as well.

Each child, boy or girl, greets me with a Shabbat Shalom before they get their lollipop (gum provides too many opportunities to ruin furniture); the boys all shake my hand. I see the joy and anticipation in their eyes when they come to greet me and I know that I learned a special lesson from the candyman. You see, I don’t think he really cared one way or the other about the greeting or the candy, I know that I sure don’t. What is important is the message the kids get.

They are excited to come to shul. They know that shul is a special place. A place of dignity where they are expected to act like adults and are made to feel important. That is the message that I learned from Izzy, a’h, and that is the message I hope to pass on to the next generation. Yehi zichro baruch.

Command Sergeant Major Yehoshua (Shuki) Sofer was shot and killed in an ambush by terrorists this week just south of Chevron. While the world media ignores the fact that another Jew was killed by terrorists in an ambush attack and continues to focus instead on the deaths of several terrorists who were killed by people who only shot in self-defense, we need to honor his memory and continue to support the Israeli Defense Forces whose only goal is the safety and security of our nation and our land.

Shuki Sofer, z’l, was supposed to be married this September. Yehi zichro baruch.

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