December 24, 2014

The Menorah Mission

It wasn’t how Avi had originally planned to spend his Sunday morning, but somehow he would find that out-of-the-way pharmacy his mother needed. Halfway down Pinecrest Avenue, Avi spotted a familiar item in the window of a dusty second-hand shop.

What’s that doing here? he wondered as he pressed his nose to the glass. There, amidst the menagerie of porcelain figurines, army medals and hammered brass platters, was a very small, very ornate silver menorah. Considering that it was only a few weeks before Chanukah, the timing was right, yet the setting seemed off. Avi walked in to take a better look.

“Do you sell Judaica?” he asked the salesman whose cat-eye glasses seemed to be a sample of their vintage merchandise.

“Now we do,” he replied, and then sighed deeply. “Poor fella.”

“Mind if I hold it a minute?” Avi asked. “I’m just window shopping, though,” he hurried to add.

“That’s okay. Just be careful with it,” the salesman said as he wagged his finger. “It’s a special one. Some sort of family heirloom. The fella who sold it needed the money to pay his electric bill. But he wants to buy it back, so I hope I won’t sell it. Not that I’m stopping anyone, but –” The salesman began to sniffle and Avi couldn’t help but suspect that he did not have a cold.

“Last week this older fella brings in a dusty green velvet bag and says he wants to sell us his grandfather’s Hanukkah menorah. I’m sure his grandfather isn’t around to use it anymore but it sure looked like this fella still does. Just the way he took it out so carefully, like he was holding a new baby. I felt bad telling him that someone might buy it before he gets back, but that’s the truth. And you know, he’s been walking by every day since then, just to see if it’s still here. What do you think of that? Some story, huh?”

“Yeah,” Avi sighed, as he turned the menorah round and watched it reflect the light. A captive menorah! he thought. This belongs back at home with its owner. What kind of a Chanukah will he have without it? After a few moments Hashem sent Avi an ambitious idea…

“Well, you were right,” Avi informed the salesman. “Someone is going to buy it before that fellow comes back.”

“Oh, you want it?” The man mumbled softly. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

“No,” Avi stopped him. “I want to buy it for him.”

“For whom?’ The salesman wrinkled his nose. “For the guy who sold it to us? You don’t even know him.”

“Let’s just say we’re members of the same tribe,” Avi smiled halfway. “Where I come from people do that kind of thing for each other.”

“Wow. I should join too!’ he laughed. “Well I guess I should have known you were related. He had a, whad’ya call it? A beanie? A skullcap? You know, a thing on his head just like you. Hey, wait a minute. You don’t even know the price. Do you realize this thing costs $500?”

“Five hundred dollars?” Avi stammered. “Oh.”

“Look, I’ll tell you what. Since you’re such a nice young man I’ll sell it to you for $375 and even let you make payments. How long is it until your holiday?”

“Three weeks.”

“Okay. So I’ll hold it for you and you’ll pay it off at a rate of $125 per week. Just remember that you spoke with Randy, cause no one else here will know about this special deal. And if, by any chance that fellow comes in to buy it back, I’ll figure out what’s left to pay and only charge him that amount.”

“That’s very nice of you Randy, but I can’t decide this on my own. Give me your number and after I get home and sort things out I’ll call you.”

“No problem,” the man said, as Avi took the store’s business card and continued on his way.

Big problem! thought Avi as his brain crunched the numbers. How in the world am I going to come up with $375 in only three weeks?

After being told to turn left by one person and right by another, Avi somehow located the pharmacy, bought the cream and took the bus home. As soon as he came inside, half blown in the house by a strong gust of wind, Avi hurried to give his mother the cream and tell her the story. Not the suspicious type but not the gullible type either, Mrs. Neuman picked up the phone to play detective. Twenty minutes and five phone calls later, she asked Avi to come back to the kitchen.

“It’s on the level,” she told Avi with a nod. “He is a widower. He and his wife were never blessed with children, so he lives alone and he is also quite poor. I even spoke with the gentleman’s rabbi about the situation. ”

“Great, so his shul is going to buy the menorah back for him?” Avi asked quickly.

“No,” she shook her head. “The rabbi told me they are already giving him as much assistance each month as they can afford. They can’t take on any more.”

“Which means –” Avi whispered.

“Right. Unless Social Security decides to surprise him with a Chanukah bonus, the menorah will stay there until someone buys it.” Mrs. Neuman sighed deeply.

“And if I raise the money for it? Or maybe me and Shlomo together? The salesman already told me he’d take three payments of $125 each.”

“Sounds like a tall order, but if you would, I think a certain member of Kehillas Achim Yachad will have a much brighter Chanukah.”

“Thanks Ma!” Avi shouted, as he ran to the phone.

There isn’t much time, she thought as she turned to fill a pot with water. I sure hope they’re not getting in over their heads.

“I like earning money, you know that,” Shlomo told Avi as they sat on Avi's bed talking business.

“But I need so many things. My MP3 player just broke, my mom only agreed to pay for half the cost of those steel-toe Everest hiking boots I need on rainy days and, besides, some of us like to eat nosh.”

“Oh come on Shlomo, have a heart,” Avi pleaded. “In ten or twenty years what do think you’ll remember about this Chanukah? The MP3 player?”

“That you talked me out of all my earnings!” Shlomo grinned, as he gave Avi a light slap on the back.

“So how about working half for the menorah and half for yourself?” Avi suggested, as he wrung his nervous hands together.

“That’s more like it,” Shlomo nodded. “Just remember you owe me one.”

Avi nodded. More like a million and one...

Through his work as a kashrus mashgiach Avi’s father had connections with many caterers, and the boys persuaded him to make good use of these connections to find them a temporary part-time job.

“You’re hired,” Mr. Neuman soon informed them. “Three employees of Shmaltzy Shmorg Caterers just called in sick. They need help in the kitchen fast. Chanukah is a busy season for them.”

Mr. Neuman handed Avi a note with the details. Both boys thanked him, and soon raced out the door.

“Wait for me!” Avi hollered as Shlomo ran ahead of him.

“They’re paying by the hour, remember?” Shlomo called over his shoulder. “Come on, time is money!”

More like money for a mitzvah, Avi concluded, and then picked up speed.

Meanwhile, back at the antique store…

“It’s perfect!” The businessman in the grey pin-striped suit exclaimed as he cradled the menorah in his arms. “Just what I’ve been looking for to place atop the mantle of my fireplace, an antique oil candelabra.”

“Oh no!” shouted Randy loudly. “I mean, oh, no, that doesn’t look like your style at all. You dress sharp and this is so old fashioned.”

“Everything in an antique store is old fashioned. That’s exactly why I came to shop here and not at Pier 1 Imports.”

“Still,” Randy countered, as his forehead beaded up with perspiration. “We have brass oil lamps that are much classier.”

“I prefer silver. Honestly, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you were trying to talk a customer out of a purchase – but that doesn’t make good business sense at all.”

“Uhm. Well,” Randy stalled as he quickly took the menorah back and studied it from all angles. “Hey, look, it already has someone else’s name engraved on it.”

“Let me see. I didn’t notice that.”

Randy flipped the menorah over and showed him the initials ZMB.

“Oh, then I guess it wouldn’t work after all. I wanted to have it monogrammed for my wife for her birthday. Where are those brass oil lamps you mentioned?”

“Can’t you just order pre-peeled potatoes?” Shlomo audaciously asked Shmaltzy Shmorg’s manager, after he showed the boys the tower of potato sacks they were meant to peel that afternoon and evening.

“Well, we could,” Izak Ubermeister replied, as he raised his chin just a tad higher. “But Shmaltzy Shmorg stands for the ultimate in freshness – or at least that’s what the advertising guy told us its stands for. So every one of the latkes we supply to the community’s Chanukah parties has to be worthy of our good name.”

“Gotcha,” Avi nodded, as he elbowed Shlomo. “We’ll get started now.”

They washed their hands, Mr. Ubermeister outfitted them with aprons that might once have been white, and they began to peel and peel and peel...

“Just remember,” Avi eventually squeaked, as he put down his peeler to stretch his arms and attempt to crack his now-uncrackable knuckles for the fourth time that half hour. “Every single spud gets us that much closer to making that Zeidy’s Chanukah.”

“You should write fundraising letters,” Shlomo tossed back as he forged ahead.

“Well, it’s true,” Avi blushed.

“Yeah, it is,” Shlomo mumbled, as a rare watery film began to coat his eyes. “Must be the onions.”

“Right,” said Avi. Except we haven’t cut any yet.

Just then the manager came over and handed his cellphone to Avi. “It’s for you, but make it quick.”

“Avi? It’s Randy from the antique store. It took forever to track you down. Listen, I just had such a close call. Some rich fella wanted the menorah and I had to convince him that it wasn’t what he really wanted. Next time I might not be so successful. When are coming with the first payment?”

“Please Randy. I’m getting paid late Thursday night. So give me until Friday. Please.”

“’I’ll try. But no promises.”

That erev Shabbos Avi raced over with an envelope filled with the slightly faded, wrinkled dollars Mr. Ubermeister had given him. Invited back to Shmaltzy Shmorg for eight more evenings and one more Sunday over the next three weeks, Avi and Shlomo were soon ready to claim the shared title of Reigning Potato Peeling Champion. But they weren’t in it for the glory, they were on a mission to rescue an elderly yid’s menorah. Huffing and puffing, Shlomo brought in the second payment and Randy scribbled the additional sum onto the receipt.

It was just two days before the first night of Chanukah when Avi brought in the final amount.

“You made it,” Randy greeted him, as he shook Avi’s hand.

“You had any doubts?”

“Yeah, but never mind. Happy Holidays!” he said in a singsong tone, as he tucked the menorah back into its faded green velvet case and put it in a shopping bag.

“Yeah,” Avi grinned as turned to go. “Very, very happy.”

Avi and Shlomo aren't the only ones busy having adventures. Check out what their sisters are up to – look forLemonade Girls Forever!”– the fun new book by Sara Miriam Gross, now available at Jewish bookstores, on Amazon, and at

About the Author: Sara Miriam works for Nefesh B'Nefesh

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