I want to tell you a story about a little boy and a summersault.
When Sholom was 10 years old he was given a new suit that he was very proud of, especially its beautiful gold buttons. It wasn’t very easy to come by a new suit in 1930s Moscow, and certainly not one as nice as this one. Sholom wore his suit for the Jewish High Holidays that year and was extra careful to keep it nice and clean.
The climax of the High Holidays is on Simchat Torah when our joy knows no bounds. What was Simchas Torah like in Moscow during the height of Stalinist terror? If you would imagine that it was quiet and solemn, that would be an intelligent guess, but you’d be forgetting about Yonah.
That Simchas Torah Yonah had drank plenty in honor of the holidays and he was out in the streets dancing. He even grabbed a strangers to dance and drink with him. I’m not sure that we can even fathom the audacity and chutzpah!
To see Yonah make merry in the streets, you would never know that it was a Jewish community living under the state-run terror campaign and that arrest and even execution were a regular part of life. It was the Jewish Holidays and Yonah was in another world, a world in which Stalin and his secret police simply didn’t exist!
Then, Yonah took his joy to new levels and starting doing somersaults in the streets! A crowd gathered around him and Yonah got all the community Jews to do the same – somersaults in the streets.
Yonah noticed a 10-year-old boy standing cautiously off to the side. The boy was dressed in an obviously brand new suit with shiny gold buttons. There were no dry cleaners in 1930 Moscow. One tumble in the muddy street and that beautiful suit would never be the same. Yonah, the master educator and mentor knew exactly what the boy was thinking and also knew exactly what had to be done. You also know, yes?
This was what we call now days “a teachable moment.” You cannot plan for a “teachable moment;” you cannot engineer it. It is just an opportunity that arises where a teacher suddenly has a perfect, fleeting chance to endow the student with a lesson he or she will never forget. The teachable moment must be seized by the teacher or lost forever. Yonah knew what the suit meant to the boy, but Yonah also knew what the boy would need to learn in order to survive and thrive as a person living in dark times. Wanting to keep your suit nice and clean is the normal thing for a boy that age to want, but there are times when a person just has to do the abnormal thing – a somersault in the muddy streets even if it ruins your suit would be a great way to break free from the chains of communism.
“MACH A KULAH” (do a summersault) Yonah shouted at the boy. All eyes were now on him “ DO A SOMERSAULT” they all shouted with joy. There was no way out of this. The suit was about to get ruined. Ten-year-old Sholom took a plunge. It was a silly, crazy, defiant act, and it was very necessary – the defining moment of a young man’s education. Everyone cheered as Sholom tumbled head over heels in the muddy street!
Sholom survived the war, started a family and became a Rabbi and business man always teaching and inspiring along the way.
Sholom is my grandfather. He would eventually marry Yonah’s niece — my grandmother, Pesia. Incidentally, Yonah and his wife never had children. He eventually was caught by the KGB and passed away while in prison.
My grandfather, Rabbi Sholom, passed away this week at 89 years old in New York. He was surrounded by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who are all proud Jews, and we are living the life he got dirty for. That “teachable moment” will forever be passed on through his family, most of whom are Rabbis and teachers across the globe.
You see getting dirty never felt so good! When you know getting dirty will help defy the challenges we face in this world so that we can be a free charitable and loving people, then getting dirty is just a pleasure.
MAY HIS MEMORY BE A BLESSING!
Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetain Isle Shopping Center at 2025 E. Sample Rd. in Lighthouse Point. For all upcoming events, please visit www.JewishLHP.com.