Whenever Ann isn’t talking non-stop, she is giggling away.
She even laughs at her own foibles and misfortunes. She is nearly a golden-ager with no family, no children, and meager financial resources. Nonetheless, Ann is usually upbeat and optimistic that she will somehow find a thrilling job, wonderful husband – or at least, a semi-permanent roof over her head.
I met Anne fifteen years ago when she rented a small studio apartment on our street. Since then, we have been great friends. Did I forget to mention her greatest asset? Equipped with a warm heart and sincerity – sometimes a bit too warm and too sincere – she will do anything in her power to help her friends. Over her thirty-some years in Israel, she has made many caring and invaluable friends. Although we have had endless conversations together, about everything under the sun, it was only last Chanukah, over the latkes and sour cream, that she told us about an episode in her early life that clued me in to her uncanny optimism.
Her father was born to Russian illegal immigrants who had arrived in Whitechapel, in the East End of London, right before World War I. Like many of the Jewish immigrants, the family was poor and Anne’s father left school at the age of 14 to help support the family. He apprenticed as a cutter in a clothing factory and gradually advanced in the business owned by two fellow Jews. He nearly married out, like some of his cousins and friends, but held back from the drastic step of abandoning his people. He married a nice Jewish woman and together they raised their two young children, Anne and her brother William. Anne’s father was neither learned in Jewish or secular subjects, but he had a good head and a committed Jewish heart.
In the early sixties, workers in England enjoyed a two day weekend, Saturday and Sunday. So he was free to honor the Shabbat as best as he knew from his parent’s home. Although the children didn’t go to Jewish schools, they went to shul and kept the Shabbat.
One year when Yom Kippur came out in middle of the week there was tremendous pressure at work. Anne’s father told his Jewish bosses – who kept the business open and worked on Yom Kippur – that he wouldn’t be coming in. They insisted he come to work or lose his job. Anne’s father had a family to feed, a mortgage to pay off and no savings. But he refused to work on Yom Kippur and was fired on the spot. He had no idea how he would be able to financially survive the next months.
Like many good Brits, come what may, Anne’s father would buy a weekly ticket in the football pools. He always used the same numbers; the birthdays of his two children. And just like in the fairy tales – the week after he was fired, he won one of the big prizes! The money was enough to buy a small car, keep the family for several months and host a big kiddush in shul in honor of the win and in gratitude to Hashem for bailing him out just when he needed it so badly.
His fellow congregants, not all shomrei Shabbat were impressed and influenced by his steadfast emunah. One of them even offered him a job as bookkeeper in his property management firm, and eventually Anne’s father became the accountant of the firm. Looking back he realized that had he acceded to the demands of his previous bosses, he would still have been a simple cutter. He felt that the Almighty was rewarding him for his faith, and the Yom Kippur challenge turned his loss into a huge gain.
When Anne nonchalantly related this story to my family, we sat back in amazement. Now we understood why Anne, neither very learned in Jewish or secular subjects, had the trust and belief that things would work out in her life.
I only wish she would buy a ticket in the football pools…