Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jerusalem's Candy Man

“Never take candy from a stranger.” We drill that lesson into our children from the time they are toddlers. We read about it in Bernstein Bears books and speak about it at preschool. We hear about strangers hiding razor blades in candy. And so we repeat our dire warning: “Never take candy from a stranger. Ever!”


On Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israelis celebrated Independence Day with a day of barbecuing. We headed out to a local park to take in the scene. We sat down on a bench to eat granola bars and jealously breathed in “reiah nikhoah,” the pleasing odor of Jerusalem grills. After a minute or two, an old man shuffled toward us with the help of his cane.  He approached Micah and asked if he could have the large, inflatable hammer Micah was holding. The hammer was a treat Micah received from his generous uncle Aaron at the previous night’s festivities. He had taken it along for the walk to the park. Truthfully, I was more than happy for Micah to give it away -- it would be one less excuse for him to bop his brothers (and parents).

The old man repeated his request to have the hammer and a confused seven year old handed it over with some hesitation. The old man thanked Micah, reached into his pocket and took out a cherry flavored toffee. Amazingly, the other brothers perked up at that moment -- just in time for each of them to receive their special treat.

As the “can-I-eat-it?” chorus erupted and Esther and I glanced that knowing parent, never-take-candy-from-a-stranger glance, the old man lifted his hands and intoned: “Yivarekhekha adonai v’yishmarekha, May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord be gracious unto you. May the Lord show you kindness and grand you peace.” He then mumbled something about the joy that will be felt at Micah’s wedding.

            Are you really going to tell your kids that they can’t eat the candy from an old Jerusalemite man who just blessed them with birkat kohanim? To them, this might just have been Eliyahu Hanavi.

“Yes, you can eat it,” we said.

The man wished us a “hag sameiah” and a “Shabbat Shalom.” And to my dismay, he handed Micah back the large, inflatable hammer. He then shuffled off to prune a nearby rosemary bush -- that he might have a sweet smelling herbs for Shabbat.

“Never take candy from a stranger.” Yes. But as our siddur reminds us, “haverim kol Yisrael,” there are no strangers among Jews. We are family.  And in special places like the Holy City of Jerusalem, strangers offer sweet words of prayer with the candy they give away.

Micah, Amichai and Koby resting during our Yom Ha'atzmaut neighborhood stroll.  Treasured inflatable hammer is being held by Amichai

Yom Ha'atzmaut ceremony at the elementary school.

Yonah and Amichai at one of our local parks.

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