From the other side of the bench


A spiritual high

By David Seidemann

Fame and fortune have finally arrived. I entered a restaurant on Father’s Day, wife and kids in tow, and was greeted by a maitre de of sorts.

“Do you have reservations?” he asked.

“About what?” I replied.

My wife elbowed me ever so gently.

“No, sir. I guess it being father’s day, I should have called ahead.”

“I’m sorry, sir; we are only seating families with reservations.”

I turned to deliver the sad news to my wife and kids that heaven forbid we might have to “slum it” and eat at home. I assured the children that if any of their friends asked if we dined out, I would cover for them. As we were about to leave, a middle aged man whom I assume either owns or manages the fine eatery tapped me on the shoulder and said “Hey, you’re David Seidemann from The Jewish Star, right?”

I confessed and he said: “We always have a table here for you, come on back.”

And so I took my seat next to the “Dads” of our community, most if not all who either were smart enough to call ahead or, in the alternative, write for Jewish newspapers.

The girls ordered their standard: hot dogs; my wife had a salad and I had chosen the raspberry chicken. We began the “pass the coleslaw” drill until the entrees were served. Seated at the table next to us were two Yeshiva boys whose smiles were as large as their appetites. Here it was on a Sunday night in June and they were singing zemiros, traditional Shabbos songs, out loud, in public. Even by the most extreme standards, the Sabbath had ended some 20 hours ago.

I am embarrassed to admit that my first instinct was to ask the waiter to move us to a less “celebratory” area of the restaurant. My second instinct was to ask the boys to tone it down a bit. I went with my third instinct which was to introduce myself and my family to them.

These boys were on a spiritual high, having just returned from a weekend retreat with their classmates and rabbis in upstate New York. The singing, dancing and learning of Torah that Shabbos so moved them that some 20 hours later, on a Sunday evening, in a public restaurant, they could not contain themselves. That was something I wanted my children to be a part of.

So we began to schmooze. It turns out that my wife knew the late father of one of the boys, a diamond of a man who truly sparkled. He had passed away when this now Yeshiva boy was very young. My wife shared memories with him of his late father. Two young men, happy with life, bedecked with smiles, speaking in proper English and, to top it off, with impeccable table manners (every mother-in-law’s dream).

My wife gave them our phone number and told them to call us and come for a Shabbos meal. “We are usually home,” I said, “no one seems to invite us more than once.” They said they would be away for the summer and would call us in September when they returned. How uplifted we felt when they called us last Wednesday night, told us their plans had changed and inquired if our invitation to them was still open.

We sang deep into the night that Friday night; we delved deep into the boys’ backgrounds, their past, their present and their plans for the future. My wife, who is involved in arranging shidduchim, or matches for marriage, began processing all the information in her mental rolodex. We invited them back for Shalosh Seudos, the third Shabbos meal, and then again for havdalah, the ceremony that bridges the holiness of Sabbath to the rest of the week. We again concluded with a dance.

They thanked us for one of the most “spiritual” Shabbosim in memory and promised to return. I felt good about that which I believed my wife and I, and our children, provided to them. I felt better about what they provided us. So let me share with you the story that one of the boys shared with my family, “his story.” He grew up in an observant home but had to attend public school due to some educational issues. The yeshiva system where he lived simply did not have the resources to address his needs. While he might not have been the only Jew, he was definitely the only one sporting a yarmulke. His favorite teacher was a middle-aged woman, graying at the temples, with a huge cross hanging prominently around her neck. As this young boy continued through public school, the effects of an assimilated environment began to run their course. Within a short time, the yarmulke abandoned his head for the comfort and safety of his dresser drawer at home.

One morning, he was summoned to the office of his favorite teacher. “I am truly disappointed in you,” she said, lower lip tucked underneath her upper lip, accompanied by the instructive wagging of her index finger. The young student began to search his memory for the test he failed or the mischief he perpetrated. His mind drew a blank.

The teacher continued, “Why did you do it? Why did you remove your yarmulke? I got so much strength from watching a young Jewish boy show pride in who he was. It gave me strength to have pride in who I am.”

Shaken to the core, this young boy returned home, retrieved his yarmulke and placed it on his head, where it has resided without interruption since that day. If you think for a moment that the little innocuous things you do in life don’t inspire others, you are wrong. If you think that the nod, the wink, the smile, the acknowledgment you give another as they enter the room doesn’t make a difference, you are wrong. We gave this young man a simple dinner. In return he gave us a banquet of good will, pride and inspiration to feast upon for a long time to come.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein.

He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at