My Grampa Ed, of blessed memory, worked hard for his family. As a young man he worked as a traveling sales agent. After he married Gramma Esther, of blessed memory, he tried several businesses. He had a General Store in New Leipzig, ND, an egg candling operation in nearby Ashley, ND, and a clothing store in Iron Mountain, MI, to mention a few. He tried many businesses and he went broke many times. It wasn’t until 1938 — as he approached age 50 — when he went into the home building business in St. Paul, that he first achieved economic success.
Grampa Ed and Gramma Esther were close to their siblings. During the 1930’s, they all lived in central Minnesota, from St. Paul to Red Wing. One of Ed’s brothers married one of Esther’s sisters, and one of Esther’s brothers married one of Ed’s sisters. Ed considered Esther’s brothers to be his brothers. And Esther considered Ed’s sisters to be her sisters. They all spent the holidays together. They worked together in businesses and at home. They were close in every way.
They all worked hard. When times were especially tough, during the Depression, Ed & Esther’s brothers and sisters would send their children to stay with them. And sometimes Ed and Esther would send their children to stay with their brothers and sisters.
During those years, Ed and his siblings all worked hard to support their families. During those years, they had their ups and downs. Sometimes they needed help. But they never had to ask, because Esther and her sisters would quietly make sure that their husbands would find out when one family needed help.
When one brother needed help, the other brothers would invite him over to play cards on Saturday night. They played Gin and Poker, mostly. During the course of the evening, the brother who needed help would invariably come out ahead $50 or $100.
When that brother got back on his feet a few weeks later, he would invite the brothers over to his house to play cards. During the course of the evening, he would invariably lose back the $50 or $100. In this way, the family members were able to help each other while retaining their sense of dignity and pride.
This year, as always, each member of our shul community will be asked repeatedly to help support the shul. As Rabbi I see every day how this community makes a real difference in the lives of many people. It is my hope that, in the words of our Torah, “every person shall give as they are able” (Deut. 16:17).
When Grampa Ed and his brothers left the card table with $50 or $100 less than they came with, they still felt like winners. They knew that even if they did not win the money back at the next round, they were helping their brother and sister in a very real way, and they knew that it was eminently worth it.
© Jon-Jay Tilsen