Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Al the Gardener

The recent news of Albert Einstein's letter at auction brings to mind a personal anecdote shared with me by my old friend Chaim A of blessed memory.
When I was a single young man almost thirty years ago, new to Crown Heights, I had many conversations with Chaim, sitting in the Ess and Bentch restaurant where the Jewish museum now stands. He was an educated old man who shared with me an informed view of the world before my birth. He spoke a beautiful Yiddish, and had a New York accent of the sort that bespoke a well rounded education in the New York public schools of the thirties. The Lubavitcher Rebbe gave him a blessing to make shidduchim. (marriage matches) Mine was one of his shidduchim. At the time of his passing, he had seen two children from that match, who are now both married.
Chaim provided many stories that provided a human dimension to much of the history I had read as a teenager. He recalled for instance scuffles between Jewish boys and the followers of Father Coughlin, a radio preacher of fascistic and anti-Jewish leanings who developed a mass following in 1930's America.
One of the stories he told me concerned a girl with whom he became acquainted in university back in the 1940's . During her college years she would return to the home of her Greek immigrant parents in New Jersey. She was probably the first in her family to ever make it to college. She was grateful for her parent's sacrifices and worked hard to succeed in her studies.
On one visit home, her father picked her up at the train station in his beat up pickup truck that he used for work. As he loaded his daughter's bags into the back of the truck, he told her,"I got to stop on the way home to talk to a friend of mine. He's a genius. He knows all about growing vegetables. "
The immigrant father and his young American daughter drove home from the train station, passing through areas more and more thinly dotted with housed and giving way to fields of planted vegetables. As the father was driving, he saw an old man with wild hair and rumpled clothing in one of the fields by the side of the road. The father slowed down his pickup truck and pulled over to the side of the road.
"Here he is!!!" said the young girl's father This is the guy who taught me all about growing vegetables. You gotta meet him!!"
The girl and her father got out of the pickup truck. The pleasure of meeting his good friend lent a spring to the step of the Greek farmer. "Al !! Good to see ya! This is my daughter. She's back from college. Mary, this is my buddy Al. He's taught me a lot about growing the vegetables. Look at that zucchini. And those tomatoes. Boy I tell you, this guy is a genius."
Mary looked on in speechless amazement as she watched her father talk with his friend, whose accent and distinctive appearance left little doubt about his identity. During a lull in the conversation, the girl interjected with deferential embarassment.
"I'm very sorry about my father", she stammered . He has no idea who you really are, Dr. Einstein".
Dr. Einstein, or "Al" smiled at her embarassment and replied, "Your father is a very smart man, he knows a lot about growing things."
Mary left New Jersey with a valuable glimpse of a man placed on a pedestal of genius who in his private life never lacked teachers. Dr. Einstein the teacher always remained Al the gardener. Even in areas that lent no lustre to his public persona he had a desire to learn and exchange knowledge.

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Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person...
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination...
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has...
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others...
(Talmud - Avot 4:1)

Story only Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe of and Quotation from Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 1 Einstein videos from youtube

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