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Phil Jacobs discovers a special minhag of compassion

Zev Spektor discovers a different Jewish calling -- not worship, but photocopies

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Dr. Jacob Mermelstein discusses achievement motivation in children

Nehama C. Nahmoud presents the Jews of Yemen, Part II: The Jewish Kings of Yemen

Reader Response

First Person / sIngular Jewish
January 1, 1998 / 3 Tevet, 5758

The Copier

As is well known, there's more than one Jewish calling, but sometimes they can defy expectation.

By Zev Spektor

I went into the drugstore not long ago to use the copy machine. The day was unusually hot, and as I entered the the store, I stood still for a moment, relishing the coolness. Luckily, the light atop the copy machine was on. It was much too hot to go searching for yet another.

The black, rubber cover on top of the machine was down. When I lifted it, an eight-by-ten sheet of paper was resting on the copy glass. Some poor guy had forgotten his original. I pitied him; this was no day to come home and then realize that you had to go back out into the heat to recoup your piece of paper from the drugstore.

When I removed the paper, I noticed a familiar, but no less sinister symbol on the opposite side. Turning the sheet over, I saw several lines of bold text, on the bottom of which was a crudely drawn swastika. The text exhorted its readers to rise up against Jewish domination.

Suddenly, the chill in the store was no longer comfortable. Some racist poster-hanger had been making copies on this machine, and had forgotten his original. I glanced around the store and saw that there were no other customers. Down at the front, the clerk was sitting and fanning himself with an old newspaper; apparently the air conditioning was stronger in the back. I walked over to him.

"By any chance, do you remember who used that copy machine last?" I asked.

Though his eyes had been open, the clerk appeared to be waking up. "I -- uh... I'm sorry?"

"I asked if you remembered who used that copy machine last."

"No, I can't say that I do."

I decided to wait. The racist was sure to return to get his piece of paper. I would just wait until he did. What would I do if and when he came? That, I hadn't decided. The clerk went back to his fanning. I slowly made my way toward the entrance and busied myself examining various brands of disposable diapers.

Shortly, a teenager in jeans and a denim vest walked in. That must be him; a skinhead if I ever saw one -- despite his long hair. I was convinced that this was my man. But he passed the copy machine without so much as a glance and proceeded to ask the clerk if he had any bandages. I set myself to wait some more.

Time passed. I was getting quite knowledgeable about disposable diapers as well as quickly becoming late for lunch. I was just about to leave the trailing of Nazis to the Anti-Defamation League, when an elderly man entered the drugstore. I didn't give him a second thought; he definitely didn't look like my idea of a Nazi activist. And yet, to my shock, he went directly to the copy machine and started looking under the cover. When he found nothing there, he paced the floor as if searching for a lost item.

"Are you looking for this?" I asked, my voice choked with fury.

He looked at the racist poster I held out and smiled slightly. "Yes, I am. Thank you."

"Why do you hate Jews? What is it that makes you hate?" I asked him, sputtering in anger.

The man became momentarily confused, and then his smile broadened. He lifted his arm. Was he going to strike me? He motioned for me to look at his arm. I looked.

The blue numbers drained me of my anger, replacing it with mortification.

"Every time I find one of these," he said, pointing to the poster in my hand, "I make copies and mail them to the local politicians to show them that we're not immune to this kind of thing here in New York."

I was silent, lost in my embarrassment. The man glanced at my yarmulke and continued humbly, "This is my Judaism. You pray in the synagogue, and you do your mitzvos, but me, what I do is this."

"I'm sorry," I managed to mumble.

The man smiled kindly. "Don't be sorry. You acted upon your convictions. That's good. Doing is better than not doing."

I gave him the paper.

"What do you do, young man?"

"I study in a yeshivah."

"That's good. If even one yeshivah exists, that means they failed, doesn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, when you go back to your yeshivah, say a prayer for me, an old man who spends his time copying racist literature."

I was silent.

"Will you?"

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I will."

He waved and then left the store. I could see him wince slightly as the heat hit him. From the front of the store, I could hear the clerk, who'd finally noticed my existence. "Sir, if you need any help with the diapers, just ask."

I said nothing.


Zev Spektor is a published author who lives in Brooklyn. He is writing under a pseudonym.

©1998, Zev Spektor