MAY 10, 2018 – My cell phone rings, and the name “Pinky” pops up on the screen. My heart rate jumps as the phone keeps ringing. I continue to stare at the screen with both trepidation and excitement. To pick it up or not to pick it up?
You see, Pinky passed away seven years ago. Pinchas Ben Fishel HaKohen was the Shul’s Cohen and candy man.
With no small amount of hesitation, I pick up the phone, and a woman’s voice on the other end greets me, saying, “Hi, this is Haley calling from Herb Chambers Toyota of Boston.”
I laughed, as I put the pieces of the puzzle together. Pinky, or Paul Freidman, worked at Herb Chambers when he was alive. I had done an online inquiry for a new minivan, and that spawned dozens of phone calls from many dealerships, including Pinky’s former workplace.
This got me thinking about Pinky. Pinky was an exceptional man. Not for the usual things that might earn one the title, such as great philanthropy or academic brilliance. In those arenas he may have been just average.
What Pinky had was a term I only recently heard about – “E-I,” or emotional intelligence. He understood people. He understood how to make people happy, and what kept people happy.
I first met Pinky when I visited my brother’s Chabad Center in Atlanta when I was still single, over 20 years ago. He was the happy-go-lucky, jovial individual who could be counted on to have a candy for the kids, and a cigarette for the adults and the occasional yeshiva student looking to sneak a “coffin nail” behind the Shul.
He always had a kind word and a joke, and something light to lift the mood.
When he called me to say that he’d be moving back to town, North of Boston, to care for his aging mom, he asked that he continue to frequent the Shul of a Schusterman.
We welcomed him with open arms, and he became a fixture in the Shul community. Literally. There was a heavy duty recliner chair in the back of the Shul, and that was Pinky’s chair. Long after he passed, and when we eventually moved to a permanent center, we were reticent to move or remove his chair, as this fixture of a man played an important role that none of us wanted to let go of.
More than his kindness and jolliness was his role as peacemaker. On more than a few occasions, he’d pull me aside and tell me that I needed to smooth feathers with so and so person, as I had unintentionally offended them. Or that another person was upset that they had not gotten an aliyah to the Torah in a long while.
Later I learned that he did the same with the Shul members, telling them that “that is not what the Rabbi meant” or “don’t you think you are overreacting?
Like his great-great-grandfather before him, Aharon HaKohen, Aaron the High Priest, Brother of Moshe, was known to be an Oheiv Shalom v’Rodef Shalom, a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.
This, I realized, was likely Pinky’s greatest contribution and was the trait for which I missed him most.
The phone call from him, seven years after his passing, was a shocking but important wake-up call reminding me not to forget the lessons he taught me. Check yourself and make sure that you, being a descendant of Aaron the High Priest, are not stepping on toes, and that I am bringing peace between people. Including people like myself.
Oh, and there is one more thing. Pinky passed away the eve of my own mother’s yahrzeit – thus ensuring that I would never forget the date of his passing. Since he had no biological children, I’d be his spiritual child, and make sure Kaddish was said for him.
Bye again, Pinky. I never stopped missing you. And thanks for calling the other day.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman is the director of Chabad of Peabody.