Last night was a surprise. The rabbi at our temple invited 25 men to have dinner at a local Japanese restaurant to discuss our greatest adventures…and to bring along the spirit of one’s choice. Not being very religious (in the traditional sense) initially I was not too enthusiastic about it. But then I thought, “You know, my daughter just had her Bat Mitzvah, my son just graduated from Hebrew High School, and I have no ‘need’ to be interactive with the temple. Let me see what comes of it just being there to be there.” I am so very glad that I went.
First, the spirit of the rabbi’s choice was not some deep thought, but rather “Rabbi Yakov Daniels”: Jack Daniels. Second, no stories about how marriage, raising kids, etc. could be your greatest adventure. Cute, but to be sure, but not great reasons to spend my evening with 25 Jewish guys eating Japanese food in Marlboro, New Jersey on a Thursday night.
So the rabbi got everyone to brag…which is not so hard with 25 Jewish guys in the same room. (Of course, complaining would have been just as easy…but whose complaining?) Anyway, the first man speaks about how in his youth he hitchhiked from New Jersey to Alaska and back. Another talked about diving with sharks off the coast of Costa Rica, I spoke of how my involvement with superyachts led to my traveling the world and doing what I love through Goldring Travel, etc.
And then there were two adventures that really, deeply, touched me and, to be sure, put many things into perspective:
One man spoke of his immigrating to the United States from the Ukraine when he was 6 and how it required his family to travel through Europe down to Italy selling everything they owned as they were not allowed to bring anything with them into the United States. He said his greatest adventure was being in a small town in Italy in a bazaar (flea market) selling every last bit of their belongings just before coming to America. It was interesting to me that from the perspective of a 6 year old boy it was not the leaving family or friends, the journey to Italy or the US, but the giving away of what was physically left of his home that was his greatest adventure and what that must have represented to him.
And then the man sitting next to me spoke. He is probably 10 years younger than me, just moved into the area, runs his young children all over the place, and was earlier speaking of how he was there to meet new people. He also said he needed to get home because he had to help pack up their kitchen as a major home renovation was starting today. His story was about 9-11. He was one of Mayor Giuliani’s right hand men. He was going into the disaster when others were fleeing. He spoke of bodies dropping from the sky, seeing so many shoes on the ground, the constant beeping of the firemen’s transponders, and how he needed to find thousands of single line telephones. He was an IT guy that made things happen when things needed to happen.
To be honest, after that the other stories (some of which were quite interesting in the moment…even the rabbi’s) blurred, I kept thinking to myself, “Greatest adventure, huh? Learning how to travel and to appreciate the cultures of the world is not such a great adventure.”
At the end of the evening the rabbi came over to us and chatted about the evening. I said that with some of the stories my greatest adventure didn’t seem so great…seeking to show my appreciation for the other men’s adventures. His response was that I should not belittle what I have done…which was not my intention. After explaining that I said to him that one of my greatest pleasures is actually sitting in my backyard looking at the grass. He smiled pleasingly and then said he had buried many people who thought the saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins” was true and to trust him that it isn’t true.
The man sitting next to me agreed with the pleasures of sitting in his backyard…and then said he had to leave to help his wife pack up their kitchen fearing the anger that would otherwise greet him.
I couldn’t wait to tell my kids about this evening. By the time I got home my daughter was asleep, but my son was up. We sat in the gazebo (looking at the grass!) and at 16 my son only got a small bit of what I was saying. But he had something else on his mind. His girlfriend, who is a wonderful, caring young lady, just got a new BMW when she passed her driving test and now he is planning for his car when he turns 17 in a few months. He is insistent. He is focused. He is pushing me. He wants a 1970’s Volkswagen Bus.
It made me think that reason I went to that dinner was because of my rabbi. He, not knowing any one’s real back-stories, gave me yet another bit of richness. My adventures traveling my not be the greatest adventures when compared to others, but it has allowed me to not only appreciate the grass, but to raise my children to appreciate it too.
So now I must get back to looking for a 1970’s Volkswagen Bus. If we can find one and get it running I think there may be a great adventure or two in it…as my son starts to travel his own way, seeking to impress no one.