The safe room keeper and the Bagger

This story was sent to me by Victor Eyal, my good friend from Orlando. The story continues along a few pages, so I summarized it to one page only, trying to be as true to the original as possible.

I’m in charge of a safe deposit room in a bank. Apparently, a boring job – I join people who are coming, turn a key, and then return to my station.  Several years ago, an old bagger, poorly dressed, stepped into our bank asking to rent a safe deposit box. Since then he has been coming every morning. He stays for a short while, leaves, and then comes again in the afternoon. I guessed that he was arriving upon closing time in order to deposit the amounts he had collected during the day, but why he was arriving in the mornings? Was he drawing the amounts he had collected the previous day?

One day when the bank was closed due to a labor union strike my phone rang. The bagger was on the line, begging me to open the safe room for him. Politely I refused. It took 15 minutes and he was standing by my home door step, sharing with me his story:

“During War World 2 I was a prisoner in a Nazi camp together with the Admor from Satmer (a well respected Jewish Rabbi). One day I was approached by the Rabbi’s assistant who told me that the Rabbi had lost his ‘Tefillin’ (Jewish straps that you twist around your arm while praying). I kept mine like a treasure, but was honored to loan it to the Rabbi. At the same day I was transferred for 2 weeks to do work outside the camp, and upon my return I learned that the Rabbi was taken by a special survival train to Switzerland. He was looking for me, but had been told that I was sent to the gas chambers and that I died, so with no other choice, he took the ’Tefillin’ with him.

Somehow I survived the holocaust and in 1948, lonely and heartbroken, I immigrated to Israel and I was hospitalized in a mental disease hospital. After 5 years a letter was received in the hospital signed by the Rabbi. He inquired whether I am the “Tefillin man” from the camp. I confirmed and immediately I was invited to meet him in America. I was warmly welcomed by the Rabbi and his worshipers and in a very touching ceremony the Rabbi handed me back my ‘Tefillin’ and invited me to stay with him. Despite my loneliness I preferred to return to Israel. I lived in a small apartment, granted to me by the immigration authorities, and made my living as a bagger. I used my old/new ‘Tefillin’ to pray daily, and kept it as my most precious asset.

One day, burglars broke into my apartment and stole my modest savings. Worried for my ‘Tefillin’, the essence of my existence, I rushed to open a safe box with a bank, to deposit my ‘Tefillin’. In the morning I visit the bank to take the ‘Tefillin’ and pray and in the afternoon I re-deposit it.”

That’s his story and now he asked me to go with him to the bank so he can use the ‘Tefillin’. I made some phone calls and went with him to the bank. It was the first time that I stood by a customer and looked into the safe. Nothing was there except the ‘Tefillin’.

“Why don’t you deposit the money that you collect?” I asked.

“I’m using the money to buy ‘Tefillin’ to new immigrants” he said.

Since that day we became close friends. I liked this noble man, who survives because of the ‘Tefillin’ and now devotes his life to it. One day he didn’t show up. I went to his apartment and found him dead. The Satmer’s people (the old Rabbi, meanwhile, passed away) assisted to arrange the funeral. While I’m a shy person, I still stood up on his grave and with tears in my eyes I told his story.

He donated his apartment to the hospital and to me he ordered the safe box key. He left me also a letter where he thanked me for my friendship and asked me to use the money in his bank account to cover the funeral expenses. I spent the money to put a respectable tombstone on his grave, on which I carved the words “The Tefillin man”. With the remaining amount I established a fund to buy ‘Tefillin’ to new immigrant’s children, to preserve his wish.

The ‘Tefillin’ that the Rabbi from Satmer used for so many years are now mine. The fund is giving 30 ‘Tefillin’, monthly, to new immigrants, and today I’m the “Tefillin man”.
 (Written by Chaim Valder)

I was told that this is a true story, but I don’t think it matters. Neither the religious issue matters. What matters is that through this story we learn again that there is a “whole world” behind every human being. It shows that the circle of each and every one of us, as much as it seems central to us, is not the only one that exists. So here is my moral from the story – when we meet other people, let’s not talk and concentrate only on ourselves. Let’s show interest and listen, let’s give them the floor, and only by doing so we will be able to explore amazing and touching worlds…

Fireworks (18)
Thursday, December 4, 2008

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