It seemed like such a good idea. The new synagogue in Twin Rivers was due to be completed in November, and the old shul in Vineland was closing in July. That meant there was more than enough time to transfer the old Aron Kodesh to the new structure. Rabbi Herschel Hartstein, a truly holy man of blessed memory, had been the rabbi in Vineland for over forty years. After many years of dwindling membership, Congregation Shomrei Emuna was being knocked down to build a strip mall, and that left that gorgeous old Aron of mahogany and stained glass without a home. It had been lovingly built by hand by an artisan during the Great Depression in the 1930’s, and it would be a shame to see it go down with the shul. Rabbi Danny Hartstein loved the idea of transferring the Aron from his father’s shul to the new building at Congregation Gesher Israel in Twin Rivers.
But such a transfer would not be cheap, and the construction of the new synagogue was way over budget. There simply wasn’t the funding to make it happen.
That was where Paul Rubinstein stepped in. A Wall Street lion and a big macher in the Twin Rivers community, he agreed to fund the move of the Aron by himself. It was the least he could do to honor both Rabbis Hartstein, whom he had known and adored his whole life.
The dedication was a big hit, and the old Aron Kodesh looked beautiful in the new sanctuary. The earth tones chosen for the room complimented the fiery yellows and oranges of the stained glass, and the old wood blended with the entire color scheme of the synagogue.
Paul Rubinstein was the proud poppa. He thought of the Aron Kodesh as his new baby, and brought many of his friends to see it. In fact, he couldn’t stop talking about it.
Truth be told, he couldn’t stop talking in general. And therein lay the problem.
Yes, every shul has them. The constant gabbers during the service. They need to catch up with their friends, and they can’t wait until the Kiddush. They are shush-proof. And somehow they don’t feel they are disturbing others. Paul was the schmooze king of Gesher Israel. And though he was a lovely person, quite affable, and extremely charitable, it was definitely irksome to those trying to pray in earnest. And ironically, Paul was a small man—around five foot four inches in stocking feet, but his voice was stentorian, and it carried to all four corners of the sanctuary. Small man, big mouth. Go figure.
The problems with the Aron Kodesh began around two weeks after it was installed. On a Saturday night it rained relatively steadily—no forty days and forty nights variety, but still impressive—and on Sunday morning they found water in the Aron Kodesh. It was a small puddle, and the Torahs were in no danger, but still it was troubling.
The House Committee of the synagogue called a company to water proof the Aron. They found a crack in the concrete seal between the old and new structures and sealed it with silicone, and it was assumed all was well.
Another week passed. The next Shabbat service went as always. The Rabbi spoke, Paul gabbed, people shushed, and Paul still gabbed. The service was completed, and all went their merry way.
Again it rained on Saturday night, and again the Aron took on water. This time the puddle was a bit bigger. The company came again and reapplied silicone. They checked and double checked the seals of the stained glass on the Aron. They tested their work and guaranteed success. All breathed a sigh of relief.
The next Shabbat, Paul Rubinstein was away in London on business. When he returned, he was pleased to find that it had rained while he was away, but the Aron had remained dry. He felt a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
But soon the flooding returned. The community was dismayed to find that again, after Shabbat, it rained, and again the Aron took on water. Truly, this was a conundrum. Apex Waterproofing had tried all kinds of fixes. Epoxy, latex, trawling the floor joints with mortar, chipping and replacing the dovetail groove; nothing worked.
A few months later, Rabbi Hartstein called Paul into his office for a meeting. Paul came in after work in his usual jovial mood and sat across from the rabbi.
“How are you, Rabbi?” Paul asked.
“Just fine, Paul,” the rabbi said, appearing a bit distracted. “I’ve asked someone else to attend our meeting.”
In walked Mendel the shamash. He nodded at Paul and silently took his seat.
Mendel was a staple at Gesher Israel. He had been the shamash at old Rabbi Hartstein’s shul in Vineland and then moved to the Twin Rivers synagogue when the first closed. He was ageless, but if you asked Paul, he would have put Mendel at ninety years old easily. He was definitely from the old country, although that might have been Babylonia rather than Lithuania.
“I asked you here to discuss the problem with the water accumulating in the Aron Kodesh,” the rabbi said to Paul. “Mendel has a theory, and I think you should hear him out.”
“I’m all ears,” Paul said.
“It’s the talking.” Mendel said.
“The talking. It’s the talking.”
Did I mention that Mendel was a man of few words?
“I don’t understand,” Paul said.
“Talking,” Mendel repeated. “Talk.”
“Perhaps I should explain,” the rabbi offered. “Mendel believes that the water in the Aron is related to your talking during shul services.”
“What?” Paul stammered, “Why, that’s outrageous!”
“I thought so too,” the rabbi said. “But then I spent a few weeks and followed the pattern. Every time you are here for Shabbat, the next time it rains the Aron Kodesh floods. Then when you’re away it doesn’t.”
“Patently ridiculous,” Paul said. “Fabricated superstition.”
“The rabbi was a very holy man,” Mendel said.
“My father was a very spiritual man, Mendel is suggesting. He was much stricter than me and would brook no conversation during the services. Mendel thinks that his spirit is in the Aron, and that’s why it’s flooding.”
“Rabbi’s tears,” Mendel added.
That remark required no translation.
Paul staggered out of the meeting with Rabbi Hartstein and Mendel. It was pure craziness that the shamash suggested. Still, he tried his own experiment.
The next week he attended shul and talked his usual talk. Sure enough, it rained Monday and the Aron flooded.
The next Shabbat Paul was in Shanghai. It rained Wednesday. The Aron was dry as a bone.
The next week he was home. He spoke less but spoke in services nonetheless. The flood gates once again opened.
Paul sought out Mendel the next Sunday. He was in the social hall sweeping up the candy wrappers from the youth program the night before.
“I won’t talk anymore,” Paul said.
Mendel looked at him but kept sweeping.
“I’m serious. I’m going to be quiet during the davening.”
Mendel stopped sweeping and turned to look at Paul long and hard.
“A bracha on your keppe,” was all he said before he went back to sweeping.
And so the floods abated. Gesher Israel of Twin Rivers was quieter and the Aron Kodesh stayed dry. And Paul learned an important lesson:
One should not talk during the davening. But if you must, bring a raincoat.