A true story that took place on the West Coast of U.S.A.
The names have been changed for the sake of
Esther Cohen was looking for something `more.' She didn't
know what, but her life, the way it was, just wasn't enough.
She began coming to my house as a babysitter. Then more
frequently, to ask questions as she would peel potatoes or
finish dressing the baby. I tried to answer her questions,
which usually led to discussions about everything from the
creation of the world to why a Jew has a different soul than
non-Jews. And Esther began to change. She stopped spending
so much time with her non- Jewish friends and started
spending more and more time at our house, as well as going
to as many classes as she could at the nearby shul.
Soon she only wore long sleeves and skirts, much to her
mother's chagrin. And not long after, she decided to only
eat kosher, to her mother's total consternation. Her main
meals were lunch at our house every afternoon; she was a
loved part of our small family.
One Shabbos, as she ate her weekly meal with us, her eyes
lit up even more enthusiastically than usual. "My father
told me that he wants to start going to evening classes at
the shul with me. I think he's starting to really get
interested in Judaism!" She beamed at us; we beamed at her.
We were all so happy.
Esther's mother was more reluctant. Baruch Hashem,
she and I got along well. Mrs. Cohen would call or come
over. I would listen to her bitter complaints and
accusations about her daughter. Knowing that Mrs. Cohen only
wanted the best for Esther, I kept pointing out the things
that other people's daughters were doing as compared to
Esther's modest and refined behavior, and soon Mrs. Cohen
and her husband were coming to us occasionally for Shabbos
meals as well. Slowly, the Cohens decided to go kosher, with
the help of the rabbi of the shul, so that Esther
could eat comfortably in their home, but Shabbos was a day
of work for them, just like all the other days.
One weekday, I was passing Mr. Cohen's fabric store and
decided to pop in. I loved his store! Here were all of the
best and most expensive materials. Once my father gave me
money to buy myself some fabric. I bought here, from Mr.
Cohen; the Shabbos dress I made from the crushed velvet
still looked new even after a few years of wear. No
customers were in his store at the moment so we spoke a bit.
As I looked around, I couldn't help myself and I began to
appeal to him with all my heart: "Mr. Cohen, you have such a
beautiful store, such a beautiful family, and such a
beautiful neshoma! Please consider closing your store on
Shabbos!" He just shook his head apologetically.
"It's my busiest day. It's my livelihood. I can't just stop
working on Saturdays." But he did compromise in his own way;
he began closing earlier on Fridays, and Friday nights the
whole Cohen clan made kiddush and ate a festive
My entreaties and arguments, as well as those of the
shul members, increased during the summer and
sometimes Mr. Cohen did close his fabric store for all of
Shabbos. At first, it was terribly difficult for him, but by
Elul, he decided to make a little experiment. He kept
Shabbos that entire month while we all waited to see the
outcome. I prayed daily that he be strong enough to get
through Tishrei without breaking any chaggim as
On the first day of Rosh Hashona, a Tuesday that year, I
walked into the shul and there in the foyer stood Mr.
Cohen. I practically raced up to him and asked him
breathlessly how come he was here! During the day! On Rosh
He looked like such a holy Jew! Ever since they had decided
to become slightly more observant, he had grown a beard and
now he stood regally with a full white beard, large
yarmulke and three piece suit.
First he wished me a Shona Tova. Then he told me what
"I had decided that from now on, I wouldn't open my store at
all on Shabbos. But the Festivals were really another story,
especially this year when all of them fell on weekdays. I
just couldn't allow myself to think of it. Instead, I
concentrated just on Rosh Hashona. Should I? Shouldn't I? I
vacillated painfully. Yesterday, erev Yom Tov, I sat
in my empty store, took out the ledgers, and figured out
exactly how much I earn every month.
"The month of Elul had been less busy than usual. I
attributed that to my closing on Shabbos. So there I sat,
looking at all the figures. Why, I would need to gross
another $3,200 by that evening to make this last month as
profitable as all the other months! `There's no way I can
close for the chaggim,' I told myself. Yet the idea
of keeping the store open on Rosh Hashona felt like putting
lead in my throat. I didn't want to keep it open. On
the other hand, I'm the provider for my family. I kept
watching the clock ticking closer and closer to sundown. My
stomach felt so tense, I felt as if I had swallowed
lead! I'd have to keep the store open on Rosh Hashona! There
was no other choice.
"Less than an hour to closing time, I got a phone call. A
very good customer of mine was calling to ask me to wait for
her. `Alright,' I told her, `but please come as quickly as
you can.' Immediately, I called my two teenage sons to come
to the store to help. She arrived ten minutes later and
began pointing here, there, everywhere! `I'll take 20 yards
of that teal German velvet and 15 yards of the wine colored
velour...' She didn't ask for prices as her wide sleeves
swept through the bolts and bolts of fabrics. My sons and I
were perspiring heavily as we worked as quickly as we could,
cutting, folding, packaging, and trying desperately not to
look at the wall clock. I had difficulty swallowing,
thinking what a pity it would be to break Yom Tov by just a
few minutes. Finally, she finished. I totaled up her large
acquisition with tears in my eyes. The total was $3,183! We
wished her well, darted back to our house to shower and
dress. We arrived here in shul with three minutes to
He was beaming as he told me his amazing story. Then he
stroked his beard. "Mrs. Goldberg," he said, lowering his
voice confidentially, "after what happened yesterday, I will
NEVER open my store again on Shabbos or Yom Tov." And he
Last year, Mr. Cohen and his wife came to Israel for a
visit. I was thrilled to see them. During dinner, we spoke
about that Rosh Hashona. Mrs. Cohen laid out on the table
pictures of Esther with her six lovely children and then
pictures of all their other children, surrounded by more
beautiful grandchildren. Mr. Cohen's eyes misted over as he
said, "All of my children did teshuva, married and
are raising our wonderful grandchildren in frum
communities. What would have happened to my family if I
hadn't closed my store? What would have been?"
All I could answer was, "Boruch Hashem you did!