In one of my favorite "Seinfeld" episodes, Jerry shows Elaine the label maker he has just received as a thank-you gift from their mutual friend Tim Whatley. Examining the gift, Elaine realizes it's the label maker she had given Tim for Christmas. During that episode, "regift" was introduced into our lexicon, though the practice is as old as people's desire to (a) get rid of a gift they don't want and at the same time (b) not have to get a new one for somebody else. I wouldn't be surprised if many a cow and goat were regifted, back in the day.
The fun of watching that "Seinfeld" episode recently came to an abrupt halt when I became in a sense a regifting victim.
I was volunteering for a nonprofit group that was holding a used-book sale as part of its fundraising event. Poking around the various volumes offered for resale, I noticed a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul," priced at only a couple of dollars; I immediately bought it to give to one of my Jewish friends
Relaxing at home later, I idly leafed through the book and was delighted to see that it was in pristine condition … until I noticed some familiar semilegible handwriting on the front inside cover - mine. With disbelieving eyes, I stared at the date: Dec. 5, 2001, then read the dedication, which included best wishes to "Terrie" for a Happy Hanukkah. The fact that Terrie and I are no longer in contact seemed beside the point. Almost 12 years after choosing a present that I thought she would enjoy, I found it in a random group with other discarded books.
I felt hurt and thought, I'll bet she never even opened it. There seemed to be an element of karma to the whole affair. Terrie had given away my holiday present and, though she'd never know it, had gotten caught.
Around that time one of my Jewish friends became quite ill; she ended up being out of work for more than three months. I told her about the book's finding its way back to me. I then asked somewhat sheepishly if she would like to read it while convalescing. Anne is a true bibliophile. That the book had originally been given to another made little difference to her. But that the stories were short (many two to three pages) and a distraction from being poked and prodded, undergoing tests and taking meds, was huge. Anne dove into the book.
A few days later, Anne called to say how much she was enjoying the book. She regaled me with a reminiscence written by author Bel Kaufman ("Up the Down Staircase") about her grandfather, Sholem Aleichem. When the neighbors downstairs complained that Kaufman, then age 9, and her cousin were walking heavily, their grandfather taught them to walk on their hands!
Anne also recounted a memory written by Rabbi Gerald Wolpe. When Wolpe was only 11, his father died. Young Gerald walked to synagogue alone every day before school for a year to say the Kaddish prayer for him. The sexton of the synagogue, an older man, heard about this and began accompanying Gerald to lend support and a listening ear. It wasn't until many years later that the rabbi realized that the older man had walked well out of his way to do this kind deed.
Perhaps the most inspirational story concerned the late performing artist Eddie Cantor, who started the March of Dimes during the Depression. At that time, many folks couldn't afford to contribute $1 to President Roosevelt's campaign to eradicate polio. Cantor suggested sending in a dime instead. In only four months more than 2 million coins were collected.
Did these entertaining stories help in Anne's healing process? All I know is that she is now feeling better.
As I think back to the circuitous route the book took to get to Anne, my conclusion is that somehow things worked out the way they were supposed to - it appears that this chicken soup was good for both body and soul.
On StarNet: Read Barbara Russek's recent columns at azstarnet.com/barbararussek
E-mail Barbara Russek at Babette2@comcast.net