Fathers, Sons, and Pickles
A small gesture speaks volumes about respect
Does your kid watch your every move?
Rabbi Robert Block, my rabbi, and I were walking around the lower East Side of Manhattan in 1981 or so. The Jewish New Year was coming, and we were down there buying something for the Roslyn Synagogue, which he has led since the 1970s.
We passed a pickle store on one of the side streets, and there wasn’t a sign in front indicating that the place was under rabbinical supervision. So Block turned to a guy who must have been in his mid-20s, wearing a kippah, walking in the opposite direction.
“Are these pickles kosher?” Block asked.
“Absolutely,” the young man said emphatically. “My father eats them.”
The bond between father and son in this story was clearly so strong that the young man took an interest in virtually every detail of his father’s religious life.
That was all the say-so Block needed. We had no idea who this young man was, but clearly he lived in the neighborhood, had a sincere aspect to him, looked clean-cut, and answered the question with certainty and directness.
So the rabbi bought the pickles, which were indeed under proper rabbinical supervision to qualify them as kosher — and they were awfully good pickles. That much I remember.
But here’s why the story still resonates so deeply me almost 35 years later. It says so much about Judaism, fathers and sons, and, of course, pickles.
The bond between father and son in this story was clearly so strong that the young man took an interest in virtually every detail of his father’s religious life. Otherwise, how would he possibly have known whether his father ate those pickles? Remember again, he answered with no hesitation, with absolute certainty about his father’s pickle-eating habits. You don’t pay attention to details about a person for whom you don’t have complete respect.
That’s why I found the moment so memorable.
Keep in mind, also, that the young man did not tell us the pickles were kosher because he knew the pickle man, or because he knew the specific rabbinical supervision over the pickles.
The most competent religious authority this young man needed was his father’s say-so.
Instead, the most competent religious authority this young man needed was his father’s say-so. Put it together and you have what appears to be reverence for his father, evidenced by attention to even such seemingly insignificant details as what kind of pickle his father would eat, and whether a given pickle was kosher enough for his father’s standards.
At the time, and even today, I cannot tell you what kind of pickles my father eats. I vaguely remember that he used to like a pickle with his tongue sandwich at the Strathmore Delicatessen in the Miracle Mile in Manhasset, New York, near where we lived. I could be wrong. Maybe my father never liked pickles.
My sons are still young. They’re only 13. I don’t know what level of detail they concern themselves with when they think about me. But I won’t lie. There’s a part of me that yearns for my sons to love and respect me so much that even the choices I make, choices that appear utterly unimportant, catch their attention, and create standards for them, whether in Judaism or anything else, as they live their lives.
Some people want their sons to grow up to be president, or center fielder for the New York Yankees. I think I would be satisfied if they knew what kind of pickles I ate.