When the phone rang in Rabbi Levi's office, he decided to let the machine get it. It was Friday, four o'clock, and time was running out to prepare his sermon for the weekend services. He turned up the volume on the answering machine to monitor the call, just in case it was an emergency.

"Rabbi Levi, this is Ed O'Hara. I'm the office manager at the Fein Law Firm. We haven't heard from Yussie since Tuesday, and I just thought you might want to—"

The rabbi picked up the phone.

"This is Rabbi Levi."

"I don't mean to worry you, but it's not like Yussie to not call""Hello, Rabbi. . . . I don't mean to worry you, but it's not like Yussie to not call, to not pick up his paycheck for his messenger services. Do you think you could find someone in your congregation to check up on him?"

Rabbi Levi ran his hand through his gray-speckled beard. He'd hoped to avoid an "old-looking" beard for at least ten more years, but such was not in G‑d's plans for him. He moved away his glasses and rubbed his tired, brown eyes. It was an especially tough week, and he was going to need his Shabbat rest.

"We'll take care of it, Mr. O'Hara. I'll have someone check up on him."

"Thank you, Rabbi. Sorry to disturb you."

"It's no problem. Thanks for calling." Rabbi Levi hung up.

He knew of only one person who would be available two hours before Shabbat—himself.


The rabbi pulled up to Yussie's run-down mobile home, which he had been living in for two years. He parked next to a coconut palm and climbed out.

The rabbi looked at the old silver-blue trailer and smiled. It had been a donation from Gershon Goldshmidt, a member of the congregation. Gershon had inherited it from his grandparents, and Rabbi Levi had persuaded him to donate it to the synagogue in exchange for an income tax deduction . . . or some points with the Man Upstairs, whichever was more important to Gershon.

The rabbi thought back to when he had driven Yussie over to the mobile-home park, stopped in front of the trailer, and handed Yussie the title. He fondly recalled the look on Yussie's face—pure amazement. After more than half a century, Yussie finally had his own home. His own home! Maybe it wasn't much to the rest of the world, but to Yussie it was a palace, a dream come true.

To Yussie it was a palace, a dream come trueThe rabbi knocked on the trailer door. The hinges were loose, and it rattled threateningly, as if the door would fall off. The rabbi made a mental note to call the synagogue handyman and have him come over to fix it.

Speaking of "fixing it," the rabbi thought the trailer would fix Yussie's life once and for all. Yussie had been picking up the trash at the park in exchange for the lot rent, and he worked for the president of the synagogue's law firm for a little spending money. It seemed that Yussie had all of his financial obligations covered, but even that was too much for him. There was an angry note taped to Yussie's door from the manager of the park, Bill Carver. The note demanded to know why Yussie had not picked up the trash since Tuesday. The rabbi took the note off the door and knocked again. No answer. After a third try, the rabbi went back to his car.

Rabbi Levi turned the key in the ignition, then glanced at his watch. There was only an hour until Shabbat. He was about to pull out when he saw Yussie's bicycle chained to the side of the trailer. Yussie rode his bicycle everywhere . . . except when he was home . . . but he wasn't home. . . or was he?

The rabbi drove over to the manager's office. Bill had just finished locking up and was reaching into a cooler for a beer.

"Hello, Rabbi," He said, straightening up and pulling his shirt over his big belly.

"Hello, Bill," The rabbi replied, noticing the three-day stubble on Bill's chin.

"Rabbi, if you're here about Yussie, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to fire him. He hasn't picked up the trash for three days, and the residents are getting angry." Bill took a long swig of his beer. "Man,that tastes good after a long week! Rabbi, can I offer you a cold one?"

"No, thanks . . . Bill, have you seen Yussie at all since Tuesday?"

The rabbi felt his heart skip a beatBill emptied the can and crushed it. Then he let out a long, loud belch. "Excuse me," he said without embarrassment, and then continued, "You know, come to think of it, Rabbi, I haven't seen Yussie or that mutt of his around."

The rabbi felt his heart skip a beat. "Do you have a key to his trailer, Bill?"

"No . . . but I can get in if you want."

"I want."

"Okay. I'll meet you over there."

Rabbi Levi drove back to Yussie's trailer, and waited. Bill drove up ten minutes later in his golf cart, one hand on the steering wheel, the other on a second can of beer.

Bill jumped out of the cart, grabbed the screwdriver on the passenger seat, and walked up to the front door. "Shouldn't be too difficult," he said, as he jammed the screwdriver between the door and the frame, fiddled with it, and then jerked back. The door popped open.

"There you go, Rabbi."

"Thanks, Bill."

The rabbi walked tentatively up the front steps and looked around. "Yussie?" he called out.

No answer.

"Yussie?" he called again.

"You want me to go inside with you, Rabbi?"

"Yes, Bill, if you don't mind."

Bill finished his second can of beer, belched again, and tossed the empty can into the back of the golf cart. He followed the rabbi inside.

The rabbi took a deep breath and turned the doorknobThe rabbi flipped the light switch in the living room, and the front of the trailer was illuminated. A collection of worn-out, mismatched furniture stared back at him. The rabbi walked through the kitchen and down the short hallway. He gingerly opened the door to the bathroom. It was unoccupied. He proceeded to the end of the hall and knocked on the bedroom door. He heard the whimpering of a dog inside. The rabbi took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.

"Yussie?" he called out.

It was dark in the bedroom. He felt for the light switch and when he flipped on the light, there was Yussie, motionless on the bed. His dog was at his feet, too weak to even lift its head.

"I'll call 911," Bill said gravely from behind.

Rabbi Levi left the bedroom and sat down at Yussie's kitchen table. He put his head in his hands and cried.

The police arrived first and asked the rabbi some standard questions. The coroner arrived next and took Yussie's body to the funeral home. An animal control worker fed the dog, and took it away.

Rabbi Levi returned to his synagogue. Since it was against Jewish law to bury the dead on Shabbat, he planned to do a graveside service on Sunday. That evening and all day Saturday, Rabbi Levi walked around the synagogue in a daze. He led services with little energy and did not give a sermon, other than to say Yussie passed away and the funeral would be on Sunday. The congregation gave him their sympathies, as if a member of the rabbi's family had passed away.

On Saturday night, after Shabbos, the rabbi returned to the mobile-home park. He was dressed in his "civvies": dark pants, a t-shirt, and a worn-out pair of sneakers. He brought a large screwdriver with him so he wouldn't have to disturb Bill. He wanted to get something of Yussie's, something to remind him of his friend—maybe his prayer book or prayer shawl.

When Rabbi Levi pulled up to Yussie's trailer, the door was already open and the lights were on. He walked up the aluminum steps and peered inside. He was surprised to see a woman rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. She was thin, about fifty or so, with short brown hair. She was wearing faded jeans, a red cotton blouse, and a worn pair of flip-flops. She jumped when she saw the rabbi.

"Who are you?" the rabbi asked.

"Millie. Yussie's sister," she said. "Who are you?"

"I'm Rabbi Levi," he answered. "Yussie's rabbi."

"Oh," was her reply.

Millie continued searching through the cabinets, not paying the rabbi much mindRabbi Levi let himself into the trailer, and Millie continued searching through the cabinets, not paying the rabbi much mind. There was an old cardboard box on the floor, which she occasionally tossed things into. The rabbi sat down on the worn sofa and studied her. The only family resemblance was around the nose—a nose made for a much larger face.

"I didn't know Yussie had a sister," the rabbi said, trying to make conversation.

"Well, he did."

"Your brother didn't have much."

"No kidding."

The rabbi changed the subject.

"How did you find out he died, Millie?"

"The coroner called me. He had a lot of questions."

"Questions about what?"

"Health questions. Personal history. I told him that Yussie was a cancer survivor."

"A cancer survivor?"

"You didn't know, Rabbi?"

"No."

"Yussie had lymphoma. Twenty years ago. It should have killed him. The chemo wiped him out, damaged his brain. Doctors gave him no chance afterward. Zero. He came down here to Florida to live out the rest of his days in the sun. Instead, he outlived most of his doctors."

"Did the coroner say he died of cancer?"

"No, his heart gave out. He fell asleep and never woke up."

Rabbi Levi nodded. "He deserved an easy death. Yussie had a hard life."

"Yeah, the life of a real poet."

"Poet?"

"Tell me you didn't know that either, Rabbi."

"Know what?"

"Yussie used to be quite a poet. He even won awards when he was younger. Never got much money though. Poetry doesn't pay."

She picked up a pile of papers from the kitchen counter and showed it to the rabbi.

"There are poems everywhere. In the drawers. In the cabinets. Under the bed.""Look at this, Rabbi. There are poems everywhere. In the drawers. In the cabinets. Under the bed. I'm collecting them and putting 'em in that box next to you. There must be more than a thousand of 'em." She threw the pile in her hands into the box.

The rabbi reached in and took out a few papers. The first one was titled, "Love Charm." The next was "Lady Liberty." They were signed Fraylich Yankel.

"Who is Fraylich Yankel?" the rabbi asked.

"It was his pen name. He liked the sound of it."

The rabbi pulled out another handful of papers.

"You can keep the poems, Rabbi, if you want. I'm just going to take a few of the kitchen things."

"What do you want to do with his trailer, Millie?"

"You can sell it, and use it for his funeral expenses. Whatever is left over, you can give to charity in my brother's name."

"Thank you," he said simply, not having the heart to tell her that the trailer was worth maybe one or two thousand dollars, and the funeral was going to cost five thousand.

"Do you want to say something at the funeral tomorrow, Millie?"

"I'm not staying for the funeral, Rabbi. I'm heading back home to New York tonight. My family needs me, and I have to get back to work."

"Oh."

The rabbi was quiet now. After a long pause, he asked, "Is there anything about him you want me to say to his friends at the funeral?"

Millie didn't answer. She was distracted by a piece of paper she'd found. When she was finished reading it, she went to throw it in the box next to the rabbi, then changed her mind and threw it in the box next to her. She closed the box, lifted it up, and went to the door. Before she left, she turned and looked at the rabbi.

"Friends? You think Yussie had friends? I doubt it, Rabbi. To the rest of the world he was just another loser."

Millie walked to her car and opened the trunk. She threw the box into it, and then slammed the trunk shut. She drove away, leaving the rabbi alone in the living room with the collected poems of Yussie Yablonski, a.k.a. Fraylich Yankel.


He hoped there would be at least ten men present, so they could say Kaddish Rabbi Levi went to the funeral home on Sunday morning and assisted the hevra kadisha, the Jewish burial society, in preparing Yussie's body. When they were done, Yussie was placed in a plain pine box coffin, in accordance with Jewish tradition, then moved into a hearse and driven over to the gravesite. Rabbi Levi sat up front, next to the driver. The rabbi was quiet and introspective. He hoped there would be at least ten men present, so they could say Kaddish for Yussie.

When they arrived at the cemetery plot, Rabbi Levi was pleasantly surprised. The entire Congregation Bais Simcha was waiting at the cemetery, more than a hundred people.

Six men came to be pallbearers. Rabbi Levi said prayers as they carried Yussie's coffin to the grave. When the coffin was placed on the lowering device, the rabbi continued the burial service. When he was finished, everyone said kaddish together.

Before Rabbi Levi began his eulogy, he asked, "Is there anyone who would like to say something about Yussie?"

People looked around at each other, silent. Rabbi Levi waited. When no one stepped forward, he continued.

"Well, if no one wants to speak, then I—"

"Rabbi," Michael Fein interrupted. "I would like to say something . . . if you don't mind?"

It was a day for surprises.

"Michael, please go ahead."

Michael stepped forward, turned around and faced the crowd. He straightened his hair, fiddled with his tie, then cleared his throat.

"Good afternoon," Michael began, "I . . . I . . ."

The crowd waited.

Michael took out a handkerchief and dabbed the corners of his eyes. Twice he tried to continue, but each time he stopped in the middle of the first word. He sighed, then shook his head.

"I'm sorry . . . I'm not very good at speaking without a script and cue cards . . . at speaking from my heart, I'm not good at all. . . . I want to say something profound, but all I keep seeing is Yussie's smile after I gave him money for the veterinarian. Unless he paid up front, the vet wouldn't treat that stray dog Yussie was so proud of. . . . I guess he figured Yussie's credit wasn't very good . . . and now I'm wondering . . . how many other people gave money to Yussie?"

The congregation stared back at him, unblinking.

"Come on, let me see a show of hands. How many of you were hit up for a loan that was never repaid?"

People were looking around, embarrassed. Slowly, one by one, people raised their hands.

"Will you look at that . . . almost every family here had given this soul money, and instead of being relieved when he's gone, we all have come to pay our last respects. . . . Why?"

Michael paused.

"This man taught me one of life's greatest lessons—how to give""I will tell you why I came, and why I will miss Yussie. . . . This man taught me one of life's greatest lessons—how to give. I am, by nature, a selfish man. Always have been, probably always will be. Sure, I give to the synagogue when the rabbi needs something or when he says a member of the congregation needs something, but rarely face to face. With Yussie, I gave face to face . . . heart to heart."

Michael dabbed his eyes with the handkerchief again.

"And every time I gave, I felt a little closer to G‑d. . . . Yussie tried as best he knew, but his best was just not good enough for this world. . . . he needed help, constant help . . . and we all gave him help, and by giving, we enriched our souls. . . . "

Michael opened his mouth to say more, but no words came out. Rabbi Levi walked up and led him away from the coffin. Michael walked back to his wife, and friends came over to pat him on the back.

Rabbi Levi cleared his throat and asked again, "Is there anyone else who would like to speak?"

Again, people looked around, but no one stepped forward.

"Well, if no one else wants to say something, then—"

"My Sister . . ." The interruption came from a woman who was mixed in among the mourners. People moved away, and there was Yussie's sister, Millie. She was standing alone, holding a sheet of paper, her hands shaking.

She took a deep breath, looked back down at the paper, and continued:

My sister loves me, of that I am sure
Her love is a love from a place that is pure
Though I embarrass her and shame her with my ways
Like a boorish guest who overstays
My sister loves me, of that I am sure
A love throughout time that will always endure
As children we had so much joy when we played
Never knowing there would come more painful days
My sister loves me, of that I am sure
Time rubbed away its luster until it became worn
A failure and a fool I became along the way
Still she loves, and I thank G‑d, each time I pray.

"'My Sister,' a poem by Fraylich Yankel . . . Yussie Yablonski . . . my brother."

Rabbi Levi nodded his head and said, "Thank you, Millie. That was beautiful."

The rabbi gathered his emotions and once again asked, "Now, is there anyone else who wants to speak?"

No one stepped forth.

Rabbi Levi cleared his throat and looked around at his congregation. "I don't know if I can get through this without breaking down. I don't know how . . . . I can't get the words out."

Rabbi Levi wiped his eyes on his prayer shawl. "Look, I didn't even make it past a few sentences." He smiled, took a deep breath, and continued.

"I can't imagine this congregation without Yussie. I can't imagine praying with the minyan unless his soul is combined with ours."

"You had a difficult struggle against your own limitations, but there was one place you were perfect"Rabbi Levi reached down and touched the coffin. "Yussie, you had a hard life. You had a difficult struggle against your own limitations, but there was one place you were perfect—in your heart. Everyone who knew you knew that in spite of what you said or did, your heart was pure and good and kind."

Everyone in the crowd nodded their heads.

"That is the part of you I will miss the most. Your heart, Yussie. Yussie, I will always remember you, and always love you . . . and I can't say goodbye because you will always be here with me, in my heart."


This story is dedicated to my friend and "broth'"—Fraylich Yenkel Leitsis. I will miss him always.