The Phone Lines of Human Connection

The Phone Lines of Human Connection

Woody Allen once said, “In California, they don’t throw their garbage away. They make it into TV shows.”

While much of television really is mindless drivel, we certainly love it. It’d be good to limit how much we watch, lest our brains melt into Velveeta Cheese, but even I love to occasionally relax and enjoy the view.

There are those who say that watching television cuts us off from human contact which, while that can be true, doesn’t have to be. I can tell you that the television set is where my son Aiden and I find common interest and time together. And, of course, documentaries can teach us about our world and inspire us to join with others and work to better life for ourselves and for others.

1990. Dave calls his mom, but reaches Sid Tuchman instead.

1990. Dave calls his mom, but reaches Sid Tuchman instead.

Tonight, however, I have in mind Late Night with David Letterman which, after 33 years on the air, played for the last time on May 20. That was a good episode but not the one I want to talk about.

On July 31, 1990, almost twenty-five years ago, Dave picked up the phone to call his mom during the show, which he did from time to time. But on this particular occasion, Dave dialed the wrong number. Who he got became one of the funniest Letterman bits ever. And to this day, many believe the whole thing was staged. I have information to the contrary. But first, here’s Dave, trying to call his mom, and getting Sid Tuchman instead:

So Dave’s mom knew Sid Tuchman. Why? Because Sid Tuchman owns a network of dry cleaners all over Indianapolis. Lots of people knew Sid Tuchman, including Dave’s mom.

But guess what? I knew him too! After all, I grew up in Cincinnati. Indianapolis wasn’t far from where I lived. And guess what else? In high school, I dated Sid Tuchman’s daughter. Well, I’m not sure you’d call it dating. It was a summer camp romance. For one summer, back in the mid-70s, at the URJ Goldman Camp outside of Indianapolis, Sid’s daughter, Kathy, swept me off my besandaled feet and my heart was hers. Truth is, and I hope Ellen won’t poison my food for this, part of my heart still is hers. First big romance ever – that one kind of never fully goes away. She and I have remained friends across the decades and, even though she lives in California, I’m actually going to see her in just a few weeks when she’s in town for business. We’re going to share a good laugh over my recent awareness of the Letterman-Tuchman video and that I gave a sermon about it!

Well, I haven’t given the sermon yet, but here it comes now!

Paper dolls

David Letterman’s connection with Sid Tuchman was quite the surprise to him, since he was expecting to reach his mom. I think that the sermon – the lesson for us – is that unexpected encounter offers new relationships and meanings. I believe that, like that phone call, there are points of contact between us and others that come as a complete surprise and go on to become significant in our lives. This video, a case-in-point. Such momentary intersections between ourselves and others can have myriad affects on us. They can make us laugh, make us cry, and make us wonder in amazement at the magic and the mystery of its even happening in the first place. If you’ve ever bumped into someone who you’ve not seen for the longest time, perhaps you’ve felt that surge of wonder and wizardry that accompanies such surprising encounters. And if it hearkens to something good (and mind you, I’ve also bumped into people who I wouldn’t have minded never seeing again), these moments can deepen the beauty and value of being alive and of simply going along for life’s ride.

But there are some points of contact that don’t often appear in our field of vision and experience. We only encounter them if we make the effort to do so. We have to want these points of contact and we must coax them from out of the fabric of life.

I’m speaking of what the Torah frequently makes reference to as “the orphan, the stranger and the widow,” categories which indicate people who don’t usually circulate within our sphere of living but whose welfare depends on our interest in making that happen. Exodus, chapter 23: “V’ger lo tilkhatz … you shall not oppress a stranger … v’atem y’da-tem et nefesh ha-ger … for you know the feelings of the stranger … kee gerim he-yee-tem b’eretz Mitzrayim … having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Extending a helping hand to others who are in need is a well-known and deeply-held value of Jewish life. But it only happens if we allow it to happen.

A Nepali man carries recovered belongings through the street in the ancient city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley on April. 28, 2015. Nepal had a severe earthquake on April 25th. Photo by Adam Ferguson for Time

A Nepali man carries recovered belongings through the street in the ancient city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley on April. 28, 2015. Nepal had a severe earthquake on April 25th. Photo by Adam Ferguson for Time

Let me give you an example. I’ve never been to Nepal. I once learned a bit about it when our former intern, Rabbi Darren Levine, told me of a trip he’d taken there. But recently, and only briefly, Nepal entered all of our lives when a devastating earthquake struck there in April. When was the last time you heard something about Nepal’s recovery from that earthquake? In point of fact, another tremor struck there just last night, but in all likelihood, even though Nepal continues to try and rebuild and bring relief to those whose lives were upended, you and I have little connection to the people there, no point of contact, and so, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

However, temple member and recent high school graduate Melissa Wishner was in Nepal on a gap-year experience when the earthquake struck. Melissa was deeply impacted by that experience and continues to feel powerfully connected to the Nepalese people during their efforts to recover. In the hope that her experience will strengthen our connection to those people, I have invited Melissa to speak here during next Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbarbecue service.

Like the renewed connection with my friends in Indianapolis spurred on by my recent viewing of David Letterman’s misdialed phone call with Sid Tuchman, it is my hope that Melissa’s presentation will renew our connection to those who are struggling to survive in Nepal.

Right now, the people of Nepal are “the orphan, the widow and the stranger.” Perhaps they will be able to recover all by themselves, but Jewish teaching dictates that we ought not miss out on offering our assistance.

In your daf t’filah (service handout), you will find a link to a written message from Melissa. I hope you will take the time to read her note and, hopefully, reach out and help.

By the way, also in your daf t’filah is a request from our friends across the street at the First Community Church of the Nazarene. The young man who died just this week as the victim of a hit-and-run driver leaves a mom who has not been able to pay her rent without her son’s assistance. You and I are now connected to her via the beautiful Shabbat we shared with First Community Church back in May, as well as the 11:00 am church service we will share with them this very Sunday morning. I hope you will join us there for the service. I hope you will feel a line of connection and help that grieving mom.

Note to blog readers: Here’s information on how to help. Pastor Leroy Richards, at First Community Church of the Nazarene (across the street from our temple) is requesting donations to help support the family of his 23 year-old parishioner Darryl Chung, who was killed this past week in a hit-and-run incident. Darryl was helping his mother with her monthly rent who now also needs help with funeral expenses. Contributions may be sent to: “First Community Church,” 2101 Saw Mill River Road, White Plains, NY 10607. Please add “Darryl Chung Fund” in the memo area. Thanks!

The world is truly a remarkable place. While coincidence happen often, our brains seem to be hard-wired to make sense of those seemingly random points of contact and to understand them as if they had needed to happen all along, as if they are messages and lessons for you and for me. Even if they really were just coincidence, it is to humankind’s great credit that we want those connections to be real and meaningful, that we want to have purpose-filled relationships with others, both with people we know well and with those whose very existence is only made known to us through those coincidental points of contact.

Sid Tuchman’s accidental appearance on Late Night with David Letterman was pure fun and was never meant to nurture anything of consequence. Yet, here we are. Because of Sid, we have the opportunity to help out “the orphan, the widow and the stranger” — clear across the globe, and just across the street.

Ken y’hee ratzon … may God be privileged to witness the points of contact that you and I nurture and, through them, bring increased goodness and love into the world.

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Closing Prayer
A poor man appeared at the door to Rabbi Shmelke’s home. Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke HaLevi Horowitz of Nikolsburg lived in 18th century Morvia, known to us today as the Czech Republic. The man asked for assistance but Rabbi Shmelke could find no money in his house. So instead, the rabbi took a ring off his finger and gave it to the man, who thanked Rabbi Shmelke and went away.

Telling his wife what he had done, she bemoaned her husband’s having given away so valuable a piece of jewelry. Rabbi Shmelke then had the poor man brought back to him. Upon the man’s return, he said, “I have learned that the ring I gave you is of great value. Be careful not to sell it for too little money.”

Elohenu v’elohei avoteynu v’imoteynu … dear God and God of our ancestors … we never know who’s going to appear at the doorway of our life. Whenever a new point of contact is established with another human soul, may we ever be ready to respond with openness, interest and, if needed, generosity of spirit and being. Thank You, God, for the magnificent privilege of living in a universe where such surprises can happen … at any time.

Shabbat shalom!