Pictured in a photo circa 1978 is Cindy’s Grandma Tessie and Grandpa Harry—a dinner guest at her fictitious Shabbat dinner—her sister, Melissa, and the author, a baby at the time.
A hypothetical question
Here’s a question to pose to people around your Shabbat dinner table this Friday night: If you could invite anyone for Shabbat dinner, living or dead, who would it be? Like me, I hope you get to share Shabbat every week with loved ones—family and friends—but what if you had just one night to spend time with people you normally couldn’t?
I ponder this question from time to time and have come up with my fictitious Shabbat dinner guest list. These individuals would bring warmth, laughs, and engaging conversation to the table.
Topping my guest list would be my Grandpa Harry Luck. While I was fortunate to grow up around three of my grandparents, my maternal grandfather died at age 75, exactly two weeks before my second birthday.
Though I don’t remember him, my family would share stories of Harry with me throughout my life. He had wit, intellect, and was a mensch. The second youngest of 10 children, Harry was born in a shtetl near Minsk, Belarus, in 1904. At age 20, he immigrated with his family to America. En route, they lived in London for a year, where Harry picked strawberries by day to make a living. An Englishman who wanted to learn Russian befriended Harry. A member of the Fabian Society, an intellectual Socialist movement, the Englishman took my grandpa to meetings, where George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell also attended.
Then, Harry moved to Wisconsin, where he eventually fulfilled a lifelong dream of buying a farm, becoming one of the very first Jewish farmers in Wisconsin. Soon, he met my grandmother; the young couple bought a dairy farm in Mapleton, where they also raised cattle, corn, two sons, and a daughter.
Yeshiva scholars would stay with my family to learn about farming before moving to kibbutzim (collective farms) in Israel. My grandparents were true Zionists. Long before the creation of the Jewish state, they invested a portion of their small savings in Israel even though it was a gamble on an uncertain future. Harry would say, ‘If this is worth nothing, then our lives are worth nothing.’
Recognized as a “Righteous Gentile” for saving Jews during the Holocaust, Irene Opdyke was one of the first people to teach me about the meaning of heroism. When I was in junior high, my family hosted Irene, a Polish Catholic woman, at our home while she was in town for a speaking engagement.
During World War II, Irene worked for an SS officer on a villa as a housekeeper. Surreptitiously, she saved 12 Jews from capture, smuggling them into the basement of the villa without the officer’s knowledge. Eventually, the officer discovered her friends; he threatened to turn them in unless she would become his mistress.
In all, she hid the Jews for nine months, and one even gave birth while in hiding. After the war, Irene immigrated to America, where she lived until her death seven years ago at the age of 86.
About a decade ago, I read an obituary of Oseola McCarty, an African-American washerwoman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Ever since she was a little girl, Oseola made her living washing and ironing clothes. She lived frugally, saving every penny she could. She didn’t own a car, opting to walk everywhere. She never married and outlived her relatives, putting away the money that was bequeathed to her.
At age 87, Oseola established a trust through which, at her death, a portion of her life savings would be left to the University of Southern Mississippi to provide scholarships for deserving African-American students in need. In the end, Oseola left approximately $150,000 to the students.
When I was in college, local CBS news reporter Darcy Pohland welcomed me into the newsroom as an intern at the Minneapolis affiliate TV station.
Pohland, who passed away last winter at the age of 48, was bubbly, talented, and always smiling, despite an accident that almost took her life as a young woman. When she was in college, she dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool and broke her neck, causing permanent paralysis from the chest down.
And yet, she was one of the most capable people I have ever met. At CBS, I shadowed Pohland on news stories, some serious and others fun. She would drive us around town in a van designed to accommodate her paraplegia. Once, we covered a story about a Minneapolis boutique that sold funky clothes made of Astroturf and bubble wrap. Pohland coaxed me into modeling the clothes in an on-camera fashion show as part of the story. I had a ball during my fleeting time on the catwalk, twirling around for the camera, while Pohland cheered me on.
I realize one of these things is not like the other and that the final guest at my Shabbat table—alive and well in Hollywood—is a bit of a departure. But Adam Sandler, the Jewish movie mogul, comedian, husband, and father of two, could add a lot of levity to our dinner conversation.
From his early days portraying Theo’s friend “Smitty” on “The Cosby Show,” to helping Jewish boys and girls feel a little less alienated at Christmastime with his smash hit “The Chanukah Song” to playing a heartbroken 1980s wedding singer, Adam’s always been my biggest Hollywood crush.
In addition to his comedy career, he’s also a philanthropist. A few years ago, he donated $1 million to the Boys and Girls Club in his hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire.
I think my grandpa and Adam would really hit it off.
The guest list is complete. Now, who could do the cooking? I bet Julia Child would make a mean brisket…