One day several years ago while I was still an elderly professor (old in body but young in mind), I commented on students’ frequent use of the “F” word. I was always “F this” or “F that” or “F someone”.
Tired of hearing it, I wrote in large bold letters the letter F on the blackboard and I asked my students if they could tell me what it means. Other than a reply “it’s the 6th letter in the English alphabet” there were no ready replies.
I then wrote two words on the blackboard, both beginning with the letter F prior to telling the 27 students in the class (ages 21-24) that they were the two most important words in English that they could ever know. The words in English were “FAMILY’ and “FRIENDS”… in Hebrew, “mishpacha” an “chaverim” or “chavruta””.
As an assignment for the next day, I asked the students to create one sentence referring to the two words. The results were less than I had expected, nothing very unusual, special or striking.
Disappointed, I began my lecture of the day with some Hebrew thoughts on friendship. Some were by authors unknown to me, yet beautiful. Some were quotations from Judaic sources which I had used all my life and which bring meaning into my old heart even to this very day.
One unknown rabbi wrote that “the greatest gift of life is friendship”. Another wrote “walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”.
A famous thought, more modern and not necessarily Judaic quotes “Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead; don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend”. I treasure it.
Two of my very favorite quotations are from ancient Jewish sources. The legendary story is told of Honi the Circle-Maker who fell asleep for 70 years. When he awoke, he found himself in a strange world. He knew no one and no one knew him. In despair and deep loneliness, he wanted to die and so he cried out to God in the Aramaic lingua franca of his time, “o chavruta o mituta”… give me friendship or give me death. He realized that a life without good friends is no life at all. His famous remark is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Ta’anit 23 a).
On a more positive vein, Ben Sirach in his extra-Biblical book (Apocrypha) Ecclesiasticus 6:5 (not to be confused with the Biblical text Ecclesiastes) wrote: “He who finds a faithful friend finds a treasure”.
Not to overwhelm my students, I did not list another 150 Jewish quotations on the virtues of friendship.
All of this was many years ago. I was then in my late 50’s. Today, at age 86, I still recall that day.
A few years ago I happened to meet a former student, now a grandmother of six. She told me that one of the things she remembered best was the quotation from Ben Sirach’s Ecclesiasticus. And she hugged me.
In one of my articles written some time ago, I mentioned how my late wife and I happened to be in Mexico in the 1970’s and we met a beautiful young Catholic couple who were on their honeymoon.
Perhaps it was hashgacha pratit… the Finger of God…. which attracted us to one another. Pat was a fireman from Florida and his lovely bride Alba was from Cuba. We chatted with one another and enjoyed their company very much.
Over the years we have kept in contact by letters, greeting cards, telephone calls, and mainly e-mails, contacts across the miles for more than 45 years. Our love for one another has grown stronger even as we have grown older.
Following Rahel’s death in 2016, Alba has been in constant contact with me offering comfort, love and blessings. She, a devout Catholic and I, a liberal Jew, are united not only by our friendship but by our love for God and our common love for Israel.
A stronger friendship rarely exists for me outside of my life-long friendships in Israel.
But to quote once again from Ben Sirach’s words in Ecclesiasticus, “He who finds a faithful friend finds a treasure”.
I have found one !