The Investment

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    Once, several centuries ago, in the mountains of Central Europe, in the little village of Eimgoinfischenau, a small community of Jews discovered an investment that paid a wonderful dividend, one that they and their children enjoyed with their neighbors for years thereafter. Such an amazing discovery comes along only rarely and this one surely would have astonished anyone who had possessed any familiarity with Eimgoinfischenau before the townspeople made their discovery.

    Consisting of the usual collection of houses and shops standing shoulder to shoulder along narrow streets, the village itself spread like an apron across a small plain between a mountain and a river. A stone bridge enabled people to cross the river dry-shod to and from the fields that they cultivated. A visitor might have thought of it as quaint but for the fact that several tribes of Gentiles also lived in the town and their members had an unfortunate propensity to get into fights among themselves. Five or six times every year weak tempers offered dry tinder in which a simple fight would flash over into village-wide rioting. More often than not, through no fault of their own and in spite of their best efforts to avoid it, the Jews of Eimgoinfischenau would find themselves caught in the middle of a riot.

    One day, after another riot had wracked the village like a fever, the rabbi gathered the elders of the Jewish community in the synagogue. "We cannot allow the history of this village of ours to continue along this path," he told them. "We must find a new way, a better way, along which our lives and those of our neighbors can progress."

    "How shall we find such a way?" one elder asked.

    "More importantly," another asked, "how can we induce the Goyim, our Gentile neighbors, to follow that way with us?"

    "Both questions have the same answer," the rabbi said. "We shall follow a way along which we can all gather happiness together. To bring peace to our neighbors we must make them more tolerant of the differences that now spark fights and to do that we must help our neighbors form the habit of sharing happiness with each other, thereby building neighborliness that none would want to damage."

    "You would have us embark on a worthy journey, indeed," the first elder said. The rabbi did not stand alone in his ability to wield a good travel metaphor.

    "But in what kind of carriage would you have us undertake this journey?" the second elder asked. OK, OK, so some people can't see when they have gone and beaten a good metaphor to death.

    "We will contrive some event that we can celebrate with a feast," the rabbi said, "and we shall invite our neighbors to share in our happiness."

    "But at such a feast many of the Goyim will sit next to each other," the second elder protested. "If one Goy sits next to another, they will fight." He looked to the other elders for support and they all nodded in agreement.

    "Not so," the rabbi replied, "not if we put enough space between them at the table. We will set serving tables between the chairs and make the main tables narrower so that we will all sit closer together face to face and yet have enough room between ourselves and our neighbors that we won't..., um, ...jostle each other."

    "Yes," the first elder mused. "That plan may well succeed, but only if we can satisfy one condition. We must use heavy and sturdy serving tables, lest someone throw them over and begin fighting."

    "You have summed up my own thinking precisely," the rabbi said. "I know just what we must use. Come! We must pay a visit to Shimon, the woodcutter."

    With the rabbi in the lead, the elders went to Shimon's house, where the woodcutter's wife directed them to the woodlot behind the house. There they found Shimon and his two burly sons busily chopping firewood for sale in the village. Glad of the interruption, Shimon told his sons to take a rest while he spoke with the rabbi and the elders.

    After exchanging greetings with the woodcutter, the rabbi pointed to the rear of the woodlot, where a number of wide, stubby logs with large rounded knots protruding from their sides rose in neat stacks against the back wall. The woodcutters had cut the ends of those logs roughly smooth so that they would stack neatly one atop another. That particular feature, the rabbi saw, would allow him to use them as tables. He also saw that Shimon had accumulated enough of them for what he wanted to propose.

    "My dear Shimon," he said, "we need to borrow as many of those, uh...." He waved his hand toward the logs as he struggled to recall the word that named them.

    "Burls," Shimon filled in for him. "I carve the wood in those knots on their sides into serving bowls."

    "Ah," the rabbi said, showing the dawn of understanding, "and they show such fine craftsmanship, too. No one wonders that those who have them cherish them. But now we need to borrow, for only a short time, all of these burls that you have stored up." He then went on to explain his plan.

    After hearing the rabbi out, Shimon agreed that the plan sounded like a good one, one that they certainly should try out. If someone would provide a horse and a cart for the hauling, he would gladly let the rabbi borrow all the burls that his plan required.

    Of course, the feast succeeded up to and even a little beyond the rabbi's expectations. All the villagers, Jew and Gentile alike, got along happily with each other and for weeks afterward the social ambience in the village exuded so much good feeling that no fights at all broke out. That result so please the rabbi and the elders that they vowed to contrive more friendship feasts to nurture the good feelings and make them grow bigger and stronger. And every time they held a feast the followed the same successful plan of the first one, right down to the seating arrangement -- Goy, burl, Goy, burl, Goy, burl....


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