Finding Treasures I thought Were Lost

(ABOVE: MyKiddush cup from 2016 and my tennis trophy from 1966)

There is a special joy in finding treasures I thought I’d lost. 

Yesterday Vickie and I returned to Sanibel to check on our house and get a sense of how the restoration was proceeding. Landscapers were hard at work with a promise that our ravaged front yard would be beautiful once again. We also met with an air-conditioning professional to arrange for a unit on our lanai.

Crowded into the two upstairs bedrooms were things salvaged and deemed save able from the lower floor. To my delight my eyes lit on two treasures I thought I would never see again.

I received them 50 years apart.

One was the Kiddush cup given me as a gift when, in 2016 I conducted the first Jewish service in the city of Friedrichsstadt, Germany, since Kristallnacht. On that night, November 9, 1938, the Nazis instituted an organized pogrom across Germany against the Jewish community. The burned many synagogues to the ground, but they did not torch the one in Friedrichsstadt. Instead, they commandeered it as a headquarters for Nazi soldiers in that city.  In recent years the German government restored it to the Friedrichsstadt Jewish community.

Unfortunately, very few Jews live in the vicinity of Friedrichsstadt today. Nevertheless, the Christian community gathered every Jew they could find from the surrounding area and joined them for a Shabbat service commemorating the return of the synagogue. It was a great privilege for me to conduct that service.

Tonight, Vickie and I will use that Kiddush cup at Shabbat dinner. For us it joyfully symbolizes the renewal of Jewish life in the country of our ancestry, a place that tried and failed to uproot Jewish life completely.

The second treasure from 50 years before is a very different one. It is the championship trophy from the 1966 Eastern College Athletic Conference Draw II Fall Tennis Tournament held at Rider University in Trenton, NJ. Fred Vanderbilt was representing Hamilton College in the Draw I division, and I in Draw II.

I am sure our Coach, Mox Weber, thought Fred, who was a finalist the previous year, had an excellent chance to win his division and that Steve “would try his best.”

Unfortunately, Fred – in large measure because he had to play three matches in one day – fell in the quarter finals. That left me.

56 years later I look back with pride on five of the best matches I ever played to win my division. In the finals I lost the first set to Bob Mendel of Franklin and Marshall College but won the second 6-4. I jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the deciding set, but I could feel panic setting in as Mendel won the next three games to tie the score.

I stole a glance at Fred and his wife sitting on the sidelines and tried to keep my head together. “Don’t worry about the last three games, Steve” I told myself. “Just play one point at a time.”  There was nothing profound or new in the advice I gave myself, but somehow it worked. I won the next two games to take the title for Hamilton.

Each of these treasures is a precious symbol to me. Judaism and tennis have both taught me so much about life, and the importance of trying my best and perseverance. Each is a special blessing and retrieving them gives me hope that there are many blessings yet ahead for Vickie and me.

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