A minyan of one


Two weeks ago I was visiting my favorite special ed teacher and redhead in Brooklyn. We were driving to get dinner on the BQE, and as I was about to cross over the East River into Manhattan, I saw a large billboard. Because this was New York and traffic was heavy, I did not take a picture of it, but someone did and put it on Twitter.


When I saw that sign, I thought of Bill.
Yesterday was the funeral of a dear friend, Bill Kaplan. I had planned on attending, but the night before I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was to do something else to honor him instead.
Bill and I frequently talked about mitzvot (little kindnesses). In the Jewish tradition, a mitzvah is one strand of thread that holds the world together. Added up, they mean a lot. I could argue they mean everything. It doesn’t have to be a big deal; in fact, I would say that if it is a big deal, it’s not a mitzvah.

A minyan is not a little yellow guy from Despicable Me. It’s a group of ten men who are needed to achieve quorum for certain religious ceremonies.

So yesterday, instead of attending a funeral, I became a minyan of one. I decided to do ten mitzvot to honor my friend Bill. Being a practical man, I figured he’d rather I do this anyway. Because above all, Bill was kind and generous.

1. The first thing I did was call a friend I haven’t talked to in a long time. We talked for 45 minutes, and although it was a “business call,” we spent 10 minutes on businesses and 35 minutes on fly fishing, family news, and just catching up. I told him about my mitzvah quest. He said, “Well, I feel great! This counts as your first one!”

2,3, and 4. I went to Colectivo Coffee to sit at my computer for a while and do a little work. I paid for my hot chocolate, then left a $20 with instructions to the cashier to pay for everyone else’s stuff until the $20 was gone. She smiled and said that was really sweet. I said “It’s for Bill.” I sat a discreet distance away and enjoyed the feeling of watching someone feel unexpectedly loved by a stranger.

5.  As I was leaving the coffee shop, a woman was sitting in the sunshine by the gas fireplace. She was wearing a knit cap with a flower on the side. Since my wife is a knitter, I notice all things that look like they might be hand-made. I asked her if she made her hat, and she smiled, and said no, that she had purchased it at “the co-op” on the east side. I said “Well, even if you didn’t make it, it’s lovely.”  She smiled again, shrugged, and said “Thanks.” No big deal, but her day was better because of it, I think.

6,7, and 8.  Stephanie made cookies for me to take to the neighbors. We took them to our next door neighbors on each side, the folks across the street, and I tried to take them down the block to some other friends who weren’t home.  I saw the light on across the street at the home of an older couple I hadn’t seen in a while. That’s not uncommon as they are frail and tend to stay in all winter.

The door opened and there stood their son. His parents had moved into assisted living over the winter after a bad fall. We talked about his parents for fifteen minutes or so, I got their details and he said he was on his way over and would deliver the cookies for me.

Mrs. Jones taught my son piano lessons when he was a young man. She was a big part of his life, and I’m glad they’re safe. Yes, they took a piano with them to assisted living.

The cookies were a good mitzvah, but talking to a son still struggling with dealing with getting a house in order was a bigger one. He said he was having a hard time going through pictures and papers, and that once in a while he’d open something and just start tearing up. He told me that it was completely unpredictable; it just happened.

9. I bought an actual physical note card and wrote an actual hand-written note to a friend I haven’t seen in a while. Facebook thumbs-ups are fine, but you can’t hold a pixel. It felt good to buy it and to write it.

10. I don’t think I got to ten. I’ll do that one today.

So the thing that I kept thinking all day was this: “Why did I have to wait for someone to die to get me to think about mitzvot?” Shouldn’t we just do this all the time anyway? Yes, by all means make Brooklyn kinder, but why stop there? Why don’t we all make the world kinder? All of us, irrespective of religious tradition (or none at all)?

Pick up the tab. Let someone pick up the tab. Say thank you and mean it. Hold a door open for someone. Let someone hold the door for you. Smile and wave to someone in a crosswalk. Leave a 25% tip. Pick up some litter. Notice the poor. Notice the rich. Send a notecard. Thank your letter carrier. Be thankful for the people who are invisible that make your life easier. Notice someone’s humanity.

Notice someone’s humanity. That just came out of my fingers. Just now.

I look back at the mitzvot I did, and every single one of them had that in common. The phone call, the free coffee, the cute hat, perched on a lovely face, the cookies, the conversation, the note card…all said the same thing:

You are a human being, and I noticed that you exist.
I’m glad you’re here on earth at the same time I am.

Bill, thank you for your example to me.  I will keep the mitzvot train moving along the tracks. I will automatically smile at Volvo drivers, thinking about how you loved Volvos. I will smile at crossing guards.

Respectfully submitted,


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Hey, Darren. Count #10 — posting this made me happy and made my day better.

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