The Magic Spoon
April 17, 2021
Author(s): Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz,
April 17, 2021 — 5 Iyar 5781
The Magic Spoon
by Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Temple Emanuel, Newton, MA
I want to tell you a story about a magic spoon. The story comes from a different time and place, the 1870s in a town in Romania called Stefanesti, where there was an illustrious Hasidic dynasty. The most famous of these Hasidic masters was Rabbi Avrohom Mattisyou Friedman, who became the Second Shtefaneshter Rebbe in 1869 and continued for 64 years. He was considered a hidden tzaddik who could effect miracles. The most famous of these miracle stories concerns a Hasid who comes to see the Rebbe because his daughter had typhus. She was desperately ill. She had very little time left. Rebbe, only a miracle can save her. What happens next is told in a history of this Hasidic dynasty:
The Rebbe gave the Hasid his personal spoon which he used every morning to eat breakfast, and a piece of his bread, and told the Hasid to feed the bread to his daughter with the spoon. Although the girl couldn’t swallow and hadn’t eaten anything in days, she readily consumed the Rebbe’s shirayim [leftovers from a Rebbe’s meal] and a few days later she was back to herself and lived to a ripe old age. The spoon, handed down from generation to generation, is until today a family heirloom.
This story is about two desperate people in a desperate time who needed help, the little girl and her father. They had nowhere else to turn, so they turn to the rebbe. What can he do? He doesn’t have antibiotics. He doesn’t have MGH. He doesn’t have an ambulance or helicopter to get her the care she needs now. But instead of saying what can I do, he says what can I do? He gives from his heart. He gives his own spoon. He gives his own bread. He doesn’t have much to give. He himself is poor also. But he gives all that he can give. It was personal. It was emotional. The Rebbe really cared, and he showed it. That care made all the difference to the father and to the little girl. What was magic about the magic spoon was not the metal, it was the love.
What would a magic spoon look like today? Have you ever received a magic spoon? Have you ever given a magic spoon? The magic spoon is alive and well.
A woman named Jessie Hamilton grew up as a sharecropper’s daughter. Growing up, she did not have much money. When she emerged into adulthood, she did not have much money. A single mother of three, she worked four jobs and yet observed that “there were times when I didn’t have enough money to put food on the table.”
In 1982 she got a job working as a cook at a frat house, Phi Gamma Delta, at Louisiana State University. Every morning for 14 years she would wake up at 4:00 a.m., catch the 5:00 a.m. bus to campus. She would cook for 100 frat house brothers, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. But she was more than a cook. She brought a magic spoon with her to that frat house. One frat brother, named Andrew Fusaiotti, age 52, attended LSU in the late 1980s. This is what he remembers all these years later:
She was truly like a mother to us. She treated us like we were her own
kids. She was always looking out for us.
One of the memories Fusaiotti still remembers is that when he and his frat brothers had conflicts and could not eat at the usual meal times, Jessie Hamilton would prepare a special plate and leave it for them so that they could eat when their schedule permitted. She did not want them to miss a meal. She made them feel like they were her own children. She cared, and she really showed it. Magic spoon.
Jessie Hamilton left LSU after 14 years, but she stayed in touch with some of the frat brothers, including Andrew Fusaiotti. When the pandemic started, he picked up the phone to call her and check in on her. That itself is remarkable. She had prepared his meals in the 1980s. And in 2020, he is checking in on her. How are you? He asked. She shared that she was still working two jobs? Two jobs? Why two jobs? Why two jobs in a pandemic? And how old are you now, anyway? I am 73, but I need to keep juggling two jobs because I can’t afford to retire. I have to pay my mortgage and will be doing that till the day I die.
When Andrew Fusaiotti gets off the phone, he resolves to gives his own magic spoon back to Jessie Hamilton. He calls her children. You don’t know me, but I was at LSU in the 1980s, your Mom was the chef in our frat house, we were really close. I just got off the phone with her, and she said she is still working in the pandemic because she can’t afford to retire. She has to pay her monthly mortgage. By any chance, do you know how much is left of her mortgage if we were going to try to pay it off? Jessie Hamilton’s children answer: $45,000.
Andrew Fusaiotti reached out to his frat brothers, so many of whom had memories of Jessie Hamilton giving her spoon, her bread, her heart to them in the 1980s. They did a fund raiser and wanted to plan a surprise event the day before she turned 74. It would be called Jessie Hamilton day, and they would try to raise the $45,000 to retire her mortgage.
The online fundraiser generated immediate energy and excitement. They didn’t raise $45,000. They raised $52,000. On Jessie Hamilton Day, the frat brothers, working with Jessie’s children, surprised Jessie Hamilton. They played a game of “Let’s Make a Deal,” where there were three doors, and she was to pick from all three. Behind door number one was personalized Jessie Hamilton Day clothing and a catered lunch. Behind door number two was $45,000 to pay off her mortgage. Behind door number three was another check for $6,675 to be used to treat herself to whatever she would like.
The Hasidic story about the magic spoon is absolutely true. When you give from the heart, when it is emotional, and personal, and you really care, and you show it, magic happens, and that magic lasts forever.
What magic spoon will you give now, and to whom? Shabbat shalom.