THE HUMAN SPIRIT: DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
By Barbara Sofer
August 18, 2017
It's a true story, not a fairy tale, writes Jerusalem Post reader Vita Goldstein of Rehovot.
Not a fairy tale, but close to a talmudic parable, that of Rabbi Shimon ben Shatah, whose students found a valuable jewel on a donkey purchased by their hardscrabble rabbi. Not long ago, Goldstein set out from her home in Rehovot to seek an apartment for a friend. Seven years earlier, while still Connecticut residents, Goldstein and her husband Richard sent a shipment of their worldly possessions to Israel. They'd sold and emptied their house and drove to the closing. The buyers failed to show. A friend took them in for two months until they closed with another buyer. Now Goldstein could return the favor by finding a home for their friend.
Goldstein took a bus to Jerusalem to check out apartments.
Never mind that it was Jerusalem Day, and a special one, marking 50 years of reunification. Hordes thronged through the central bus station. Every seat in the food court was taken. Rough.
That's where Vita Goldstein lost her heirloom diamond ring.
She was hungry. The Yankee-style bagels caught her eye. In Jerusalem, they're called Holy Bagel. Before eating, she washed her hands in the ritual of observant Jews before eating bread (or, in this case bagels). A double sink with a black stone surface, smudged with water marks and holding leftover soda bottles is set up across the court near the burger bar. She slipped off her wedding ring and the diamond ring, washed her right hand then the left. She chanted a blessing.
Then she was distracted. In the noisy, crowded food court she was offered the rarest of commodities: a chair at a table.
She accepted it gratefully.
Her rings remained on the countertop.
The diamond ring belonged to Goldstein's mother, Elsa, and before that to her grandmother. For Grandma Dora it was an engagement ring. Dora Sternlieb married Nathan Blumenthal, both from Norwich, Connecticut, in 1924. Together they ran a hardware store in rural Danielson, often bartering hoes and buckets for services and goods from local farmers. So highly esteemed for her honesty and kindness was Dora that when she was short a payment to build a synagogue, a non-Jewish farmer auctioned his prize calf. Daughter Elsa, who pioneered a consumer program on Connecticut TV and who took in poor students as boarders, married a man of modest means. Grandma Dora's diamond ring served as her daughter's engagement ring, too.
No diamond ring just a cluster of turquoise stones graced Vita's finger when she was engaged to Richard, 41 years ago, but when she and Richard were moving to Israel, her mother gifted her with the heirloom. Goldstein had the ring resized and the diamond bezel set to protect it.
Goldstein noticed the ring was missing late in the day. "I told myself I must have left it at home," she said.
Only at night, back in Rehovot, did she understand her loss. It was too late to go back to Jerusalem. Her Hebrew wasn't good enough to make herself understood by a lost-and-found, if there was one.
"That's the moment of despair," she said. "You trace your steps. You feel stupid and angry at yourself for carelessness. I felt horrible and irresponsible. What were my chances of finding a diamond ring in a bus station?"
She couldn't sleep. She looked for rings similar to hers on the Internet throughout the night, wondering if her mother would notice the difference.
At sunrise, she phoned a resourceful Sabra friend named Yael. Sure, Yael would help but would Goldstein mind waiting until Yael, in the last days of her ninth month of pregnancy with her sixth child, got the kids off to school?
Yael strategized about the various lost-and-found options in Jerusalem, and had an additional idea. It just so happened that her cousin Motti, a young yeshiva student, lived near the bus station. He would go and search.
Motti agreed. He approached the lost-and-found and asked at every stall: pizza and shwarma and sushi. No one had reported a found ring, but when you are engaged in the mitzva of returning a lost object, no stone can be left unturned. Motti decided to question every employee in the food court, not just managers.
"Did you say rings?" asked a young woman dishing up burgers and serving customers.
She wiped her hands and went to the register. She dug beneath the paper money. "Someone found these," she said. "I hid them so that no one would see them until I had a chance to bring them myself to the lost-and-found. This one looks valuable."
She held up the diamond.
Motti called Yael, who called Goldstein, who got back on a bus and reclaimed her lost rings.
Said Goldstein, "For me, it was a miracle, in the merit of my mother and grandmother who wore that ring. I am so grateful to the unknown person who turned them in, to the young woman who hid them, to Motti, who doesn't even know me, but who pestered everyone and wouldn't give up."
She was wearing the ring the following day when she went to see Yael's new baby.
Rabbi Shimon ben Shatah's students were excited to find the precious stone. Now their teacher would no longer have to work. Their horrified rabbi made them hurry to return it. "I bought a mule, not a jewel," he said.
The joyful blessings uttered by the relieved donkey seller have reverberated throughout the ages.