Once upon a time there was a little girl. She drew flowers and bright colored skies and made clothes for her dolls. In the mornings, she watched the clouds and the sun play tag across her ceiling. And in the evenings, her fingers became rabbits whose silhouettes peeked in and out of the shadows on her wall. She wore smocked dresses with Peter Pan collars and two braids; she believed an olive farmer lived in her father’s ear.
The little girl went to Sunday school where her teacher was a cantor. A man of few words, when he sang he brought the angels back to life. A man of few words, he wore numbers burnished on his arm. Perhaps the numbers gave him the voice of an angel. Perhaps they helped him see souls and plant seeds. For he saw the soul of the little girl. And he gave her Shabbat candlesticks.
When the little girl was nine she moved with her family to the big city. If she had known then the tale of the country mouse and the city mouse she would have assumed Aesop had written the story of her life. For the big city girls smelled her innocence and took turns trampling it. Her drawing stopped. Her dolls collected dust. In the mornings she struggled to get out of bed. And in the evenings, she cried. In the big city, only the Shabbat candlesticks gave her light.
When summer came, she went to camp. Had he been there, Aesop would doubtless have written a sequel: “The city mice go to the country.” For at summer camp, the little girl came back to life. She threw clay pots and cut wood. She swam and sang. She skipped with abandon and camped in the woods. At summer camp, her innocence was a magnet, and the big city girls flocked to her. On Fridays, as the sun painted the sky and sank into the lake, they sang in the Shabbat bride and glowed.
But after summer camp the big city girls returned, as it were, to their balls and the little girl returned to her cinders. Whither she went, they emphatically did not go.
MANY, MANY years passed. The little girl, all grown up, found herself working for a foundation that brought the light of candlesticks and summer camp to little girls and little boys all over the world.
One day sitting at her desk at the foundation, the grown-up girl received an email from one of those bygone big city girls. Her husband had left her for the babysitter. She desperately wanted to send her children to a school where they would know the light of the Shabbat candles. But he would not pay. Since the grown-up girl worked at the foundation, the big city girl wondered if she might be able to help.
Inside the grown-up girl, the little girl smarted. Even if the foundation offered scholarships (which it did not), why would she help someone who had hurt her? Perhaps looking for a way, at last, to reject the big city girl, the grown-up girl wrote to her boss of her plight. Did he know someone who could help? Her boss replied that he was sorry about her “friend.” And as expected, he reminded her that the foundation was not in the “retail business.”
Weeks passed. One June day the grown-up girl arrived at the office to find a FedEx envelope waiting for her on her chair. Inside the FedEx envelope was a regular envelope. Inside the regular envelope was the following letter from her boss:
“Please deposit the enclosed check in your account and see that the money goes to your friend to help educate her children. I’d prefer that my gift be kept anonymous.”
And for the next many years, every June, a FedEx envelope would appear on the grown-up girl’s chair. Inside it would be another envelope with another check from her boss for the big city girl’s children.
This week the grown-up girl’s former boss, and the big city girl’s anonymous benefactor has joined the angels. To many, he will be remembered as a great philanthropist, who stewarded fortunes to ensure the light of Shabbat candles would continue to shine brightly all over the world. Others will recall his devotion to his beloved wife and family, his loyalty to friends, and his exacting standards in everything he touched.
I will remember him as a man who helped one single mother educate her children, and as the man who helped this little girl stand up in the big city.
Thank you, Arthur Fried.
The writer is founder and president of the reality-first metaverse company Fabric, which is building a world where everyone belongs. From 2004-2011, she served as director of strategy and evaluation at the AVI CHAI Foundation.