General (ret.) Rabbi Mordechai Piron was the second chief military rabbi of the IDF. He then served as the rabbi of our congregation, Israelitische Cultusgemeinde Zürich (ICZ), which was the largest Jewish congregation in Switzerland.
It was Friday, noontime. Rabbi Mordechai Piron was at home, preparing his Friday sermon, when he realized he needed some materials from his office in the Jewish community center.
Soon after he entered his synagogue office, the door opened and a couple appeared at the door.
“Shalom, are you Rav Piron?” they asked. “Yes, what can I do for you?”
The man replied: “We are from Israel, and have just come from a Swiss doctor, who has informed us that my wife needs an urgent surgery which is only done in Switzerland, but it costs a huge amount of money, which we don’t have. When I mentioned this to the professor, he advised us to approach the Jewish community, which probably has some charity fund for helping people like us. So here we are.”
Rav Piron was moved, but the timing was very problematic. “Please come on Monday,” he said, “so I can introduce you to the synagogue board of directors.”
But the man said: “We can’t wait till Monday! My wife’s life is in danger! On Monday she should already have the surgery! We will not leave the office until we have the support of the community!”
Rav Piron was perplexed. It was Erev Shabbat, all Jewish facilities were closed, everybody was busy preparing for Shabbat, and no one was available. Suddenly he had an idea: “Let me call someone I know,” he said. “He’s Jewish, but never shows up in the synagogue or for Jewish community events.”
He called Isy Gablinger, the founder of Modissa chainstore in Switzerland and a non-observant Jew. Rav Piron introduced himself, but Isy interrupted: “No need for introductions. I know you. What can I do for you?”
Rav Piron told him the whole story. Mr. Gablinger said: “Give me ﬁve minutes and call me back,” and hung up.
Five minutes later, Rav Piron called Gablinger again. He said hello, nodded, thanked him, and turned back to the couple: “Please go to a certain bank branch and ask for a certain lady. The money is ready.”
The woman fainted with surprise. They gave her cold water so she could stand, and hurried to the bank where the lady, who was waiting for them, handed them the cash.
Rav Piron didn’t need to prepare a sermon anymore. He told this very story in the synagogue: “Ladies and gentlemen,” he concluded, “this is what I went through on Friday, and I have to admit that this gentleman, who never comes to synagogue, is not religious but he’s more righteous than all of us who come here and just pray.”
The more we, humans, adhere to good deeds,
The closer we come to the greatness of God.
Sasson: Isy Gablinger was a mentor for life, and an athlete, too. At the age of seventy-something, he still took part in mini-marathons.
Once we were in Eilat together, and he told me he runs every day at 7:00 in the morning and asked if I would like to join him. I was about 20 years younger than he, maybe more. I took him up on his offer, and the next day we started to run. After 25 minutes I couldn’t breathe anymore and he said: “If you can’t — stop. I will continue to the city center and back.” And this is exactly what he did.
I was so amazed and asked him what his secret was. He told me: “I know my capacity. Before I run, I calculate how much energy I have, I know my breath and heartbeat range. I calculate my speed by the distance I want to run with these resources. I run exactly the distance I have energy for. And in business I’m the same: everything I do, I calculate how much energy I have, and with that I proceed.”
I have learned a lot from him.