February 22, 2020

The Candy Man

The candy man. Photo by Mark Schiff.

“The candy man can
’Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good.”  — Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

In late April, I attended Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s funeral at Chabad of Poway. She was killed when a gunman entered the Chabad on April 27 and opened fire. The funeral featured every imaginable emotion, including hope. 

Loved ones talked about how important Gilbert-Kaye, who was 60, was in this small community, including securing the loan for the shul building at a time when banks were not giving loans to nonprofits. 

The rabbis and Gilbert-Kaye’s family and friends agreed on two things: Her death won’t stop us from our commitment to being Jews, and we must use this event to bring more light into the world. I didn’t hear any talk of hate or retribution. I heard only talk about doing more mitzvahs and lighting candles on Hanukkah and on Shabbos. 

I also heard about how people risked their lives to save the children who were in the Chabad when the shooting began, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter. She saw her grandfather bleeding and screaming, “Get out! Get out!” while he was losing blood after one of his fingers was shot off. Goldstein said afterward that perhaps we should examine what we’re teaching our children. Perhaps if you teach them the right things when they’re young, it might prevent these sorts of tragedies. 

“To fight hatred and lack of hope, his weapon of choice is a bag of lollipops.”

The week after, my wife and I visited North Hollywood to stay with some friends who are members of Shaarey Zedek Congregation. Friday night we shared the Shabbat table with Norm and his wife, Bonnie; two other couples joined us for Saturday lunch. We talked about Poway, we talked about politics, we talked about making the world a better place, and we talked about security at synagogues. I think many people are afraid because none of us knows who might be next, but I think we all agreed that there will be a next and a next and a next. 

During breakfast with Norm at his home, he said he had to get to shul early in case there weren’t enough people to say Kaddish. While we walked the four or five blocks, Norm greeted many people who were going to his shul. When we got to shul, Norm asked the security guard if he fixed his flat tire from the night before, and then a short conversation ensued about how wonderful AAA is. Norm then went inside, took his aisle seat and started to pray along with the congregation. 

And that’s where I saw my friend Norm, the “Candy Man,” doing exactly what the rabbi asked us all to do. He was teaching the kids goodness. 

When we got to shul, I saw in action a man who, one child at a time, is changing the world for the better. To fight hatred and lack of hope, his weapon of choice is a bag of lollipops.

I noticed every few minutes, one, two or three kids would approach Norm for a lollipop. But before he gave them a lollipop, the kids had to do a few things.  First, they had to wish Norm a “Good Shabbos” and then shake his hand while looking into his eyes. The handshake had to be a hearty handshake, not a “dead fish” handshake. Then when they got the lollipop, they had to say, “Thank you.” 

Norm is trying to change the world one child at a time. He is teaching them important lessons, such as wishing people good things or when shaking hands, be ing sincere. And most importantly, always saying, “Thank you.” Norm is helping to send good people into the world. I can’t think of many things more important than that. 

After shul, Norm and I were walking back to his house when he spotted a 20-year-old man across the street. Norm waved to him, said hello and wished him a good Shabbos. The kid waved back, said hello and good Shabbos.

Then Norm turned to me and said, “I have known him since he was a little kid at the shul. I used to give him lollipops. You should feel his handshake now. It’s really something.”

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.