I wrote and sent my June Blog to those who oversee the production of the monthly Ben’s eNewsletter. To my dismay, and theirs, I was encouraged to write something not as political as my first attempt, which was, with civility, a critique of our government.
But, let me first just say that an enlightened government is judged not by its riches, but rather by the way in which the government treats the poorest and weakest among us.
Well, I am glad I got that off my chest. Now I can feel free to write something different.
In 1969-70, I served as a Vista Volunteer (Volunteers in Service to America) in Richmond, Indiana. After training in Chicago (this Jewish kid stayed at a YMCA hotel, courtesy of the U.S. Government), I was sent to Indiana, where there was plenty of feed corn (as I later found out), Hoosier hysteria (basketball, for those who are not familiar with the term) and more churches than the number of citizens (or so it seemed).
College didn’t prepare me for this. I got to Richmond a day before I was scheduled, so I walked to the downtown area and found a movie theater. I decided this would be the way to kill some time. I paid my very cheap movie ticket and took my seat in the nearly empty movie theater. I waited and waited and waited until someone came in (possibly the ticket taker, or the ticket seller, or the popcorn concessionaire) and announced that, because there were not enough viewers in the audience, they would cancel the movie showing. I foolishly asked that person how many viewers they were missing. Since I had few extra dollars in my pocket compliments of Uncle Sam (for all the fiscal watchdogs out there, trust me, it wasn’t much), I followed up by saying I would pay for the number of attendees that were needed for the theater to show the movie. All to no avail.
So, I walked around town all day, found a flea bag hotel for the night (those few extra dollars that were given by Uncle Sam) and waited for my further instructions and training on-site. Suffice it to say, during my time in Richmond, Indiana, I constructed a survey of the north end of Richmond. It was an impoverished neighborhood consisting of mostly of poor black folks and I administered it with the help of some Earlham College students (one of whom was the roommate of Ben Zwirn, who later became Town Supervisor of North Hempstead). There, we operated a book store as a co-op, tried to revive a struggling credit union for the community (my black supervisor thought that, as a Jew, I would be good at this), led a protest at City Hall for school children to receive winter coats as mandated by the Congress, and acted as a liaison with the Mayor of Richmond.
A while later, I got myself involved in a deli on the south shore of Long Island that had gone bankrupt. Therein began my journey as a deli man … and the rest is history.
See ya at the deli!