Recently retired from a late career in business, Maurice Gotlieb writes the occasional story. His fiction has been published in various Canadian literary venues. He is drawn to humour in the service of the serious.
Soon after his friend Morty died without much warning and had been interred with only a small entourage for the graveside burial, Seymour Levine remembered one of his dear friend's madcap ideas. Why not follow Morty's lead and establish Seymours International, an organization of members from all corners of the globe who were given this choice English surname as their first name? After all, Morty had once looked up his name in the telephone books of leading North American cities, and then called one hundred and thirty-six Morty Blacks and asked them to convene together in Montreal on the upcoming Labour Day weekend.
Yes, there were a few famous Seymours--Seymour Martin Lipset, Seymour Poznansky, to name just two distinguished professionals. Poznansky had achieved fame as a football player with the Barrie Braves; and then had given up a promising career as gym teacher and devoted himself--after completing medical school at McMaster--to psychiatry. He was now a psychotherapist who specialized in geriatric patients. No one was too old for Seymour, he would say, and a stream of bubbies and zeidehs filed into his office afternoons and evenings (he detested working in the mornings) to pour out their griefs and disappointments to him.
To everyone he gave a vitamin prescription. He was a firm believer in the ABC, that is, vitamins A, B, and C. And exercise. And if running, jogging, power strolling was not your shtick, he suggested shopping. Shop till you are ready to drop, but window shop; otherwise you won't be able to pay all your other bills, he warned. Walk to the nearest shopping center; if it's close by, circle it seven times. Don't worry, it won't fall down--unless it's in Belleville. Then check out one item in every store. If it's a teapot try the Bay, then Eaton's--followed by Zellers or Home Hardware. Keep your memory in shape by remembering each price tag. Figure out which store has the best buy --but don't purchase anything! Just compare--and walk from store to store. As a new form of exercise, virtual buying became the sport of choice for dozens and dozens of Seymour's elderly clients.
Now the flurry of shoppers startled merchants and salespersons alike. And if the store seemed to be packed with aging customers, it gave the appearance of commercial activity. Then the real shoppers were drawn in by the hubbub. Store owners prayed that on slow Mondays a horde of retirees would fan out in their establishments. Virtual buyers drew in the real spenders, they hoped. And on the following Saturday the stores were indeed packed. The cash registers weren't ringing but the stores were jam-packed. At the end of the day the new assistant manager cluelessly shook his head: So many shoppers today and we took in so little business? Go figure what's happening!
So Seymour Levine put an ad in the Saturday Globe and Mail.
Calling all Seymours. Become a member of a unique sodality:
Seymours International (or SI - yes!). Check us out on the Web.
Write us via the Net: Seymour@seemore.horizons.org
And the e-mail began in earnest. There was Seymour Lustiger the artist, for example. He had dropped out of sight in 1984 but was proud to sign his name to his canvases. Or Seymour Muransky whose doting Polish-born parents had named him to procure for their son what they thought would be a perfect camouflage for his ethnic origins. But little did they know that their little Seymour had the mark of Seymour upon him! A Seymour was already a self-declared Hebrew, and usually a Zionist to boot. And then the unusual happened. Seymour Levine received an e-mail message:
I have seen your notice in the Globe and Mail
and would like to add my humble name
to your fellowship.
I may be reached at the above address.
God be with you,
Levine was taken aback. A Williams in our crowd? Was Williams a covert Jewish name? Would it have been Hillel or something similar in a previous gilgul, he mused.
Dear Seymour Williams,
Glad you are on board with us! Where
do your parents come from?
Dear Seymour Levine,
My parents grew up in Kingston and
I now work in Hamilton as a part-time
pastor and also program director in
the Hamilton North Community Center.
Peace be with you,
Dear Seymour Williams,
Did your parents move to Canada before
the war? Will you be attending our first plenary
meeting in May at the Prince Albert Hotel in Toronto?
Yours in peace and harmony,
Why did I add that "peace and harmony" thought Levine just as he pushed the keys to send his electronic message. Williams and his epistolary piety are starting to get to me, he thought, impotent to recall the words he sent. So he followed with a postscript.
Isn't it time we addressed each other by our unique
Christian, er, first names:
Glad to drop the formalities. May the spirit
Prince Albert Hotel Congress Centre
Foresters and Social Action
Plenary 9 a.m.
NSW--Nurses for a Safer World
Registration and Founding Organizational Meeting 9 a.m
As Seymour Levine greeted each and every one of the thirty odd men who entered the foyer, he was distracted for a moment by the food and beverage staff bearing morning coffee and donuts.
"Mr. Levine!" a tall dark haired man approached him at the end of the line. Seymour looked puzzled--
"Williams, Seymour Williams from Hamilton. I am so pleased to meet you, and it is such a privilege to be here at the founding meeting."
"Ah, yes. Here let me introduce you to Seymour Poznansky."
"The psychiatrist from Barrie? I saw a profile on him on Ontario TV last week. He's doing God's work among our elderly sisters and brothers. We now have one of his Methuselah clubs in Hamilton--six ninety-year olds plus. They feel so empowered by Dr. Poznansky's good works."
"Williams, eh," Poznansky answered, checking out the newcomer.
"And what corner of Galicia do you hail from?" the doctor bellowed out for all to hear.
"Galicia, Dr. Poznansky? I'm from Hamilton."
"Hamilton is as soot-covered as Galicia! What are you--a Cohen, Levi, or Yisroel?"
"Um...you mean, the priestly class? Well, none in fact. I'm United Church, but I'm flattered you think I'm one of God's chosen. What with my features, I was worried no one would welcome me here."
"Welcome you, Williams. We hath great need of thee! A Seymour goy, who would have thought of it, eh Levine?"
"Dr. Poznansky, you should have been a rabbi."
"A rabbi, that's all I need. Elderly I can help. My fellow congregants at my shul, I won't--and can't. Have you ever been to an old fashioned traditional shul, Williams. It's chaos, cacophony, a micro world of every dysfunctional virus you could find. And be at their tender mercies? If I were a rabbi and had no way out, I would convert!" Poznansky said, breaking out into a loud laugh.
"Convert?" gasped Seymour Williams.
"Yes, to any faith community that gave me peace on earth, piece of mind--and maybe piece of...-"
"Humble pie," interrupted Seymour Levine. "We have a founding meeting ready to commence. Let's get on with it."
Levine, Poznansky and Williams turned round at the door and then went in together, joining the other men who were sipping coffee and dunking donuts into their styrofoam cups.
"Founding meeting, come to order," shouted Poznansky, taking the initiative. "Let's hear what our great convener, Levine, has to say. After all he's responsible for this conclave of like-named individuals. And if it's not successful, Levine promises to refund each and every one of our Air Canada and Via Rail tickets. And if Levine won't, he promises that his father-in-law will come through for us. A hand everybody for our perspicacious Seymour Levine!"
At the front of the room Levine smiled sheepishly but then resolved to get things under way, began to explain why he had undertaken to contact all of them. And as he closed his introductory remarks, he emphasized: "We must ensure the perpetuation of our first names. Let Seymours not disappear from the earth! Let us revive it as a name of choice for the parents of the newly born!"
"What about an endowment fund?" Seymour Williams piped up.
"Gentlemen, let me introduce the honourable Seymour from Hamilton, Seymour Williams, whom I would like to nominate as treasurer of our august fellowship."
"Gosh, I am honoured. I will, true to my Christian, er, Judeo-Christian credo manage the affairs of our organization as if God Himself, er, Herself were looking over my shoulder."
"Williams for treasurer," shouted Poznansky.
"All agreed," ventured Levine. A show of hands confirmed his judicious choice.
Williams began to be seen everywhere. And regularly in the Jewish Tribune. Smiling beside his fellow Seymours at a gathering of generous dentists, hi-tech professionals--or sisterhoods of synagogues. His very appearance at these events and the pioneer venture of the organization guaranteed good crowds--but limited returns.
"Seymour," his treasurer from Hamilton intoned on the phone to Levine, "we need a fund-raising focus."
"You mean gimmick," Levine replied.
"Well, not really. Just a serious token of our heritage commitment. That our names not pass out of use and into the histories of Canadian nomenclature."
Oh, cut the crap, Levine could hear Poznansky say, had he heard the last unctuous sentence.
"How about a mystery ride on Lake Ontario?"
"You mean complete with dinner?"
"Yea, and let's help the troupe write a script. The chief sleuth will be a Seymour, of course."
"Sounds too banal, Seymour," Levine responded.
"A pilgrimage to Israel. Seymour's International--SI for Israel."
"Sounds too much like Israel Bonds," Levine countered.
"A circumcision drive--with a slogan?"
"Say SI, Say Yes to Seymour!"
"Now that's it. Say SI, Say Yes, to Seymour. Shape your firstborn and name him with panache and style!"
And so the words went out from Seymours International. Not an obstetrician was left out, not a pediatrician, not a retired mohel. Upon the walls of maternity wards the call to name was prominently pinned up. And there was a contest too!
Name your precious one and you are eligible for the Seymour
International lottery: If yours is chosen, you will receive one of
three exciting prizes: a return trip to Seymour Mountain in B.C.
for the whole family, first prize; a return trip for mother and
son, second prize; and a video documentary about the life of
Lady Jane Seymour, third prize.
The name Seymour began to appear with greater frequency in birth notices. The trend had begun. And so for the second annual gathering of Seymours International it was agreed that the focus would be on continuity and how to ensure the proliferation of the name.
"Sounds sacrilegious," Williams opined to Levine. "That word, Name, will upset our, er...your more committed co-religionists--will it not?"
When Poznansky opened the program he received at his office, he immediately phoned Levine. "Continuity! Shall we vaunt fertility and undermine birth control?"
Levine had no immediate answer. Suddenly emboldened, he snapped back after a pause, "Poznansky, can't you find the positive side of things and stick there?"
"Are you kidding, brother! Well, tell Williams we want every middle-aged Seymour to take out a life insurance policy with the beneficiary Seymours International. Listen, in a generation SI will be offering family naming grants. Hear this: Does Your Family Have a Missing Name--Try Seymour and Get our Famous Cash Naming Bonus, Courtesy of Seymours International!
Levine you definitely started something--and I mean that as a compliment."
"Flattery will get you everything, Poznansky. Be an example to Seymourkind and go take out the first policy. Show the way!"
"And have Frances kill me? If she does, it will guarantee a good start for the fund. Hey, imagine this: Slain Seymour Martyr for the International Fellowship! Sounds totally wild--and yet plausible, Levine. Be well. See you at the Second Annual Meeting.
At the Second Meeting, Seymour Levine and Seymour Williams signed up almost every one of the delegates. The aggregate value of insurance policies came to a few million. They were beside themselves with joy. However, a crisis was slowly brewing. Williams was getting burned out. He had little time for extra Bible study, nor did he visit his aged parents as often as he used to. Guilt set in and troubled his contemplations. And he was becoming somewhat of a personality in the greater Toronto area. There wasn't a day without a couple or two calling about the Naming Contest--or an obstetrician who asked for a Contest brochure for his or her waiting room. And he did everything himself. When the appearances and the mailings proliferated, where was Levine to be found?
Williams also sensed that there were other stirrings challenging the seeming symmetry of his spiritual life. He had begun reading the Five Books of Moses, relying on an edition he found in a second-hand shop in Toronto which, to his amazement, translated Rashi, the great Medieval Jewish commentator and other rabbinic figures. He felt as if he were returning to the source of sources, that he was drawing on a wellspring of law and revelation he had known about but had overlooked in the years of his priestly training. And one night he thought he heard a voice similar to Poznansky's but it changed and sounded like Levine's, then altered altogether and took a deep resonance that sent tingles all through his arms and face.
"What's this with Seymours," he heard the voice welling up within. "What about the biblical Solomon, Shlomo, that name heralds wholeness and peace. Seymour is only a head start, Shlomo is the whole shebang." Startled he sat up in bed, heart palpitating, and a new resolution dawned on him.
Things moved precipitously after that night. First, he visited his friend, Sydney Greenstone, the retired Reform rabbi who had served with him on inter-faith committees. Then Sydney recommended he follow the voice, study further, and consider conversion which, as his friend put it, won't really turn your life over. "You've been a Seymour; now you have seen over and more, and it is only natural you join the rest of the clan and pray beside us in full fellowship."
Seymour Williams followed the directions given to him and within a few months came to a clear resolve. He went through the ceremony; luckily his parents' doctor had not spared him the knife when he was a week old. A board of three Rabbis who passed him on his knowledge of Scriptures and the Prophets, a ceremonial nick (optional, mind you said the youngest of the Reform clergy), and then a dunking in the ritual bath and he was born again, but not as Seymour. "No," said Sydney, "you are whole again--shalem--you are Shlomo."
Imagine the consternation at the next Annual Meeting when Seymour Williams introduced himself as Shlomo Williams.
"Williams, have you gone mad!" bellowed Poznansky. "You're no Shlomo, you're a Seymour!"
"Yes, I am a Seymour--but true to my real self I am a Shlomo!"
"By the Beth Din of three Rabbis," countered Williams.
"Three what?"yelled Poznansky. "You up and got converted behind our backs?"
"Where is it written," the emboldened Shlomo returned, "that I need your permission to return to the first and essential Covenant?"
Poznansky was temporarily struck dumb. The group of Seymours around both of them just looked at each other with bewilderment and incomprehension. Levine knew he had to step in or things were going to deteriorate.
"Congratulations...er, mazel tov, Seymour, I mean, Shlomo! A good omen for our future, gentlemen. This bodes well for Seymours International."
"I'm sorry but you don't understand," added Williams. "I can't put my heart in it anymore...unless of course we keep the initials and begin a new campaign to celebrate the great biblical name of Shlomo!"
"Cut the crap, Williams!" yelled Poznansky. "We're not in the business of perpetuating Shlomo. Seymour is our sole loyalty."
"Sorry, Seymour, but a Shlomo I am, and Shlomo I intend to celebrate. Who is with me?" he said as he turned to the others.
"Well, how many Seymours here have Shlomo as their Hebrew name?" asked Levine. A show of hands responded.
"But what about those of us Seymours whose Hebrew name is Shmuel?" suddenly interjected Sherman from the crowd.
"And Zalman?" queried Mendelson.
Since Shlomos made up the the majority, Williams had it over his rivals.
"I promise," he said in his presidential acceptance speech, "to follow in the pioneer footsteps of my predecessor Levine. We have a great future, gentlemen. Shlomos International will follow on our previous successes. And we shan't forget the Shmuels and Zalmans either. They will enjoy minority status on our brochures and will also reap benefits."
Roused up, the stalwarts of Shlomos International and Associates gave him a standing ovation before they fanned out in all directions, buoyed up with renewed purpose and the new naming plan.