By Moshe Kravitsky
Photos: Baruch Ezagui
He’ll probably be really upset at me for writing this. After all, Shimmy Weinbaum (or Shmaryahu as 100% of us will never refer to him) is not the type to stand, comfortably, in the direct path of a photographer’s lens, so chances are, you won’t see too many bits about him in the news. And if I know him well enough, he’s probably reading this and his stomach just dropped….much like my own stomach is doing right now as I think of how he’ll confront me when the last word of this article is read. (Note to self: Keep cell phone off and don’t go into work for a couple of days after this gets published.)
Let’s take it a few steps back…Okay, a lot of steps back. About 10 year’s worth of steps back… No, it’s gotta be more than that. Let’s see now, I was in Chovevei Torah about (I’m scrunching my nose and forehead trying to figure it out…) Um…(Now, I start counting on my fingers) GOT IT!! I was in Chovevei about 13 years ago, I think, and one of the first memories I ever had of Shimmy was on the Holy day of Lag B’omer. The Great Parade probably existed in Shimmy’s dreams back then, maybe not, but regardless, the parade back then was possibly a fifth of what the parade is nowadays.
Where was I….oh, right! Along with many other bochurim from yeshiva, I came in front of 770 to help with the folding chairs. They needed setting up, and basically, it’s taken for granted, more often than not, that bochurim are kinda these expendable-pawn-like creatures who mobilize whenever they’re needed. (Think the Maharal’s Golem wearing a smushed “Bors” on his head. That’s your average bochur) Of course, I remember thinking to myself “Okay, I’ll unfold some chairs” though I wasn’t so enthusiastic back then at the prospect of doing a job that the hired help can do.
Yeah, I’m being honest here. I felt too dignified to be doing such things. Okay, in my own defense, it was more of a feeling like, hey, I wanna do the more fun stuff, let me go dress up in a chicken costume and dance around for all the kids that show up. I’m much more of a clown than I am a folder-boy. Nevertheless, I did my job—played the role of the expendable pawn, and folded the chairs. We all did, though I can’t remember if we did it with a smile.
Look, you know how bochurim can be. Right? A bunch of us got to work, but we were scared our hats would get smushed, or our jackets would get creased. G-d forbid our shoes should get scuffs on them. I mean, that was what I, and I’ll venture a guess, many other guys who were folding that day were like. Y’know, sure I’ll do it, but only if I have to. By the way, the people from the chair company—they were doing their jobs just fine. Thing is, the parade would’ve started late had it not been for the extra bochurim coming out to help. So that’s what we were—the last minute help.
On that note, I do recall, very distinctively, that there was one bochur amongst the rest of us (I think he was a bochur at the time. I could be wrong) who didn’t appear to be as ‘reserved’ as we did, and right off the bat, I could clearly tell that he was different. For starters, where most of us would unfold a stack of chairs, and then give in to the overbearing need to take a break, this bochur—this guy, was going strong through stacks of chairs with lightning speed. And I noticed him occasionally delegating to others on the fly here and there, but mostly, he was a chair-man like the rest of us. Well, okay, not exactly like the rest of us. His hair wasn’t combed, his shirt was un-tucked and wrinkled, and he appeared to be sweating, which brought me to the realization that he had been there for hours, hadn’t yet taken a break, and had been working on the set up, and most probably the parade’s logistics since the night before……………That was the very first time I saw Shimmy Weinbaum.
Years later, when I pseudo-interviewed with him for the chullent-of-a-job that turned out to be my position at Tzivos Hashem, I couldn’t help but conjure up that image of him in my mind from that first lag b’omer. I tried to mention it to him during the interview. Y’know, fan his ego? Earn some brownie points. Something along the lines of how we used watch him in action setting things up. He kinda just pretended I didn’t say anything and moved along with the conversation.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Rabbi Weinbaum is the engine of Chayolei Tzivos Hashem, The Great Parade, and a dozen other things that I will never get wind of. Look at him, ask him if he had anything to do with it, he’ll probably just move along with the conversation, because that’s just who he is. He’s not big on spotlights and wouldn’t be caught dead in one. In all honestly, 95 percent of the people who were there today never heard of the name Shimmy Weinbaum.
But at today’s parade, when all the floats were running along, he was there shirt un-tucked and all standing on the side waving his hand at the guy driving the semi-truck to move it along. He was running around like a chicken with his head very much attached and on steroids. I mean, the guy moves fast and he wastes not a second. But that didn’t really strike a chord with me. I mean, he is, after all the parade organizer guy. That was just classic Shimmy.
No, friends. The strike-a-chord factor came later on after the parade was long over—by the carnival. See, as I, a nothing who believes he’s a big-something was rolling my kids around from ride to ride, and in between popcorn refills and snapping the occasional pic or two my iphone, I found myself down on Brooklyn Avenue, maybe, and guess what I saw. While waiting for my kids to come off of the twirly ride thingy, a few hundred feet ahead, was Shimmy, folding and unfolding chairs. This is a guy who goes to sleep super late every night for months before just so he can squeeze in another parade meeting or two with his insanely devoted staff (By the way, kudos to Zevi, Abi, Moscowitz, Berel, Noach, Mordy, Zalmi, and all the other guys that left Mendy’s containers on my computer desk for months during planning season) Back to Shimmy. He’s a guy who is so selfless, so transparently a chossid devoted to the Rebbe’s cause, SO BIG ON THE SCALE OF THINGS THAT SURELY, HE CAN AFFORD TO LET THE LITTLE PEOPLE, THE EXPENDABLES, UNFOLD THE CHAIRS.
At first, I chuckled a bit because it reminded me of all those years ago. But a few seconds later, I understood exactly what was going on – why he needed to unstack and unfold chairs. You see, in that lonely corner of Brooklyn Avenue, I think, there was a very large screen playing footage of the Rebbe’s Parade from 1984. It was playing, but there were no seats for anyone to sit down should they want to watch..or to rest their feet from all that walking, or whatever else could have been going through his mind at the time.
When my kids came off the ride, I explained to them the gadlus of this holy man. How even though he has all the rights to be a big-fat hot shot, none of that matters to him. All that’s important to Shimmy, I said to my kids, was that the Rebbe said there should be a parade. Whatever it takes, the show must go on.
We walked over and my children personally thanked him for organizing the most beautiful parade in the history of parades………And then, I hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. At first, I tried, but I couldn’t hold back the tears of awe. They were welling up as I explained to him that what he does, what he is, is so beautiful. Of course, to avert the compliment, he tried swinging it right back at me — asking if I saw myself on the screen earlier on in the parade as commander 6-1-3, but not this time. I wouldn’t let him. I hugged him even stronger and thanked him for everything.
Sure, the Parade and Tzivos Hashem is a giant mechanism which needs constant fine tuning and is kept up by dozens of devoted staff members, but that’s us on one side of the scale. And in this nothing-who-now-realizes-that-he’s nothing’s opinion, on the other side of the scale stands Shimmy Weinbaum, the underdog, my hero.