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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Shemot:18:1-27

The in-laws came to visit five times a year. There was the somewhat somber Rosh Hashana visit, which was spent mostly davening, listening to shofar blowing in shul and feasting at the dining room table. The Purim visit was a bit more festive, with the costume-laden, Haman-booing Megilla reading in shul and more dining room feasting. The Father’s Day visit was brunch and gift swapping. The Chanukah visit was candle lighting, more gift swapping and more feasting, usually latkes and jelly doughnuts. But the fifth visit was just a social call on an average weekend. What made the visit different this year, though, was that his father-in-law was coming to see his store. For the first time. Ever.

“We’ll stay through Monday,” his mother-in-law had said nonchalantly on the phone. “Dad would love to see Effie’s store.”

“Holy cow,” Effie uttered when Dorit told him. “Holy cow,” he repeated for emphasis.

“What’s the big deal?” Dorit asked. “Dad just wants to see where you work. I would think you’d be flattered that he’s taking an interest in your business.”

“What’s the big deal? What’s the big deal? Face it, Dorit, your dad is not just some guy coming to check out my store. He’s Herschel Magnus. The Herschel Magnus.”

In the candy industry, Herschel Magnus was a legend. Some called him “The Hebrew Willy Wonka.” Herschel had started with a small store in Elizabeth and built an empire of Magnus Chocolate Emporiums nationwide. Not only did he once control over 80 retail stores, but until his retirement he also owned three chocolate factories in Taiwan, a jelly bean manufacturer in South Korea and a taffy producer in the Philippines. His influence stretched worldwide.

In 2005 he sold his entire empire to Haagen Dazs for an untold fortune and retired to his summer home in Deal. Now if he had anything to do with chocolate, it was only as a consumer, though rumor had it he never ate any sweets. “It’ll rot your teeth, and it’s bad for the bottom line,” he had once joked with Dorit, his only child.

Now Herschel Magnus was coming to pay a visit to his son-in-law’s small candy store in New Milford. Effie only opened The Sugar Rush a year before, but it had already developed a loyal customer base. His fudge was very popular, and his truffles had won a statewide taste competition. Effie thought that things were looking up. But he wasn’t ready for a visit from the Sultan of Sweets.

“Relax, Effie, it’s going to be fine,” Dorit said.

“Easy for you to say. You don’t have a father-in-law who’s a candy legend.”

“No, Effie, I just had to live with a father who dreamed about sugar and cocoa beans every day and night of his entire life, and spent his every waking moment plotting ways to give all my friends and half of the United States a cavity. Try that for a while.”

The woman made a good point. Still, the upcoming visit made Effie rather anxious. Should he rearrange the store? Check his books? Hire new staff? No, he would leave everything just as it was. The Sugar Rush was a tip-top operation. Of that he was certain. Well, relatively certain. Somewhat certain, at least.

Shabbat had been wonderful. Dorit’s parents were excellent guests, and they were terrific grandparents as well. The kids were always happy with the gifts they got, and the baby’s feet never touched the ground. And Effie’s father-in-law dispensed compliments on everything.

“Dorit, this salad is wonderful. You must give me the recipe.”

“Is that couch new? It goes really well with the carpeting.”

“Your children are so well behaved. I could eat them up.”

Effie started to believe he was nervous for no reason. Herschel Magnus was a sweet man, a caramel core wrapped in the finest milk chocolate. He had nothing to worry about.

Sunday morning came, and Effie drove his father-in-law down to Main Street in New Milford. The store was already open when they arrived, and Carol, one of his part-time sales clerks, was behind the counter, helping a customer. Traffic was light, but it was early. Effie could feel his heart pounding in his chest, but Herschel was the perfect gentleman.

“I like the kites you hung up.”

“These pralines look wonderful.”

“Did you make this fudge yourself? Ooh la la!”

“This is a terrific location.”

Effie smiled politely and basked in the praise of the chocolate general. Things were definitely looking good.

Herschel followed Effie into the stockroom in the back of the store and closed the door behind him.

“Effie, can I make a suggestion? I hope it won’t be taken the wrong way.”

“Of course not, Dad. I would love to hear what you have to say.”

“I noticed that you have a lot of the cheaper candy up front, like the Swedish fish and the gumdrops. I think it would work better if you put that further in the back and moved the higher markup items, like the hand-dipped chocolate and the Belgian truffles, up front.”

“Thanks, Dad. That’s a good idea.”

“Oh, and I see lots of jelly beans, but I didn’t see much taffy or licorice. The older customers love that stuff.”

“Got it.”

“Also, you need lots of nuts. If you lean too much toward the chocolate and not enough toward the nuts, people think you lack variety.”

“Nuts. Uh huh.”

“And the cotton candy? I have four letters for you. D-U-S-T.”

“Dust. Got it.”

“And I would decrease the size of your gum display. It just doesn’t bring in much profit. Not enough chew for the buck.”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Oh, and Pop Rocks are so 1990s.”

“Got it.”

“I also think that the Push Pops should be—”

Effie’s cell phone rang, and Effie gratefully pulled it from his pocket.

“I have to get this Dad. It might be important.”

“Hi, sweety,” Dorit said. “I just wanted to ask you to buy some milk on the way home.”

“Oh, hi,” Effie said. “That sounds serious.” Effie turned to his father-in-law. “I have to take this one, Dad. I’ll be back in a second.”

Herschel nodded significantly and turned toward the lollipop box before him to scrutinize the packaging.

“How’s it going?” Dorit asked.

“Oh, just great,” Effie said, when he had safely closed the stockroom door behind him. “Your father just had one or two suggestions. Maybe 10 or 20, actually.”

“That bad, huh?”

“That bad.”

“Well, just remember; Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law Yitro came to visit him in the desert, and his suggestions worked well for Moshe.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Yitro taught Moshe to delegate his authority to other judges so that he could be more productive with his time, and that worked out great.”

“So Moshe listened to his father-in-law?”

“Every word.”

“Wow. Now I think I finally understand that line in Yigdal.”

“Which line?”

“You know. Lo kam b’Yisrael k’Moshe od. There will never be another like Moshe.”

“Very funny.”

“I’ll talk to you later.”

Effie hung up his phone and returned to the stockroom. Herschel had found a lollipop and was sucking in earnest.

“I think everything’s going to work out fine here, Effie.”

“Thanks, Dad. Do you want to go home now?”

“Sure. And we can talk about the signage out front the next time I come.”

“That sounds great.”

Yes, that Moshe Rabbeinu was definitely one in a million.

By Larry Stiefel

 Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.