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The Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future

The Shammas

A Jew comes from Europe to the Lower East Side and applies for the job of shammes at the Rivington Synagogue.

The synagogue's leaders are ready to hire him when they find out that he is illiterate. They decide it would not be appropriate for the synagogue to hire such a man.

The Jew leaves, and starts peddling merchandise door to door. He does well, and soon purchases a horse and wagon. He continues to do well, and opens a store. Then another. Finally, he is ready to open five more stores, but he needs a bank loan.

He meets with the bank president, and asks for a $50,000 loan. The president grants it, and gives him the contract to sign. The man puts down an X.

The president is shocked. "Are you illiterate?"

The man nods.

"And even so," the president says, "you were able to build up such a big business. Imagine what you would have accomplished had you been able to read and write."

"Yes," the man says. "I would be the shammes of the Rivington Street Synagogue."