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Faces on Faith: My tipping now begins at 40 percent

By Staff | Jul 21, 2020

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

Since local restaurants began to reopen for outdoor seating a few weeks ago, my tipping rate now begins at 40 percent with a $20 minimum. There are three reasons I have adopted this practice:

– Servers’ income has suffered greatly during the pandemic.

– I don’t eat out very often.

– I can afford it.

What I really would love to do is buy large pieces of prime real estate in cities throughout the country. On these parcels I would erect lovely apartment buildings, and rent the units to low income or homeless people on a sliding scale that they can afford. If nothing is what they can afford, they get their apartment rent-free.

I would also like to start and stock a food bank that delivers food free of charge to all who are in need. No more waiting for hours in line for a bag of groceries. Each day trucks would deliver the food – good, nutritious and healthy food – to the homes of clients who wait for their parcels in air-conditioned comfort.

I would also love to build, staff, finance and open a massive medical research clinic with top-rate doctors and scientists working diligently on two fronts. One division would be operating 24 hours a day in three shifts producing COVID-19 tests that the clinic would administer free of charge to any and all who requested them. The second division would be hard at work developing a vaccine that will eliminate COVID-19 as decisively as the Salk and Sabin vaccines virtually eliminated polio. When we succeed, we shall administer those tests and vaccines at no cost.

While I am at it, I would love to operate a massive, nation-wide diversity and sensitivity training program for police officers that would ensure every cop on the street knows, appreciates and responds appropriately to the very real fear so many in our country feel when an officer detains them for walking, driving or hanging out while black.

Unfortunately I have no plans to build apartments, establish my food bank, open my clinic or institute my dream of massive retraining of police officers because I cannot afford to do any of these things. But I can tip 40 percent or more.

When I was formally installed as the rabbi of my first congregation, Temple Isaiah in Columbia, Maryland – now relocated in a lovely building in Fulton, Maryland – in 1974, the congregation commissioned a well-known local artist, Wes Yamaka, to create a piece for me to include any quotation. I chose without hesitation (and slightly revised) the immortal words of the Second Century Sage Rabbi Tarfon: “The day is short; the work is great and the Master of the House is urgent. It is not incumbent upon us to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.” (Pirke Avot 2:15-16)

That quotation looked down on me from my congregational studies in Maryland and Nashville, Connecticut, and in my office when I served as president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem. Now it challenges me here in Sanibel.

Just because we cannot do everything we would like to do, we should not cease to do the things we can do to make a more just, caring and compassionate society on this planet God has entrusted to our care.

I can’t build homes, a food bank, or a clinic. I cannot provide vital training for every police officer in America. But I can respond to the pressure and hardship the pandemic has created for those who serve Vickie and me when we venture out for a meal. And so we start our tip at 40 percent with a $20 minimum. I add more if the service is exceptional.

None of us can do everything we would like to do, but all of us can do something. If our gesture brightens someone’s day, I am grateful.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.