Two weeks ago on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I joined two of my neighbors to go visit Shmuel Olstein in the hospital. He was diagnosed with cancer and would be going in for surgery the following day.
"Is it serious?", I asked my friend Leah, who has lived across the road from him for years. "Yes", she replied. I immediately cancelled my previous plans and decided to join them.
We arrived to Ziv Hospital in Safed to find Shmuel in a fine mood. He was sitting speaking to his son Yosi. A grouchy nurse came to measure his blood sugar. "Why the sour face dear", he asked the lady. When she saw that we were all looking at her, she changed her countenance. Mr. Olstein operated as doctor and nurse in this instant.
Mr. Shmuel Olstein has made a generous contribution to my life in a seemingly small, yet major way. One day we were speaking about his experiences as a prisoner in a German concentration camp during World War II. "How did you ever survive?", I asked him incredulously. He responded, "By the way of three small but significant things:
First of all, I would constantly repeat to myself, 'I am leaving here alive and well. This too shall pass'. Secondly, every night, there was about fifteen to twenty minutes break when the guards changed duty. I led a culture club. We would huddle together next to the bunk beds, each day someone would take a turn to give a lecture or share something valuable that they had experienced in life. This would keep our brains clear and functioning.
We were given very little to eat each day. Our meal would usually consist of a half a cup of light broth with a very small cube of potato or vegetable. The third thing that really kept me alive was that before I ate, I always took a piece of my portion of vegetable, no matter how small, and gave it to someone who was suffering more than I."
Three days ago, I attended Shmuel's funeral in the valley of our green garden of eden here in the Galilee.
You can tell alot about a person by who attends their funeral. It is a certain measurement of what kind of mark they have made upon this world.
At Shmuel Olstein's funeral there were many people in attendance; old friends from his past, and young people who would meet with him in the village or at the health spa where he liked to hang out and chat with the neighbors and holiday guests.
Alhtough his body may have parted, Shmuel lives eternally through those acts of kindness and humour which touched so many lives during his eighty some odd years on this earth.
This truly makes Shmuel Olstein a living master of peace.