This past week I officiated a funeral for an uncle of a friend of a friend. I had never met the man who passed away at all, and he left only a few relatives, no children or grandchildren. While there was sadness as there is usually at a funeral, I actually enjoyed meeting and speaking to his niece and nephews and the extended family. The man who passed away had worked at the Catskills when he was younger, in its heyday. At one time upstate New York was the place to go for a summer get away with top comedians, and other entertainment, for people who were Jewish. Nicknamed the “Borsht Belt” or the “Jewish Alps”, there were large hotels and small hotels, and bungalow colonies you could stay at. And this man worked there in the service industry. After the sixties, the area became less popular and “Sonny” moved to Las Vegas, where a lot of the entertainment from the Catskills migrated. Eventually he moved back to St. Louis for his remaining years to pass away close to his last bit of family and to be buried next to the place of his beloved wife who he had lost at a young age. He developed Alzheimer’s and would frequently lost, but he loved going to the casino and for some strange reason never ever got lost to or from the casino.
The following is purely in the realm of conjecture, but I’d like to suggest that for Sonny, the Catskills was his connection to God. It was the place where his Judaism came alive in the form of people of note and his fellow Jews. And he loved serving them and making them happy, a Torah principle embodied in the Patriarch Abraham. When he moved to Las Vegas, it was to keep that feeling alive, whether he thought about it consciously or not. It was a connection to the Almighty. And in his last years, going to the casino was the last place he could still get that feeling that reminded him of his early years in the Catskills.
Since the Almighty is infinite, He is not only in the synagogue, at the Shabbos table, or the Passover Seder. He is anywhere and everywhere. You can make a connection with him in the park, at the beach, or in your living room.
For Sonny, the casino was his connection to the Infinite, and the Almighty never let him get lost coming or going.