In the days before Teaneck became the center of Modern Orthodox suburbia, and you could walk its streets and know every observant person you passed, there lived a man who became known to all as the "Candyman." Sure, every shul has a Candyman, but my uncle Stanley Amsel, who died just a day before Yom Kippur, moved here during the 1960s, so I like to think of him as the town’s original Candyman.
My Uncle Stanley and my Aunt Bernice were early settlers in Teaneck. They saw the value of this small, suburban community, whose lone Orthodox shul, Bnai Yeshurun, was just an expanded house. The town had no eruv, no mikvah, no bakery, and no pizza parlor to lure them, but they still packed up their two children and moved west from Long Beach, N.Y. I always thought of my uncle as a Teaneck old timer, while my father, who settled in town in 197′, was a newcomer.
Children at Bnai Yeshurun used to scramble to my uncle on Shabbat for the opportunity to get a sweet treat. For many, he redefined the meaning of a sweet new year. The baseball cards (and later Torah cards) that he gave out endeared him to the community’s children. And when his own children grew up and moved out of the community, one to California and the other to Israel, he was not lonely because a man with candy always has friends.
When I was 17, I inherited his Oldsmobile Delta 88. It was a one-of-a-kind, a one-seater. Uncle Stanley, a wholesaler of women’s blouses, worked out of his car, and between the samples that he had for work and the mounds of candy that he kept for the children, there was barely enough room for the driver. The car was so full of candy that it was easier for him to simply sell the car as chametz for Passover instead of cleaning it.
After I was married and settled in Teaneck, Uncle Stanley never missed an opportunity to throw candies at my husband Alan, who shared his love of sweets. When our first son was born, I tried to put my foot down and say "no" to the Candyman because our pediatrician preferred that our son’s first food be baby cereal, not candy. But Uncle Stanley was a hard man to tell no.
Uncle Stanley wasn’t known only for his sweet tooth. Long before Tehilim recitation groups became trendy in the Orthodox world, my uncle recited Psalms nearly all day, every day. His tattered copy of the Book of Psalms carried in it many, many requests from others who would ask him to recite its verses for their friends and family who were ill.
The Candyman finally left Teaneck five years ago when he fulfilled his desire to live in Israel with his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. He made alliyah, but never gave up his connection to the community here. When he arrived in Israel, he quickly unpacked his Bnai Yeshurun directory. Every week, as soon as Shabbat was over, he would call each of the many friends that he still had here. He’d start with the A’s and work his way through the Z’s by the beginning of the next Shabbat. His directory was so worn and well loved that it could have been mistaken for his Book of Psalms.
In Israel, he could be found on a daily basis at the Kotel, the Western Wall, where he would daven mincha. There he’d be, tattered Tehilim in hand (a large print leather-bound version supplied by my husband), pockets overflowing with candy, with a black velvet yarmulka on his head embroidered in gold Hebrew lettering, with the name "Candyman".
When he died, Uncle Stanley was 8′ and preparing for his second bar mitzvah which would have been on his birthday today.
It was scheduled for parshat Chayah Sarah, which this year falls on Thanksgiving weekend.
I am sure that he would have been the first person to throw candy in celebration.