Paying bills: musings and a little humor

This is my time to pay bills and pledges. As I sit down to write checks, an old Jewish joke comes to mind. It’s one of those “Abie and Becky” things, and may still be worth a chuckle. So here they are, the two of them, flying to Australia to celebrate their 40th anniversary, when suddenly the plane captain’s voice comes over the loudspeaker: “Bad news! We have engine trouble, and must make an emergency landing. I see an uncharted island below us. We should be able to land safely on the beach. But odds are that we may never be found…”

Well, the plane lands safely. An hour or so later, Abie is thinking of things at home, and asks Becky, “Did you write a check for our synagogue dues before we left?” “I’m afraid not,” she answers. “So much to do, just getting ready for the trip.” Abie thinks for another moment, then asks, “How about the United Jewish Appeal?” “No, no,” says Becky. “And before you ask, I didn’t send a check for the shul’s Building Fund, either.” She expects a big rebuke, but instead, Abie smiles, leans over, and gives her the biggest kiss ever! “Then we don’t have a thing to worry about,” he says. “They’ll find us!”

Years and years ago, I wrote a column for another publication. It wasn’t a Jewish paper, and neither was anything Jewish the theme of that column for which I “invented” a man from the most eastern part of the U.S. East Coast who had lots of money, but was just plain tired of living. “I’m going to have the vacation of a lifetime,” he told himself. “I’ll take all my money — in cash — with me, leave from the Atlantic shore and cross America, seeing and doing everything I’ve ever wanted, and spending whatever it will take. And when I get to the West Coast, I should be flat broke, so I’ll just step into the Pacific and never be heard from again!” And he did exactly that. 

But of course, things often do not work out exactly as planned. A teenager lounging on the beach saw the man go into the water and waited to see when he’d come out. But after a while, he thought it was time to get help — and he did. And there was the character I’d invented, dragged out and dripping, safely on the sand, crying loudly because he was still alive but now penniless! The moral of this tale: sometimes in life we get what we want, but more often than not, it’s a matter of “close, but no cigar!”

So be careful: You may be found and, not so lucky as Abie and Becky, unable to take care of all the bills you left behind!

The advice below, from my own father, the most practical of all people, may provide you with help in advance: When he graduated from college with a degree in his first love, architectural engineering, and found no Jew was welcomed then into that field, he just went back to school and became a physician. “That way,” he said, “I could always be in charge of my own income, and my own destiny!” 

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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