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Stories We Tell: Elijah and the Old Man

Stories We Tell: Elijah and the Old Man

Jerry Kaye

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. 

An old, blind man lived in the country with his wife, and they enjoyed each other’s company and their lives together. One day, while the man was sitting by the river, Elijah saw him there and decided to give him one wish. Unsure of what to wish for, the man took some time to think about it. He asked his wife and his friends for advice, but wasn’t satisfied with their ideas. What did he finally decide? Jerry Kaye retells the story. You can find a written version of this story in Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome back to "Stories We Tell," a podcast from Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of passing our stories down orally from one generation to the next. And here each Thursday we do the same, sharing a new story with you to carry on that tradition. This week, we hear a story from Jerry Kaye, the Emeritus Director of the Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute Camp. He shares the story of "Elijah and the Old Man."

[Jerry:] An old man lived in the country with his wife, and they did not have any children. And on top of that, he was blind, and really couldn't see, but they enjoyed each other's company all the time. They told each other stories they remembered, stories they remembered, great days when they were growing up and when they had lots of different friends. And they were always thinking about how they could make each other's lives just a little better. And he went out one day and sat by the river, just listening to the sound of the river. Of course, he couldn't see it, but he could hear it. And along came Elijah the prophet, and Elijah saw him sitting there.

And Elijah turned to him and said, "Excuse me. I think I know that you're a person who sits by the river and listens to the river because you can't see it."

He said, "I also know that you're not very wealthy, and I also know that you and your wife don't have any children, but I would like to offer you one wish. One wish that you could make happen, and that would make your life even better than it's always been."

He said, "My life hasn't always been so wonderful.".

He said, "Yes, but we know that you and your wife have had a wonderful relationship, and working, and being very helpful to each other in any way you can."

He said, "That's true, yes."

He said, "Well then, I would like to offer you that one wish. You can have anything you want."

He said, "Can I think about it?"

Elijah said, "You can think about it."

And so he went back home and he told this to his wife and she, she didn't really think that this was Elijah. And she didn't really think that there was going to be one wish that they could have. But some of his friends came walking by, and he went up to them and he said, "Can I have a minute of your time?" And they said "Of course."

And he explained what happened and who he met and what the offer was -- that he could have one wish, and one of his friends said, "You know, it would be wonderful if you could be wealthy."

He said, "Yes, but that would only solve one of the problems."

Another one said, "It would be great if you could see."

He said "Yes, but that would only solve one of the other problems."

And the third one finally said "Wouldn't it be great if you could have children?"

He said "Yes, but that would still only solve one concern that we've had in our lives." And they kind of shook their heads and walked away and said, "Well, good luck with your one wish."

And the next day they sat together, he and his wife, and talked about what their wishes were that their friends suggested, and didn't come up with any great answers until he went back to the river and sat down on a bench at the river.

And along came Elijah again. And Elijah said, "Well, have you thought of something that you'd love?".

He said, "Well, my friends and I talked about it and one of them said that I should wish for children. And I said 'but that would only be one wish that was solved.' And the next one said well wouldn't it be great if you could see?' "

And Elijah said "Yes, but that would also be just one."

He said "Well, the third friend suggested that I ask for wealth," and Elijah said "Wouldn't that be wonderful? But it would just be one."

And finally Elijah said "Have you thought of anything that you would like?"

And the old man thought for a minute and he said, "Yes, I actually have an answer of one wish. If you're really going to grant it to me, that I would really appreciate it."

And Elijah said, "Tell me what it is."

And the man said, "I wish... I wish that I could see my children eating off of golden plates."

[URJ Outro:] After hearing the story "Elijah and the Old Man," I'm wondering whether or not you think you're clever enough to always get what you want? We'd love to hear what you think about that. You can share it with us on social media at, and on Twitter our handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to "Stories We Tell." If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on, where you can also go to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, or culture, or holidays, and more. "Stories We Tell" is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Until next week -- l'hitraot!

Jerry Kaye is the immediate past director of URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, WI, which he headed for 48 years.