I first met Ilser Adler in 2002.
Her apartment was dark and atmospheric, with rich polished walnut, mahagony and cherry wood tables and chairs.
A brilliant lady, she escaped from Nazi Germany in the 40's.
She spoke 7 languages fluently, including Yiddish and Hebrew.
Ilsa was non-religious, but she loved the Jewish people.
She observed the Holy Days because she felt the tradition was important for continuity of her people's culture.
There was a reform synagogue in midtown that I felt had the kind of atmosphere that I thought would be perfect for her, but I could never persuade her to go.
"Well," I ventured finally, "There's a conservative synagogue just a few blocks from here.
Let's you and I go there Saturday."
She wouldn't come, however.
"Why won't you go to Shul, Ilse?" I asked her.
She leaned back in her burgundy, overstuffed chair and said, "Michael, let me tell you this little story."
I got comfortable in a chair facing her and started to light my meerschaum.
She smiled and touched my hand, "Don't smoke, Michael, it's bad for you."
I put the pipe down and listened as she began her little story.
"In the Old country, Bert the tailor's son was coming home from Berlin, from the university, where he had studied medicine. His father could hardly wait.
'My Son, the Doctor! Here he will have plenty of patients, now people could get sick whenever they felt like it!"
The doctor came home on Friday.
Saturday morning his father wanted him to go to shul.
"I'm not going, Tatte," said his son.
"Why not?" exclaimed his father. "You are ashamed to be seen with me ? Now that you're a doctor you don't have to pray or praise G-d? Maybe you are tired, or sick, G-d forbid."
"No, Tatte, I'll tell you why I won't go, however. Imagine that you are the richest man who ever lived.
So rich that a few rubles here or there doesn't matter to you at all. You are a wealthy man.
Now imagine that a widow lives across the street from you, and she has children, and they need help.
What would you do?"
"I'd help her of course,"
"I'm sure you would. But would you wait until the widow came and begged for help? Cried her heart out? Fainted for you?"
"G-d forbid! If I knew, why would I wait?"
"And G-d" says the doctor, "Is he better or worse than you? If He is better, he already knows that poor sickly people need help, and He doesn't wait for them to come and beg him."
"You mean about praising him?"
"Well, Tatte, how would you like it if someone came up and praised you to your face, saying, 'what a good tailor! What a fine tailor! The one and only tailor in the world!"
"Stop, already." interrupts the old man. "I'm getting nauseous just from..."
"Sure you are. And you know why? Because you are not a fool who enjoys someone praising him in this way.
G-d is wiser than we are, He needs our praise? He needs someone to stand before him three times a day and say, 'a good tailor! A fine tailor!'
A good G-d, a fine G-d, one who created heaven and earth, you think he doesn't know better?"
The old man thought about it for a moment, then suddenly bounced out of his chair.
"Everything you say is true, Son, but a person still has to Daven, doesn't he?"
"Now do you understand, Michael?" Ilse asked gently.
I smiled back, "I understand, Ilse."
"We'll have coffee." she said.