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Pennies From Heaven

Hands Of Father Giving Jar Of Pennies To Child On Wooden Table Background

Getty Images/Philip Steury

“I have come to welcome those found pennies and to use the act of picking them up as a reminder to stop for a moment and think about my dad.”

I pick up pennies I find lying on the ground. I do the same for nickels, dimes, and (Halleluyah!) quarters. I started doing this a few years ago after my father died. My mom started it. She said (and I think actually believes) that my dad places the coins on the ground where she can see them as a sign that he is with her. She picks them up and feels loved.

I don’t believe my dad is dropping pennies from heaven. I don’t believe in heaven. And I would vote to have the government stop minting pennies altogether. But I do believe my mom believes this, so when I pick up a penny, I do it in honor of her. Then I email her to tell her that dad dropped a coin to let me know he was around. She finds this comforting. Or she thinks it’s silly but imagines I find it comforting and humors me the way I think I’m humoring her. So maybe the whole thing is mad. Maybe.

I admit that stooping down to pick up a penny embarrasses me. Every time I do it, I’m reminded of the anti-Semitic and wildly popular “Lucky Jew” statues [Ref. 1] I saw throughout Poland when I visited the country on a book tour. [Ref 2]

The “Lucky Jew” is a two­–inch ceramic statue of a Hasidic Jewish man wearing a long black caftan and large fur shtreimel gripping a small coin with both hands. Owning and displaying the “Lucky Jew” was thought to bring one financial good luck. So ubiquitous are the “Lucky Jews” and so tiny a minority are the unlucky Polish Jews [Ref 3] that no one I spoke to about the statue had a clue that the statue might be anti-Semitic. They just assumed that since Jews were good with money this charm would help them gain financial security.

Embarrassment and anti-Semitic tropes aside, however, I have come to welcome those found pennies and to use the act of picking them up as a reminder to stop for a moment and think about my dad. These aren’t the only moments when I think of him, but these are moments when I think of him and how much he loved my mom and how hard he worked to make sure we never lacked for pennies.

I’m sharing this with you because as I walked home from the gym this morning, I noticed a penny on the road. I stopped, stooped down, and scooped it up. When I stood up, I noticed a twenty-something guy looking at me. His face seemed to register disgust: either disgust over my picking up a penny off the filthy asphalt or disgust that over a decade of daily workouts I still look like I never walked into a gym in my life. I assumed it was the former and said to him as I held the penny aloft, “My dad dropped this!” I think I saw his face shift from disgust to compassion for a delusional old man groping for pennies.

Either way, I felt my dad’s presence, and walked home to email my mom. 

[Ref. 1] Żyd z pieniążkiem (“Jew with a coin”) 

[Ref. 2] My book Rabbi Rami Guide to God was translated into Polish.

[Ref. 3] Three million Polish Jews, 90% of the Polish Jewish population, died during the Holocaust.

Love this? Read more of the work by Rabbi Rami, here.

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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