L’Universe Israelite tells this story about the late King Umberto of Italy:
A few days after the birth of King Victor Emanuel’s son the Jewish community of Rome arranged a special service of thanksgiving in honor of Queen Margherita and her new-born baby. The king, wishing to thank the community personally, summoned the chief rabbi to his presence and said:
“Your community was the first in Rome to pray for the young prince…. I take it that on this occasion you had a number of min-yens present in your synagogue.”
When the rabbi asked in astonishment how the king was so intimately acquainted with Jewish custom and the Jewish law, the ruler replied that when he had been a young officer at the Turin garrison he once came unexpectedly upon Giuseppe Otolenghi (later Italian Minister of War), the Jewish general who was Umberto’s immediate superior at the time.
Finding Ottolenghi, who was usually even-tempered, in a rage, Umberto inquired as to his difficulty.
“I am angry at the Jewish community here,” Ottolenghi replied. “I went to the synagogue but I could not pray, for there wasn’t a minyen.”
“But why didn’t you take one along?” Umberto asked.
“Your Highness seems to think this is about a prayer book. But that is not the case. Minyen is the gathering together of ten men at the synagogue. Without them a service may not be held.”
“And that is how I discovered what a minyen is,” the King concluded his story. “I also learned at the time,” he continued, “that as often as the general could, he visited the synagogue. Nor did this prevent him from being one of the best generals in the Italian army.”
Which reminds us of another story which may be old but still should be good:
His superior officer, while congratulating him for his bravery, which had resulted in the capture of many enemy machine gun nests, asked a Jewish doughboy how he managed to bring back so many German prisoners.
“Oh,” the American soldier replied, “all I had to do was crawl into No Man’s Land and whisper, ‘Yidn, a minyen!’ That brought ‘em out, all right.”â€”E. D.