Monday, June 28, 2010

Memories of Manhattan

They say that you can turn on cruise control, fall asleep, wake up, have lunch, turn the steering wheel, and be all good while driving on the I-70. Point is, it's a straight road. Not too much to look at either. Since it's the three weeks we can't listen to music, so instead I popped in a CD of a Farbrengen with Rabbi Gordon. Which Rabbi Gordon? I have no idea. Not that's it's too important anyway.

Here comes the inspirational part:

Rabbi Gordon said that some people ask, "Why go out and help Jews? Live in your own world, keep your kids religious, and let everyone else do their own thing." The answer is best explained through a parable. Life is a big sea. And when people come down into this world, they're dropped into that sea. Some people happen to fall onto boats. Some people are immediately swallowed up by the dark, frigid, shark-infested, non-chlorinated, probably salty waters. The guys on the boat get to suntan. And some people even fall off the boat. Now what's the law if you see someone foundering in the depths? You must go save them! There's no Well- I-have-a-schedule-plus-my-wife-will kill-me-if-I'm-late-what's-in-it-for-me type of talk. You go and rescue the drowning person. And if the cry of "Man Overboard!" is heard? Everything stops! The man (or woman, or child, or whatever) immediately becomes the focus of attention. You must save them!

The analogy is clear. Some lucky people are born into observant homes, where Torah is learned and Mitzvos are kept. And some people are born into the opposite. And they're drowning. And it's our responsibility to save them. And if someone leaves their religious lifestyle? A man is overboard? How much greater is our responsibility?

Inspiring, huh? I certainly thought so. And guess what? There's more! Joy!

Rabbi Gordon was one of only a few Bochurim with a beard when he was growing up in New York in the forties. He and a friend once went on the train, and the entire car (the people therein) stopped whatever they were doing to stare at two young men with beards. It was simply unheard of. Then in the sixties all the hippies started to grow them, but back in the forties? For a Jew to proclaim his religion? To follow in the footsteps of his fathers? And now look at us. So far, thank G-d, no anti-semitism. It's got to be weird to be stopped in the street by someone wearing a black hat and jacket (in 98 degree heat) and asked if you're Jewish. Someone even asked us if we had horns! (OK, I made that up, but it could have happened. This is Kansas for crying out loud.)

What I'm trying to say is, there's no longer any need to be ashamed of being Jewish, no reason to hide your identity. Just say it loud and clear and people respect you. This is America!

Sorry, this is getting soppy. I'm sorry.

As we always end Farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) with, "Tomorrow will be totally different!" And sometimes it actually is.

Anyway, We were driving on the I-70, and in between getting inspired by the mysterious Rabbi Gordon I made some phone calls, which went pretty well. Two people were interested in meeting us, one had no interest, one was a wrong number, and the answering machines were as always quite sweet.

Our first stop in Manhattan was the local mall. They had really cool sinks in the bathrooms. You put your hand in, and soap automatically comes out, followed shortly by water and then a grand finale of hot air to speed you on your way. Quite exciting, to tell the truth. The only problem (and there are always problems in this long and bitter exile) was that before one eats bread, one needs to wash from a cup, and those super-high-tech sinks were not conducive to filling cups. Like true Shluchim of the Rebbe, we persevered. That's what water fountains are for. After enjoying Challah and tuna we went off to search for Jews among the stores. No luck.

We went outside, and started going up the street, asking everyone if they were Jewish. Again, no luck. We did strike gold in the courthouse though. We had gone into a lawyer's office, of course he wasn't Jewish, and now met him in the local courthouse. Guess what? No, he hadn't suddenly performed a Halachic conversion, but he did know someone who didn't even have to. Mrs. Lawyer (I'd use names, but the goons at Chabad.org would come and smash my windows) came out. Yes, she's Jewish. Her husband is a professor at K-state. She lights Shabbos candles. Does it get any better? On our way out the palace of justice a young man wearing a large cross and a black hat stopped us and asked us where we got out hats. "Brooklyn," I replied, and answered his next query that they were Borsalinos, and cost about $160. Ridiculous, huh? The price you have to pay for fashion (religion).

Moving onto the next stop we discovered a ninety year old man who owns a business. We didn't actually meet him, as he was out to lunch (literally, not figuratively) so we just left some brochures and business cards. A guy in a jewelry shop told us about another guy, (ad infinitum) who also owns a shop. We did speak to him. Born in Manhattan, lived there all his life. Goes to Shul on the High Holidays. Good for him! Again, some brochures, etc, (another no-no in school, this time in 6th grade, "Don't you ever write 'etc.' on any reports!") and that was it.

Our first appointment in Manhattan was something else. He's an Israeli professor at K-State, she works with autistic children in Topeka. They have three kids, two grandkids, and like Chabad. Plus they know the scoop about everyone in town. We talked about the three weeks, the problem of assimilation, and even put Tefillin on him. It was really nice. Assimilation is a major problem for these small town Jews. The synagogue is little more than a social club, and there's no real sense of Jewish pride, or even Jewish people to hang out with. And that's why we're going out, trying to remind people that yes, they are Jewish, they have something to be proud of, and they should stick with the faith.

At 5:50 we realized that #1, we had an appointment at 6:00, and #2, that we didn't know the directions, and that #3, we hadn't finished up with our current appointment. Twenty five minutes later we were knocking on the door. It didn't open. Oh well. I called, very apologetic, but there was nothing to be done.

After our aborted attempt at a meeting, it was time to go to our favorite hangout: the local library. Unlike in S. Joseph, the librarians were not too helpful. Sure, they were nice enough, but they said something about privacy and we knew it was a hopeless cause. So we left. Man, we sure do seem to do a whole lot of leaving. As we were making our departure I saw a woman staring at me. Being the naturally shy, reserved, (look on thesaurus.com for more synonyms) and generally me person that I am, I ignored her. But she continued. So I asked, "Do you know anyone who's Jewish?" And she replied, "Well, actually I'm Jewish." Of course she's a professor at K-State. Like most college towns, it seems that everyone either works at the university or is somehow supported by it. She had never seen a Chassidic Jew in the city. Heck, I had never seen any type of Jew in the city. Which isn't too surprising, since we only arrived about seven hours before. Be that as it may, she was interested, so we gave her the standard pamphlet and business card, and even told her about this blog, which she promised to visit.

Continuing our search took us around town, which is rather empty, as it is summer break at the aforementioned university. So onto Bentonville's pride and joy, the neighborhood Walmart. And unlike the men's rooms at the mall, these mens' here were quite disappointing. The thing flushed every thirty seconds. Quite disconcerting. We davened Mincha in the parking lot, getting more stares than your average elephant in New York, and started to head home, just ahead of an impending storm. Our car was, to put it nicely, a compact, and we felt every gust of wind. But we said the Tefilas Haderech (traveler's prayer) and made it safely to Lawrence, where a hot supper was waiting (thanks Zalmy).

25 comments:

Leo de Toot said...

Dear Mr. R.S.

The nostalgia for your days on the road! Jack Kerouac would be intrigued.

LdT.

e said...

I don't know why, in these early posts you come across as a complainer. You cheerfully recount your travails, and I get the feeling that the cheer covers resentment.

e said...

maybe it's just me.

The Real Shliach said...

Ltd: Yup, me and Jack together...

e: Perhaps because you had to edit them?

e said...

But i didn't notice the tone upon reading the edited version. I noticed it upon reading the unedited version.

The Real Shliach said...

You mean the opposite, right?

e said...

and if you think I notice whiny tone whenever I read something I need to edit, why didn't I notice it with the other bloggers?

e said...

re: meaning the opposite, allow me to clarify. I should have written, "But i didn't notice the tone only upon reading the edited version. I noticed it upon reading the unedited version."

The Real Shliach said...

Presumably you read the unedited version first, right?

Is your current reading affected by your previous connection with the material?

e said...

perhaps it is. But only in that my initial reactions persist into my current reactions. What remains to be explained is where the initial reaction came from.

The Real Shliach said...

Perhaps at the time I was whining to you?

e said...

I decided you were whiny before we started conversing directly.

The Real Shliach said...

Oh, that makes me feel all warm and cozy inside.

e said...

why the heck?

The Real Shliach said...

I was being facetious.

sarabonne said...

I just think how stinky everyone must have been trudging around in suits during the summer heat.

The Real Shliach said...

Don't worry, we used to bring deodorant in the car with us.

e said...

Merkos Shluchim spend lots of time in air-conditioned cars.

The Real Shliach said...

When we were driving to St Joseph we didn't have an air coditioned car. Then we blew a tire and spun out on the highway, and that was the end of that car.

e said...

you didn't have a rented car?

The Real Shliach said...

St. Joseph: chabad house jalopy.

Manhattan: Shliach's car.

Big roadtrip to Missouri: rental car (at least, as far as I recall)

sarabonne said...

Shluchim cars tend to be stinky as well, with weird substances congealing on the surfaces.

The Real Shliach said...

True this. Fortunately, this Shliach was a stickler for cleanliness.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

You were quite a chossid back in the day.

e said...

not just a chossid, The Real Shliach.