Israel Stories

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Job for a Nice Jewish Boy

Of all the old cinema heroes, Humphrey Bogart is certainly my favorite. I must have watched The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Key Largo a hundred times. There is nothing particularly Jewish about Bogart and you could never imagine him standing before you on a Shabbat morning in shul giving the drasha, but then you don’t live in Israel.

Almost every Shabbat as I walk to shul, striding purposefully in the other direction is Yitzchak. We pass each other, quickly nod an acknowledgment as there is no time for talking. I am invariably late for shul and he is rushing home from the early service to relieve his wife of the kids. There is nothing special about Yitzchak, he’s an average sort of guy. Always wears the same blue blazer for shul summer or winter. Always wears the same big white kippa and always has a smile on his face. But Yitzchak has a secret, he’s a private detective. Actually its not such a secret because his wife also knows and if his wife knows then, well you get the picture. His main business is tracking people down who are due money through inheritance or wills. He doesn’t have a glass door on his office, he doesn’t wear a hat, smoke and his wife isn’t Ingrid Bergman, that’s for sure.

But that’s not his only secret. Yitzchak is a Rabbi. He has s’micha (ordination) from Yeshivah University and from a top yeshivah. Rabbi Yitzchak the private eye, will very often get up in shul to give the drasha, give shiurim during the week and basically conduct his life as a rabbi should. This combination has produced the most surreal, yet absolutely serious, set of articles I have ever seen; the Halachos (Laws) of being a Private Eye.

Shalom, on the other hand, is studying to be a Rabbi. Very nice, if that’s what he wants to do. He spends his nights learning in a yeshivah in Jerusalem, often to one or two in the morning. To look at Shalom you wouldn’t think he was rabbi material. His shirts are very often torn and he wears ripped jeans. Some days he wears a badly knitted kippa others a frayed black velvet kippa.

During the day, Shalom has a job washing cars in a local garage. He cannot find another job. Shalom is an immigrant from Ethiopia. He came to this country penniless. He has absolutely no prospects. But he doesn’t care. He claims he is rich. He says that his goal of becoming a Rabbi is his gold and silver. His drive and ambition is amazing. The other boys at his yeshivah (mainly American) hold him in great awe. They tell me he arrives at about six in the afternoon, still in his work clothes, which incidentally are the only clothes he has, and learns all night, absorbing everything, practically devouring book after book after book. One day, they told me, he arrived late and was inconsolable because of the high value he put on his time spent learning.

And finally there’s Tamir. Tamir is a taxi driver. We spent approximately ten minutes together. As drove through the ultra religious neighborhood in Bet Shemesh, he began naming all the Chassidim he saw. That’s Rav Shlomo, and that’s Rav Noach the mohel, he did me my father and my son (a bit too much information for me). There is Rav Yehudah Cohen, he is in property and there’s Pinchus, he’s in kolel. He told me he has to work on Shabbat, doesn’t keep kosher and wants to marry a non-Jewish woman. As we left the charedi neighborhood he turned to me, everyone’s a Rabbi in this neighborhood and one day I will be a Rabbi to.


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