Israel Stories

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Cobbler

I am not easily scared, although to my children’s great amusement I’m not too good with heights. The recent thunderstorms saw the tables being turned as my kids sat quivering on the end of my bed jumping out their skins as the celestial furniture was being moved.

Yesterday I was probably more frightened than I had ever been, for no reason of course. The mind has a cruel way of blowing events out of proportion and this event was no exception. I needed shoelaces and was on Agrippas Street in Jerusalem. There are several small kiosks there and I thought it would just be a formality to pick up a pair of black laces. Oh no, nothing is ever simple.

The guy told me I needed extra long laces for my boots and should try his brother-in-law in Mea Shearim. He gave me the address, asked me if I wanted to buy a lighter or a beret and waved me on my way.

I found myself walking down the very narrow street of Mea Shearim and eventually arrived at the address. It was in an underground cavern, the sort of cavern that makes you feel a real sense of history.

Anyway, that’s when it got spooky. The owner, a very old Chassidic gentlemen, asked me what length lace I needed. I told him my boots had 9 holes. He smiled, looked at his watch and disappeared up the stairs and out of the cavern. I stayed and waited for him. Five minutes passed and he didn’t return. Then I heard a voice call down “hello?”

I shouted up that the owner had gone out. “Ok,” said the voice and then I heard the door creak closed. I ran up the stairs and pushed the door. It didn’t open. I banged on the door, calling out. No answer. I suddenly realized that it was very dark, in fact the lights had all been turned off and there wasn’t any light at all.

Then I heard a faint brushing noise. I swung round and realized just in time I was still on the stairs, caught my balance and slowly felt my way down the stairs into the cavern. I sensed that it was getting colder and the brushing sound was getting louder. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I was aware of another door at the back of the cavern. The brushing was coming from behind this door.

I tried the door. It seemed unlocked so I pulled it as hard as I could. The door swung open and I jumped out of my skin as I was faced with a tall bearded man dressed in all black. He stood there silently, not moving, just looking at me. Panic struck me and I started apologizing and explaining the situation. He stood there not moving just looking at me.

Then he stepped backwards and smiled. “Sorry,” he said, “just davening, couldn’t speak, so what’s the problem?” I explained the whole story to him, about the shoelaces, the owner of the store and the locked door, lights going out. As I finished talking the door at the top of stairs opened and the owner bounced down the stairs, smiling and holding my laces.

“Behind my store there is a schteible, a small synagogue. There is only one power source so I share it with them. When I am not in the shop or at prayer times, they turn my lights off so they can have light. I always lock my door when I go out, so when it was time for afternoon prayers, as I was out my friend locked the door figuring you’d know there was a back door.”

“And what about the brushing noise?”

“Ah that was probably me,” the other guy said, “probably my hat brushing against door as I was praying.”

“Just one last question,” I said, “where did you go to get my laces?”

“Ah, yes, I had a quite a walk,” he gave a sheepish grin, “my brother-in-law has a small kiosk in Agrippas, he gave them to me.”


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