By RABBI BOB ALPER
Forty-eight years ago, right after ordination, my first synagogue footed the bill for our move from Cincinnati to Buffalo. Among our possessions: about a quarter ton of cinderblocks which we had acquired and used, along with stained and varnished boards, to hold our sizable library. I felt guilty making the congregation pay for this dead weight, especially as I watched the packers wrap each block in tissue and place them in fresh, individual cardboard boxes.
But, I rationalized, we didn’t have much furniture, and if we left the cinderblocks in Cincinnati, we would have had no shelves in Buffalo.
Fast forward to 1990. Another move, this time from Philadelphia to the realization of a dream: Vermont. And for this move, we were paying all the expenses.
I rented the biggest truck in their fleet, 28 feet long, I think it was. Six men from a Philadelphia moving company loaded the van. Late that afternoon, I discovered we were out of room. I scurried around town, and at the last minute rented a smaller trailer for the overflow, hitching it to the back of the truck.
Our family had disbursed, my wife already working in Vermont, the kids off to summer projects. I drove the truck alone, and must admit that after years of wearing a suit and tie and sitting behind a desk, boosting myself up into that cab was exhilarating, a real change of pace.
I was nervous as I drove cautiously through what was now our former neighborhood, making excessively wide turns to avoid jumping the curbs. But once I hit the turnpike, I relaxed for the first time and tried the radio. Surprise: it seemed that I could receive only one station, a truckers’ country format playing tunes like “My Backward Life.” I recall one verse: “My dog he gives me kisses, and my wife turns ’round three times before she sits.”
No matter. I turned on the portable CB radio I had borrowed from my car trunk. It was a small, emergency model, but worked fine on that clear, warm morning. After eavesdropping on discussions between “Road Renegade” and “Kentucky Wheelie,” I entered the banter, using my clever CB name. “George Frederick here,” I interjected. “Any Smokies east of Willow Grove?”
There was an unusual stillness on the air. And then a voice that sounded like “Kentucky Wheelie” asked, “Who?”
“George Friderick. George Friderick? That’s my Handel. Get it?”
Despite the now-silence in my cab, I picked up the rhythm of cruising down that ribbon of highway, and by mid-day was ready for a break. Naturally, I chose a truck stop. Parked my “rig” between two eighteen wheelers. Even considered ordering a cup of “java” to accompany my sandwich, but ultimately opted to request coffee. Full strength.
Half-way through my meal I began to feel his eyes on me. He sat on a stool across the counter. Graying T-shirt, hairy arms, dark sun glasses and an untrimmed beard. Blurry tattoos on both biceps and a leather band on one wrist.
He placed some bills next to his plate, took a final sip of coffee, and walked around the counter until he stood next to me. This was a big, big fellow.
“Hey, mister. You a Jew?”
Uh oh. What’s going on here? I began to feel a spidery panic in my stomach. How does he know? My face? I wore no distinguishing jewelry, no identifying logo on my T shirt. Nothing there at all. Nothing at all -except – except – I had been reading The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.
Yeah, I suppose that would be a sign. I took a breath.
“Um, yes, I am.” I braced myself. For just a few seconds.
Until I heard his next words: “Do you know where I can find a minyan around here?”
Harry Golden said it decades ago: Only in America.
(Rabbi Bob Alper is a stand-up comic and author. Really. Visit him at www.bobalper.com.)