Friday, October 01, 2004
As the High Holidays have now concluded, I thought I might share a tale of something that happened to me recently.
I am a Gentile living in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Being so, I’ve learned the difference between Kosher and Glatt Kosher and I think a little old lady once cussed me out in Yiddish for parking in front of her house. Every few blocks, there are temples and private Jewish schools. I even heard that Rosanne Barr once taught a class at a nearby Kabbalah center,
Where I grew up, religious diversity was hard to come by. Sure, we had our Catholics, Protestants, Latter-day Saints, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and even a few whacky non-denominational Christians, but the spiritual makeup of my little town was homogenous. I point all this out to say that moving to Los Angeles and this neighborhood has been a real learning experience for me.
A few Friday nights ago, my wife and I decided Chinese takeout was a swell idea, so we called and placed an order. We thought we might as well walk down and pick it up ourselves because a) it’s only a few blocks away, and b) Bob the dog could always use a good walk.
Not many people were out as we walked, but you could still sense the life in our neighborhood from the sweet smell of dinner being prepared every few houses. Eventually, we crossed over a four-way intersection and waited for Bob to do his obligatory sniffing on the corner.
All of a sudden, a teenage boy comes walking up to us. I’m a bit concerned at first as he has come out of nowhere, but he seems harmless. He’s dressed in a classic black suit and dark hat, obviously orthodox.
“Har oum douish?” He says to me.
I wondered if I had heard him correctly, so I reply, “Excuse me?”
“Har oum douish?” He asks again.
I couldn’t figure it out. Was he speaking another language? Did he have a developmental disability and not very good language skills? I was about to reply with a “What?’ when I finally realized what he was asking.
“No, I’m not Jewish,” I said.
He flashed a smile full of relief and I looked back at him wondering what was coming next. Finally he says, “Lights nerned off nand gern berny dinner.”
Now I’m starting to think he definitely has a developmental disability and is just being friendly. I’m about to say, “Oh… Okay,” and flash a smile as I walk away when he speaks again.
“Can you come to my house? The lights got turned out and we can’t eat dinner until the they’re turned back on,” He says.
Finally, I can understand the words coming out of his mouth. I realize that he’s just been mumbling, and really I should be one to understand as my wife accuses me of doing this all the time.
Then I wonder what he’s talking about. Come over to his house? Is he inviting me over to dinner, a complete stranger? What about my wife? She’s standing right here and she’s not getting an invitation? And what’s the deal about the lights?
Then it dawns on me. It’s Friday night, the night before the Sabbath. I remember something about being forbidden to do work after sundown.
“You want me to come and turn on the lights in your house?” I ask.
“Yes,” he mumbles.
I consider his request for a brief moment, and then make a rash decision.
“Sure, why not?” I say.
I follow him across the street and down a couple of houses to a two-story duplex typical of my neighborhood. As we approach the driveway, I can see that there are family members waiting for dinner. A man who I assume is his father is at the bottom of a staircase. He says “Thank you,” as I pass him going up the steps.
At the top of the landing are a couple of middle-aged women sitting in wicker chairs; they also say “Thank you,” as I pass. I can’t help but notice there is a light shining right above their heads.
--TO BE CONTINUED--