Monday, April 27, 2009

The Rabbi Who Tried to Kill Me

Its 5:30 on a Friday morning. I am sitting in the basement of Holy Blossom wondering half consciously to myself how I got talked into doing the morning shift of the Temple’s Out of the Cold homeless shelter.

At about 5:45, three men walk into the program. The first two look about as bad as I do—like they just rolled out of bed. The third is wearing a seriously coordinated running outfit: black running shoes, black socks, black running tights, black t-shirt with a black running vest with the fashionable mid-80’s neon green stripe made famous by the fashion criminals that ran amok just after the release of Flashdance.

The only coherent thought I have is how the hell did this guy have the presence of mind at this hour to actually get himself into something so coordinated.

One week later and the scene repeats itself. At 5:45, the same three men walk into the program. The first two looking just as bad, but the third is wearing the exact same thing. And the next week, and the week after that.

After about 4 weeks, I think the guy might be a bit obsessive.
After about 2 months, I imagine his closet to be like that of Mickey Roarke’s in that salute to soft core porn known as 9 1/2 Weeks: hangers filled with black running tights and running vests with neon green stripes.
I have no clue who this guy is but I suspect strongly that he is certifiable and that something needs to be done.

One Friday morning, I summon up my courage and go into the kitchen where the Gang of Three are theoretically making breakfast. The first guy is attempting to open up a can of apple juice and mumbling about being in the South African army. Somehow, I can’t see this 50-something Jewish guy hanging out in Soweto but who knows these things. The second guy is on the kitchen phone yakking about human rights and the UN and The Hague. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are about 50 homeless people waiting for their eggs. I am relieved to note that the third guy is attending to the task at hand and is busy scrambling. There is a large aluminum bowl filled with the first batch and I go over to take it out to our starving buddies.

Oh my God…so gross I can’t even speak. The eggs are greenish and overcooked and I see shells on the sides of the bowls.

“Umm Kids…”

No response.

“Yo…guys…hello…these eggs suck…I mean seriously, these are inedible eggs…”

Bang Bang Bang with the can opener, “But Madame Justice… Article 69 of the Charter…”and the third member of the Gang of Three stirs obliviously…

I pick up a red, white and blue rubber ball that had probably been there since 1978 and throw a wicked fastball against the wall.

What’s a girl to do, I ask you? It’s 6:00 in the morning, I’ve got a bunch of homeless people waiting for breakfast and three Jewish males who can’t get it together.

“Whadya do that for” asked one of Pik Botha’s finest.
“What in God’s green earth do you want me to do with these eggs…these are a human rights violation…”
“Human Rights violation…did you say Human Rights violation…” the other guy has just got off the phone.
“Who are you anyway…”
“Who cares who I am…we have a situation gentleman, now I know your wives aren’t here to help you function but can you attempt to finish making breakfast…”
“Listen sweetheart, says Apple Juice man…just chill out..

There is nothing that will make me roll my eyes faster than an over-40 year old using the expression “Chill Out”.

“Jesus Fucking Christ and all of the Saints and their wives…you go and “chill out” and while you’re at it, why don’t you go and employ some Township Rules to the riot that’s about to erupt outside…”
“Relax”, says The Hague…and by the way, have you met…

Now..for all the women out there…you will appreciate this moment. It was one of those where you have two thoughts going on in your mind that completely contradict each other. Because just before the third guy turned around, I kind of thought to myself: “You know…that guy’s got a nice…” and then he turned around.

“the Rabbi…”

Oy and Veh.

I crossed myself and began saying 30 Hail Mary’s and a few Oh Father’s—why wait until confession…and got myself right out of that kitchen.

It took me two years to get back into that kitchen—two years before I thought the Almighty would forgive me my moment of mild salaciousness directed at one of his Representatives on Earth. Many have suffered His wrath for far less.

Two years later and Gang of Three are short a toast maker and dishwasher. Putting bread in a toaster obviously not a skill picked up the SA army, The Hague, or the Seminary. The toaster is off to one side so I don’t have to talk to any of them and I wash my dishes quietly.

And then one day, He speaks.

“Miss Fingerhut..”
“Yup.” Wash, wash, wash.
“How are you Miss Fingerhut?”
“Can you pass the soap.”

“So..Natalie…what’s up”

These God types. They like to get into your head very quickly. If you ever notice, when you talk to one of God’s representatives on earth, they love to make direct eye contact and ‘cess you out. Hence, if you’re smart, you keep your answers short.


They also want to find out how committed you are to the Tribe. They usually have creative ways of getting that out of you, as you will now witness:

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Yeah…a sister…but you wouldn’t know her.”
“Why is that?”
“Cuz she aint into the God thing.”
“And you…are you into the God thing.”

See what I mean.

“Towel please…these dishes are dripping all over the place” And God isn’t going to provide maid service at this hour.

“Where did you go to school?”
“Well, I did nursery school at Hillcrest, then moved onto Steelesview, then Harrison Rd Public School, then ….”
“Actually, I mean university.”
“Some left-wing loonie bin in New York—you’ve probably never heard of it”
“Really…I went to a left-wing loonie bin in Califonia.”

OK..I have to admit at this point that I’m mildly interested. I actually contemplate a response.”

“Really, which one.”
“You’ve probably never heard of it.”
Ha, Ha, Ha, you are so funny…
“Well, I went to Sarah Lawrence.”
“Really”, he looks amused. “I went to Pomona.”
“No way…Pomona…and in the 70’s…man you must have had fun…what did you study?”
“Who said anything about studying.”

Uh-Huh. OK then. The Rabbi at the Holy House of Forest Hill Village in Toronto Canada was a pot smoking hippie slut dude. I’m riveted.

“What do you do now?”
“Computer stuff.”
“What kind of computer stuff.”
“I help people figure out how to use their computer.”
“I don’t know how to use a computer.”

Long pause.

“Sorry, did you say something.”
“I said: If you need some help one day, let me know.”
“We’ll be in touch”.

And indeed he was. A few days later, I receive this call from his assistant imploring me to do something about His Rabbinical Lord’s inability to perform the most basic tasks on his desktop.

Now, you’d think a guy who can read a book written in an archaic language could learn Microsoft Word but that was simply not the case. Typing was not the issue, no, that would have been at least mildly understandable. It was things like “Save” and “New Document” and “File Name” that really got him messed up. And as for formatting, forget it.

We start very slowly. Like as in how to turn the computer on and off. I direct him to open up the Pandora’s Box that is Word.“OK now what.”
“You type your sermons.”
“How should I type my sermon.”
“Well, you put your fingers on the keys and allow your thoughts to penetrate through your cerebellum and onto the screen. Let your fingers do the talking.”
Ha Ha Ha—OK, he’s not laughing. I’m going to hell—I know it this time.

He types a sentence. Its all in small letters and the occasional period has gone missing but it’s a sentence and I feel like we have made progress.

“Terrific. Really, that’s great.”
He’s totally non-plussed. “I could have written it faster…why do people say this is such a time saver—its taken 15 minutes to write one sentence. Really, this technology is very stupid.”

I try to motivate him. I try and explain that people in their 80’s are capable of using Microsoft Outlook and Excel and that if he would just give his computer a chance, he would find life much easier. One of the other rabbis came in one day as I was explaining the print function and told me, in that kitschy rabbinical way that I was doing “God’s work.”

“I’m an atheist.” I responded.

One Sunday morning, after a particularly awful Saturday night at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern where I had decided that scotch had replaced my water glass, I stumbled into his office nursing my Orange Gatorade which incidentally is the only thing to cure a hangover, and began the odious task of explaining italics and underlining. No matter how many times I showed him how to highlight words with his mouse and hit the “I” on the menu bar, it simply evaded him. After about an hour, I needed to get out of there or I was going to throw his mini Torah at him.

“Do you want a ride to the subway?”
His driving was legendary, but I was in no state to argue.
“Yeah sure…Eglinton West would be great.”
I mean really, the subway station was about 5 minutes away—I saw no downside.
We get into the car. There is paper everywhere. I could have sworn that I was sitting on a tallis of some sort which incidentally looks cute as a wraparound skirt. As we get to the corner of some street in Forest Hill and Eglinton, he makes a right. I let him go a few blocks and say kind of shyly because its bad karma to correct a member of God’s team:

“Ummm, you’re going the wrong way.”
“No, I’m going to Eglinton subway station.”
Being a typical female, I start to apologize profusely.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry…I actually need to go to Eglinton West subway station.”
“Eglinton, Shmeglinton…its all the same thing.”
No —they ain’t the same thing. Time to come down from Mount Sinai and come back to Bathurst St.
“Well, no, not really. One station is at Yonge St. and the other is about 25 blocks west.”
“Fine, fine…I’ll turn around.”

He drives down Eglinton to the station. But instead of dropping me off in front of the station like the rest of Toronto, he casually speeds past a 10 ft. sign that reads and I quote verbatim:


He pulls into a bus lane and looks at me expectantly.
“Well, here you go.”

I have turned white.

A bus drives slowly behind us, the driver and passengers stare open-mouthed.
“Miss Fingerhut…what seems to be the problem..I need to go.”

Excuse me. You have just tried to kill me .I could have been mowed down before I reached 30 by a bus, and you are asking me what the problem is?

“Didn’t you see that sign?”
“What sign?”
“The 10ft sign that says this is for buses only.”
“Oh…I don’t pay attention to signs like that…they don’t interest me.”

“OK…well, that’s beautiful, truly, that’s great. I’m leaving now…I’ll catch you later…much much later.”

And he drives off, past another bus who has also stopped in shock.

I stand alone knowing that I had better think and think very fast. Because if I do not, if I do not use my brain to its maximum, the headlines on tomorrow’s Canadian Jewish News are going to read:

Ignorant female drives recklessly and gets Rabbi of Holy House of Forest Hill fined $500.

And I’ll have to leave town and move somewhere like Iqaluit where the circulation of the Canadian Jewish News is limited and often used to wipe the paws of the resident snow dogs.

A security guard, kind of cute in that security guard kind of way, greets me as I enter the subway station.

“Miss…do you understand what you just did.”
When in doubt, play the helpless female, there is no other way. Trust me.
“Sir…Oh Sir…my brother, he’s just visiting here from LA…and he doesn’t know from subway stations because you know in LA because of the St. Andreas Faultline, they can’t have subways and really its not his fault that he drove into the bus lane because he’s from LA—didn’t I mention that—and they are all crazy there anyway…really seriously nuts…think OJ.
“Miss…calm down…just calm down…”
I touch his shoulder slightly hysterical but also kind of flirty.
“ have to believe me…my brother didn’t know, he just made the turn to drop me off so he could go home and see our poor mother who hasn’t seen him in months because when he was about 25, he got hit on the head and ever since then has become this total religious nutcase.
He touches the large gold cross around his neck.
“You know…you shouldn’t call religious people nutcases.”
“Oh yes Sir…you are so right. I cross myself desperately hoping that my 15 years of Jewish education would not prevent me getting the right to left part across my chest correct.
“Is your brother a priest?”
“Oh yes sir..I mean no sir…well kind of sir—in a matter of speaking..
“What do you mean—it’s a basic he or isn’t he.”
He looks like he’s bought Vatican Two so here goes.
“Well…he’s a priest whose Jewish.”
“Oh a Jewish priest…I get it.”
I desparately need to sit down so I motion to the bench just beyond the turnstiles.
“Sir…I’d love to expand upon this fascinating subject, but I really need to sit down…my brother almost killed me and I’m feeling a little funky and a bit confused and wondering who should I tell first: my poor mother or my shrink.”
“OK Miss, can I get you some water…you look a little pale...”

He goes off to the little store in the subway—I need to get out of there. Should I make a run for it…jump the turnstiles like I did as a nouveau riche punk rocker in 1980’s York Mills…
“Here you go Miss.”
“Le What…sorry my French isn’t very good…anyway, you were saying that your brother is a Jewish priest.”
He is so very interested and I am so very tired.
“Yeah…they call them Rabbis…they are basically Jewish priests.”
“Rabbits did you say…hmm…and can they marry?”
“Oh yes…absolutely…I mean you wouldn’t want to marry one of them because as you can see they are complete maniacs…”
He touches his cross again.
“Sorry…right…yes they can marry and have children—In fact I think both are highly encouraged-you know, Be fruitful and multiply and all that.”
“I have a wife and two kids…one on the way.”
“That’s terrific…Mazel Tov!!”
“Muzzle who.”
“Just an expression” I pat him gently on the shoulder. “Listen, sir, I really appreciate the water and have enjoyed our little conversation but my husband is waiting for me at home so that I can prepare Sunday dinner…”
“What do you Jewish people have for Sunday dinner.”
“Oh the same as you…usually some ham, potatoes, I like Baskin and Robbins for dessert.”
“Well then you run along and make sure to tell your brother never to go in the bus lane again. Its mighty dangerous and while I know the Lord Almighty would protect him, he still should be careful.”
“Oh I will Sir…I promise Sir…really Sir, you are most kind. I’ll say a prayer to my God to tell your God that you did a good one…I promise Sir…thank you.”
“Quite allright Miss…but do me a favour, don’t be forceful or anything with your brother, I don’t want to get on the Good Lord’s bad know with the baby coming and all…just tell him gently..thank you kindly.”
“Will do Sir…Ciao”

I stumbled down into the underground, my brain completely messed up. Thankfully, the roar of the Southbound train silenced the noise in my head and it was only when a nice 80 year old Asian man typing on his Palm Pilot offered me his seat, was I finally able to laugh.

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