I was sitting in a sports bar the other night drinking pints and watching the Yankees getting their asses spanked when these two Jews sat on the stools next to me and started watching the game.
These were not your run-of-the-mill Jews; rather, they were full-blown Hasidic with the black hats, black jackets and black beards and curls and What in the hell is a Hasidic Jew doing 'round these parts? I thought.
If you know anything about American Hasidic Jews you know they're generally an East Coast tribe. You just don't see that many in Southern California, and certainly not in bars taking in some baseball and What is this? They're both ordering Budweisers?! Could that be freaking possible? If you know anything about Hasidic Jews, you know they don't drink no Budweisers in no bars while rooting for no baseball team.
The men proceeded to drink their beer and watch the Yankees game and continued a conversation in Yiddish about the Yankees, I think, since they kept pointing at the screen, one of them saying things like, “Meineh somin Derek Jeter Ism Beztm!” and the other becoming agitated and retorting, “Bist meshugeh!? A-Rod Ism Bubee baby! And I was utterly fascinated because, if you know anything about Hasidic Jews, you know they're not supposed to be rooting for false idols-which is exactly what happened when Bernie Williams smacked a double off the wall and brought Hideki Matsui around.
As a matter of reflex, I leapt off my stool, clapped my hands and shouted, “Yeah baby!” Then I looked around to see if I could get a witness, and wouldn't you know it, my two Yiddish Yankee brethren were also off their stools, shouting and standing there with raised hands and offering unto me the universal request for a high-five.
I almost didn't know what to do. If you know anything about Hasidic Jews you know they don't high-five. Certainly not in bars. And certainly, certainly not about baseball games.
OK maybe, just maybe, you might see a Hasidic Jew perform a high-five maneuver if, say, the Messiah finally came along. For instance, say the Messiah finally comes after all these years of waiting and they find out that not only is he a great spiritual leader and faith healer but also an outstanding shortstop. And say he gets a job playing for the Yankees, and say the Messiah hits a grand slam. Maybe, just maybe, then I can see them high-fiving. But not in a bar, and not while drinking from brown bottles, and certainly not for Alex Rodriguez, Messiah though he also may be.
So there I was, sitting in the bar next to two Hasidic Jews, staring at two sets of high-fives and wondering how exactly does one high-five a Hasidic Jew? Does one go high and hard as he does with one's secular buddies? Does he request change? You want to be kosher when you're high-fiving a Hasidic, you know, as a matter of respect. So I decided to give them five at medium strength and did not offer change, nor did I request any-and what a delight it was. For the rest of the game, we three were pals. We sat there rooting and talking-in English-about our beloved Yankees and baseball in general, and I can't tell you how much fun I was having. I mean, you have to understand, I was realizing something of a childhood fantasy here.
See, I do know a little about Hasidic Jews. When I was growing up in Monroe, N.Y., I lived beside the largest community of Hasidic Jews in the country. It was called Kiryas Joel and they moved in when I was about 15 years old. It seemed like it happened overnight. One day I had never even heard of a Chassidic; the next day there were thousands of them. And you know how that always goes-the Monroe locals were not very welcoming. They thought the Jews looked and behaved weirdly and viewed the Kiryas Joel influx as a hostile takeover.
Not that the Jews were any more open-minded. They kept their community sealed tight. They did not appreciate any non-Hasidics using their roads or schools, though both were built and maintained by Monroe taxpayers. I guess you can call it a mutual exclusion.
As for me, I was fascinated. I, too, thought the Jews behaved and acted weirdly, but that's what I liked about them. I dug their crazy clothes and their phlegmy dialect and utterly alien language. What I didn't like was how their women were second-class citizens, and all their wacky restrictions befuddled my pubescent sensibilities, like how you couldn't listen to the radio, or watch television, or play rock 'n' roll records, or drink brown-bottled beer.
Which brings me to my aforementioned fantasy.
I always felt bad for Hasidic kids. I felt they were programmed to become Hasidic but that, inside, all kids are the same. I believed that to convert a Hasidic teenager, I merely needed expose to him to my religion, a sort of mix between Hippocrates and hedonism. You know, a “Sex Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll-But Do No Harm,” kind of religion.
Anyway, the general premise of my fantasy was that I would convince a Hasidic teenager to sneak out of his community for one night. We'd meet by Round Lake and smoke fine bud and drink brown-bottled beer. When we got a proper shine on, we'd catch a bus to Madison Square Garden and sneak in to see Rush. Then we'd smoke more fine bud and holler and scream, and when they launched into “Spirit of Radio,” we'd leap out of our seats and shout “Yeah Baby!” and high-five our fucking hearts out.
It's a fantasy I never realized, until the other night with my Yiddish Yankee brethren.
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