Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Mitzvah on the Undercover Jew

Wednesday. I’m over in La Brea with the wife.

We've just come from Olvera Street where I've bought as many Dia De Los Muertos artifacts as I could stuff in the trunk of the car.

The haul: papier-mâché skeletons (Chiara calls them ‘skeletors’), sugar skulls, and ceramic, skeletal mariachis.

We went over to La Brea to shop for Moroccan lamps.

We pull up right outside the shop. It must be some Jewish holiday (Sukkot?), because everywhere we look there are Hassidim in groups of five and six milling about on the street. I’m curious in an abstract way, but think little of it. Mostly I’m trying to haggle with the proprietor of the lamp shop without standing close enough to him to smell his underarms (which, in charming fits of over-gesticulation, he exposes to me frequently).

So I’m outside the shop, looking in the window, having just completed our purchase, when a roving fellow in black carrying a bundle of myrtle and palm fronds and willow branches in one hand and a large lemon in the other stops me with a hale cry.

“Any Jews here?!” the gentleman shouts.

I spin and face him, surprised and maybe delighted.

“No,” I say, smiling quizzically, “unfortunately not.”

“No Jews? You sure?” he purses his lips.

“You kidding?” I say, spreading my arms to allow him to take me in, “In this sportcoat and these flip flops?”

“You could have been undercover Jews,” He offers with narrowed eyes and a sly expression. He turns to leave.

“Sorry, only Goyim here,” I say with a shrug, and he turns back on a pivot.

“Make up your mind! Are you Jews or not?”

But before I can answer him, he’s placed a yarmulke on my head and handed me the sheaves and fronds. He stands in front of me and says to repeat after him.

So I do.

It takes a while and I’m conscious of the way my gentile tongue is sluggish and unsure, savaging the unfamiliar words he’s having me recite, but it’s kinda fun, and just when I think it’s done he hands me the gigantic lemon and has me go through a whole new thing.

At the end, I’m to knock the lemon and the other plants together and we exchange “l’chaims” and he takes me by the shoulders and says to me “That’s a mitzvah on you.”

So as a somewhat naive goy, I’m pretty excited.

Productive day: I bought Day of the Dead decorations, haggled for antique Moroccan lamps, and had a mitzvah put on me.

There are days I really love Los Angeles.

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