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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shalom Center Cast of Characters

Dear Family and Friends:

I know I’ve written a couple of times about the Shalom Center, the homeless shelter where we volunteer, but it never ceases to amaze me.  Today I worked with a very interesting cast of characters.  Where shall I begin?
I washed dishes today with Travis.  To say that Travis has OCD is like saying that Lee Freedman likes the Bears.  Lee lives and dies (mostly dies) with the Bears and Travis has OCD to the nth degree.  His motor runs on overdrive with no stops and he makes everyone just a bit nervous.  He cannot stand still for a minute.   But, on the bright side, Travis is a great person to wash with.  He is meticulous and the racks are always ready when the Hobart finishes a cycle.  At the end of the day the dish area is spotless, the dishes stacked perfectly, and the racks lined up according to size.  I was exhausted just watching and keeping up with Travis.  But he gave a hug and a smile when we left, so I guess all was cool.
Danny is about fifty years old, give or take.  He’s about the most born again Christian I’ve ever met.  He has served several years in jail on drug charges, but now preaches the Word and is clean.  Danny also writes songs about Jesus and loves to sing them to me.  His first big hit (I may be the only one who has heard it) was “Jesus is In Jail,” and today he sang me his new ditty, “I was in Jail Last Christmas…but I Ain’t in Jail Anymore.”  He loves to corral me in the kitchen and serenade; to the point where several times Ron, the boss, has told Danny, “get back to work, this isn’t choir practice.”  Danny is a nice guy and he’s really trying to live a good life.  But he does sing to me all the time and I can’t get the darned songs out of my head.  Tomorrow’s Christmas.  I’ll be humming “Jesus is in Jail” until New Years. 
I’ve saved the best to last.  I don’t know why these people latch on to me.  I’ve never told them anything about myself; they certainly do not know that I’m a rabbi.  It’s strange. 
Today I met Jeff.  The first thing I noticed about him was the swastika tattooed on his right forearm.  He completely threw me for a loop though, by beginning a conversation asking me if I’d ever heard of Rabbi Yitzhak (He didn’t say “Isaac,” he said “Yitzhak”) Luria and did I know what Kabalah was  .  I told him I did; and it was off to the races.  He knows a lot but has trouble putting his thoughts together.  Maybe a little autism there.  I finally asked him if he was Jewish whereby he pulled down his tee shirt to show me a tattoo of the Hebrew letters Yud Hay Vav Hay on his chest.  He’s a Jew with a swastika on his forearm and the ineffable name of God on his chest.  He left saying that he is happy that we enjoy freedom of religion, but thankful that he has found freedom from religion.  When I left he shook my hand and said, “happy holidays.”  Go figure.
Just another day at the Shalom Center where we worked on overdrive, were thankful not to be in jail and were free from religion but forever marked by the presence of God. 
Chag Sameach and happy New Year to all,