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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Mafia and Me

Friends.  For whatever reason this entry came to mind today.  It is one of my favorites.  Thought I'd throw it out there again for anyone who might have missed it.
                                                                                                June, 2014
Dear Friends and Family:

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to Kansas City where long-time Beth Torah Director of education and long-time G.U.C.I. faculty member Marcia Rittmaster was retiring.  I was to be one of the speakers at the Shabbat service honoring her.  It was a great evening for a wonderful person.  There were many current and former campers as well as parents of former campers present.  I was a surprise guest so many wanted to talk to me about camp, retirement, Jewish education etc.  But what usually happens at events like this is that the time of the informal dinner buffet also becomes prime schmooze time.  I talked away the dinner and never got to the food.  (More about that in a minute).   I’m fortunate that people associate me with those positive Jewish experiences their children had at camp.  So the schmooze/camp talk flowed…and I loved it.
  After the formal Shabbat service, the congregation had set up an artificial campfire in the lobby.  Kids and adults sat around the “fire” while Charlene Gubitz led a song session.  In the middle I told a story.  Then more songs.  As the song session was just beginning to wind down a girl, maybe fourteen years old, came up to me to tell me how much she loved camp and that she wanted to, someday, be a counselor and help other kids love camp.  Then, with a bit of an embarrassed smile she said, “But, it’s not G.U.C.I.  I go to camp Schwayder with my cousins from Denver.”  I think she expected me to say something like…too bad you didn’t come to our camp.  I didn't.  Our conversation went like this:

Ron: “Is that a Jewish camp where Jewish kids sing Jewish songs, say Jewish prayers, and have a wonderful time with each other?”  (I knew that it was that kind of camp)

Camper:  “Yes, that’s why I love it.”

Ron:  “Well, if you can help other kids love being Jewish with their camp friends, you will be doing something great for the Jewish world.”

She looked at me for a second, I guess surprised by my comment, and then gave me a great hug.  We finished the song session together and she was gone.  I didn't even get her name.
So I walked out to my car after the whole shebang and realized that I was famished.  I never got to the buffet or to the Oneg food after the service.  On the way back to the hotel I spotted a small pizza place called, “Mafia Pizza.”  I loved the name and I stopped.  I half expected to see pictures of Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, or at least Marlon Brando on the walls.  But quite the contrary, greeting me at the door was a very Middle Eastern looking gentleman who shook my hand and introduced himself as the owner, Mohammed.   I kiddingly asked if Mohammed was an Italian name.  He joked back telling me that it was not, that he was from Ramle in Palestine, but that he knew a few Italians.  That started us off.  When I told him that I had been to Ramle and had lived for a few years in Jerusalem he invited me to sit and have a lemonade with him.  I ordered a cheese pizza to go and sat down.
Enter Mohammed’s cousin, who sits with us.  We talked about Israel (they were quite complimentary as to Israel’s’ great accomplishments in building the country and quite angry with their fellow Palestinian leaders for not following suit), Chicago, where they had lived for several years, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Green line, but all in a very friendly way (this was before they knew I was a Jew).  I took a chance when they asked what I had studied in Jerusalem and told them that I was a rabbi.  Just as we were getting into what that was all about my pizza arrived and I got up to pay and leave. 

“No.”  Mohammed said, “You can’t pay.

“Come on,” I replied, “You already treated me to a lemonade, I’m paying.”

“No!  I can’t charge you.  You’re my cousin.  We’re family.” 

He gave me hug (my second of the night) and handed me the pizza.  I was a bit stunned to find out that I was actually a family member of the Mafia…the Islamic, Kansas City branch of the family.  What could I do?  He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…kinship.

It was an interesting trip to Kansas City last month. 

Until next time… Arivederci.  Ciao Bambinos.  And Salaam Aleykem.


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