Shevat 8, 5767
On Thursday I took the bus from school down to Guadalupe and 38th, then walked to my now weekly Talmud study session with Rabbi Sternman. One of the things one learns when riding the bus frequently in Austin is how to converse with sketchy characters who are often not here on Planet Earth in the same way most people are. Not of your own free will, of course. They just start talking to you.
On Thursday an odd fellow wearing a bright blue blazer, khaki corduroy pants, a Hawaiian shirt on top of a tie-dye shirt, and a peach bandana got on the bus. He looked to be an older fellow. He had sparse read hair and ruddy, bulbous nose. His face bore a look on contentment. He sat down not next to me, but near enough to me to talk to me. I was wearing a shirt which said Israel on it in English.
The man took his time reading the words and then spoke. His words were unclear. The teeth that he still had were little nubs and his palette seemed flawed in some way. He said quite a bit more than what I will type here because I do not know what most of what he said was. When he was done reading he asked “Have you been to Israel?” I said, “Yes, I have.” He shouted with glee and clapped a couple of times. “When? For how long?” “I was there for four months and I just got back earlier this month,” I told him. Again, glee and clapping.
There was then an extended exchange which I bullshitted my way through concerning how the energy in the air is different there. I figured he was just some religious nut. It became clear shortly that he knew a bit more about Israel then the average fellow of his appearance. “Were Saturday nice there?” “Yes?” I was puzzled at the question, then realized he was referring to Shabbat observance in particular. “Yes! Because they do Shabbat there!” Again, clapping with joy.
Then he threw me for a loop. “Did you say the Shema?” His voice, as usual, was unclear. I was not sure I had heard correctly. “The what?” “You know,” he said, “The Shema! Shema! Yisrael! Adonai! Eloheinu!” Et cetera. He sang the entire thing write there on the bus. I was puzzled. “How do you know that,” I asked. “Are you Jewish?” He then proudly pulled out his tallit bag and announced loudly, “I’M MESSIANIC!” My bus stop approached mercifully. As I departed the bus, he quickly gave me directions to Mishkan Elohim, our local Jews for Jesus outfit.
If the story ended there, it would be odd enough. Yesterday I was hanging out with my buddy Solomon. Solomon made a reference to his days in “the Cult.” Solomon, a real Jew now, had been a member of Jews for Jesus earlier in life and fondly refers to it as “the Cult.” I then decided to tell Solomon about my encounter on the bus. I began to describe the clothing the man wore. Solomon broke in, “Were his teeth mostly not there?” “Yes!” “Did he have red hair?” “Yes!” “Yeah,” Solomon told me, “That’s Tony. My Mom and I used to know him in our days with ‘the Cult.’ He gave us a chicken once.” I didn’t bother asking.