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October 7, 2015 / 24 Tishri, 5776
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Wisdom from a Venice Beach Vagabond

He told me that according to a Muslim poet, children do not truly belong to their parents. Instead, parents are the vessel through which children flow into the world.

People often ask me what kind of interesting things and people we encounter at Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach. It’s impossible to encapsulate life on Venice Boardwalk. This week we were treated to a tripping (completely high) biker who would shout at the top of his lungs as he passed the shul. His ramblings included “Moses, Jesus, and Gandhi are the same person” and “Everything your religion tells you is a lie.” Everyone inside hears all this as we cover our eyes to recite the Shema. He does four or five fly-bys throughout the morning. This is not wisdom. This is noise pollution.

One of my favorite Venice Boardwalk vagabonds stopped by the shul at around 9 AM this Shabbos. He doesn’t come into the shul, but he stands outside and quietly and magnificently preaches to me.

The fellow is a retired cab driver who emigrated from Iran. He is not Jewish, he used to be Muslim, and now is just a spiritualist. Last time we met he told the entire story of Mohammed from his perspective. It was interesting.

Rabbi Fink's Shul on the Beach. Photo credit: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink.

Rabbi Fink’s Shul on the Beach. Photo credit: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink.

This Shabbos he stopped by to teach me some of his favorite passages from the great poetry of Rumi. In particular, he was telling me about one poem where Moses is raised above the Pharaohs. This was a compliment to the Jewish people in his eyes. He recites the poetry in verse as he translates it in his mind from the original Persian. It’s really incredible. Translations of poetry often lose their effect. The ex-cabbie is an artist. He translates on the fly into spectacular English poetry.

He ended by telling me that according to another Muslim poet, I can’t remember his name, mostly because I can’t pronounce it properly, the children do not truly belong to their parents. Instead, parents are the vessel through which children flow into the world. They may help them, but they may not harm them or impede their growth.

One evening this fellow was driving his cab through a wealthy neighborhood in Santa Monica. The cab driver picks them up and sees that they are quarreling. They are arguing about their children. One says the other is too soft and the other says too harsh. My friend is listening to the whole thing without saying a word.

At some point, the wife asks the cab driver what he thinks. He is a bit taken aback so he asks her if she really wants his opinion. She confirms.

He starts to wax philosophical and recites the aforementioned poem about children. He gets to a part where the poet says the parents are a great bow, the child is an arrow, and God provides the power by pulling the bowstring. The cab driver turns his mirror so he can see her face and he sees that she is crying. “Have I said something to upset you?” he cries out. She shakes her head no as she bursts into a great grin.

She asks if he can pull over for a moment. He pulls over. She steps out of the car and asks him to step out of the car as well. She steps towards the cab driver and embraces him in a hug.

My friend tells me he can still feel the hug all these years later.

He drops them off at their restaurant for dinner. They ask if he can pick them up a couple hours later. They entered the cab at the start of the evening full of anger and division. After dinner they were all smiles and united.

The cab driver becomes the couple’s private driver for the next ten years.

This is the sort of person one can meet on the Venice Boardwalk standing in front of the Shul on the Beach. I look forward to our next conversation. He doesn’t have email or a cell phone. I can’t find him if I want to talk. I never know when he will appear but when he does stop by I know I am in for a treat.

Wisdom and kindness can be found in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Even the haggard ex-cabbie, with cigarette smoke wafting off his clothing mixing with the sweet smell of his pipe tobacco, who is missing a couple of teeth has much to offer. We just have to make space for goodness to enter and for wisdom to be imparted.

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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.

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One Response to “Wisdom from a Venice Beach Vagabond”

  1. Venice

    I got the job offer and asked for a week to clean up my business. They gave me four days. This was late in June of 1987 and it was the massage job at Ballys in Las Vegas. I really didn't have much to do to tie things up in LA. On the last day I packed my clothes and papers in the Dodge and went to Venice to kill the afternoon before I left at midnight.
    I preferred to make the drive at night because of less traffic, and its cooler. It's a five or six hour drive, depending on how much time you waste.
    I was living at my uncle’s place in Torrance. I liked the South Bay beaches, Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan Beach. There was also Santa Monica Pier, but the pier didn't appeal to me.
    I liked Venice for the carnival atmosphere. It is a tourist magnet. On weekends there are entertainment hustles, like chain saw juggling, buskers, guys that make balloon animals, comedy stuff…
    Venice also appealed to me because it gave me a melancholy feeling of sixties nostalgia. I would see these old hippies, homeless guys, around there. Like a small colony of them. I used to wonder what happened to these guys. They blew their minds, maybe; too much acid?
    I drove to the far end of the strand where it is all houses. There is a street there with bars, surf shops, restaurants, and convenience stores. I park. I drove a blue, two door, 1971 Dodge Polara. I pump the meter and as I'm walking by an alley behind the strand I see a bearded old man leaning up against the back wall of a bar. He could have been sleeping but he's dead. A female cop is standing over him. The area is cordoned off with saw horses and the yellow caution tape.
    I'm walking down the strand to the commercial section and naturally I'm thinking about the dead guy. He seemed obviously homeless. I mean he is overdressed for the time of year. These guys wear everything they own. His body showed no apparent trauma.

    I get down to the interesting part of the strand. There is the gym, the muscle beach stuff. The cage and so on. There are tennis courts and kiosks selling the usual crap; tee shirts and watches. There are some bars. I go in a bar and walk through. There is a large patio out back and a duck pond with a duck in it. I enjoy a drink. Morrison played this bar in the sixties. It was torn down shortly after the day I drank there.
    There are tattoo shops and years later, in 2000, I would get a tattoo on Venice. I was into collecting by location; Venice, Hollywood Blvd, Sunset, North Hollywood, Encino.
    There is a Messianic Church on the strand. I never went in. I have been to other Messianic Churches. A Messianic Church is Jews figure the Messiah was Jesus. It's him. He's the one. They ain't waiting. He came already. They call him Yeshiva.
    Anyway, I killed the afternoon. It was a weekday so Venice was not too active. I had the drink and something to eat. I was feeling good. I was anticipating. I'm starting a new life there in Vegas. So I had an open heart.
    I walked back to my car and the body was still there, leaned up against the bar. I was wondering if the guy had been murdered; the body, the cop. It sticks in my memory. Nice day; unknown possibilities. Dead body.

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