The taxi driver was old and rather shriveled, with a crop of white hair fringing his head.
Ah, I recognize this one, I thought with relief, hurrying to open the door. If I recall correctly, he knows Lakewood. You would think that a taxi driver, being that his/her job is, well, driving, and being that the town they are driving in is, well, Lakewood…Well, I would tend to think that knowing how to drive around Lakewood would somehow come along with the job; if not before, then at least afterwards. The reality, unfortunately, is that I am usually forced to keep a sharp lookout for turns in the opposite direction of which I am supposed to be going.
This time I lay back in relief and closed my eyes. Maybe I could catch a quick power nap before my appointment.
The car jolted to a stop and my eyes popped open. Oh, it was this corner. I had to admit that even I was often caught off guard by the intersection’s unusual traffic patterns, so I would have to forgive even a veteran driver for this one. Cars were coming and going busily to and from all directions, and mistakes were almost inevitable here. When it was quiet you could get away with it, but…
“Why is it,” the gravelly voice of the driver reached me, “that this town goes crazy every day at two o’clock?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “You’re from Lakewood, right?”
“Seventy years in Lakewood,” came the gravelly response.
“Seventy years in Lakewood, and no one ever told you what happens here at two o’clock every day?” A taxi driver, for heaven’s sake?
Wow, was this a teaching opportunity. A historic moment. I mentally rubbed my hands in glee and attacked my subject with gusto.
“You know the yeshiva, right?” I wasn’t taking anything for granted, but the guy wasn’t blind. Well, I would assume not.
“Yep. But it’s back there.” He motioned vaguely towards the center of town.
“Right. But this town, it revolves around the yeshiva. And, you know what the yeshiva’s schedule is?”
“Well, they start between nine thirty and ten in the morning. And they get out between 1:45 and 2:00 in the afternoon!” I nearly crowed with triumph. A seventy (well, almost) year old mystery, solved by yours truly!! “So at two o’clock, until four o’clock, when everyone is back in yeshiva this town is on wheels!!!”
I was about to launch into a description of babysitting schedules, moms at work, and dads with strollers, when another gravelly comment cut me short.
“I was here before the rabbi came here.” Well. Maybe bein hasdarim was different in those days, then. Talk about time warp.
“I used to drive him to Brooklyn.”
I nearly jumped out of my seatbelt. Well, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, to be honest. But if I had been…
“You drove Rabbi Kotler? To Brooklyn??”
“Yep.” He said this in the same tone of voice he would have used to tell me that the price of eggs was down, or that the real estate market was nonexistent, or that his neighbor had died.
“They should interview you for The Voice!” I exclaimed excitedly. “What’s your name?”
I was on it. Reporter on the scent. “Ok, I gotta hear this. So, did you ever talk to him?”
“Well, yeah. Not much. About prices, and where we were going…”
I tried to pump as much as I could. Apparently, Rav Aharon had often had to go into Brooklyn, I imagine for simchos, fund raising, etc. Mr. Ed Skinner, who had then worked for a limousine service, had had the distinct honor of being the driver called upon to convey the rosh yeshiva to his destination.
“Was a good price in those days, too,” he added.
Unfortunately, I could not tease out any more juicy tidbits of information. I was hoping for a Genuine Gadol Story. If it existed in the memory of Ed Skinner, however, it was not making itself known to me. Still, I couldn’t get over it. I felt like I was touching history.
“He was the man, you know,” I tried to impress upon the driver. “He created this town. I mean, not the town, but the Jewish community. He was a holy man, and a brilliant man.
“Wait,” I said, as a thought struck me. “You mean the father, Rabbi Aharon… or the son…?”
“Yeah, the father,” came the response.
“Ok, just checking…” I paused.
“He’s dead now,” he commented affably. “His son’s dead, too.”
The calm tone of the words seemed to add, “He’s dead and gone. Yessiree, you folks can say all you want, but once a man is dead, he’s dead, and that’s all there is to it, and I for one would rather be a taxi driver who’s alive right now then one of your rabbis who’s dead.”
I mentally shook my head with a smile. A goyishe kup. It was almost laughable. Reb Aharon, dead?
We pushed down Forest Avenue. On all sides, cars pressed in, cars of yeshiva men and ba’alei batim, cars of yeshiva wives and bnos yisroel, all whizzing to their destinations, to learn, to do ma’asim tovim, with their yiddishe families and with others.
Why, I thought, there isn’t a child in this town who does not know the name of Reb Aharon.
Not a man, not a woman, not a child. Why, this whole town is Reb Aharon, a living, breathing, pulsing testament to his vision and his iron will. No, not just a testament. An outgrowth itself, a beautiful child, grown up, sturdy, and hardworking towards significant accomplishments. A child with flaws, surely, but beautiful nonetheless.
A child whose face carries the features of its father.
The hot wind flew in my face as we raced down Forest Avenue. This is my town, my life, my yeshiva, my people, my friends, my family. We are one because we are Jewish, and we share one Father, who gave us all one Torah, and commanded us to learn it. He gave us, too, special fathers and mothers on this earth, rebbaim and morahs and mechanchim and mechanchos and tattys and mommys and roshei yeshiva and rabbanim… who meld this Torah into our person, and pour it into our blood.
Yes, we Yidden here share more than just physical proximity to each other.
The trees lining the sides of the street towered above, shading gentle greenness over our car as we swept by. This is an old street, one of my favorites. It doesn’t change… that much. Those trees are just as magnificent as ever, calming in their ancient strength and glory.
The life of their pale green spring leaves danced in the air, a fast moving canopy under which we peacefully sailed.
Reb Aharon, I thought, was never more alive than he is today.
Then we roared left onto Fourteenth Street, and headed off into the setting sun.
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