By Alan Levy.
For sixty years I have loved my dearest friend, Jeffrey Solomon.
Through high school and college we were inseparable. And during the years afterward, we talked often, even when we lived many miles apart, and the quality of our shared humor was special. I once described us as having two distinct bodies, but one shared mind. We studied Engineering Physics together at the University of Illinois, and when I carelessly completed a circuit on an electron microscope with my eye and blew myself across the room during a lab session, it was Jeffrey who calmly said, “Can you please do that again, so I can take more detailed notes?” My friend knew what I was about to say before I uttered the words, and I had that same knowledge when he spoke. In college in Chicago and then later at Champaign/Urbana, Jeffrey and I had a friend and roommate named Jerry Harris. We were very close with Jerry, went fishing once a year for a week together as young would-be mountain men in Canada, and our close bond continued throughout the years.
Sadly, both of my friends are now deceased, and as a tribute to them I’d like to describe a moment that I’ll simply label, “The Funniest Thing Ever Said.”
As our families blossomed, Jerry’s son Scott reached the age of his Bar Mitzvah.
Jerry was an agnostic, however, and he left all matters concerning religion and the temple to his wife. He had actually never stepped foot in the temple she selected until the morning of Scott’s Bar Mitzvah.
Jeffrey and I and our wives were there for the service and celebration. It turned out that Jerry’s wife Leslie had searched in vain for the “perfect” temple throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago, and she ultimately settled on a congregation without a temple structure of its own. Their gathering place was within a local grammar school, and their sanctuary was the school’s gymnasium.
When we arrived for the service that Saturday morning, there were neat rows of metal folding chairs set up on the wooden basketball court floor, and as the members of the congregation took their seats and we took ours, a portable Bimah (pulpit) was carried in and placed on the floor in front of the rows of congregants. It was covered in blue velvet and had Hebrew words in gold font on the front.
The congregation grew quiet and the rabbi came into the gymnasium. He was dressed completely in black, and his clothes were reminiscent of those worn by a Greek Orthodox priest. He wore a similar hat, as well. The service began, and to say this was an orthodox service is an understatement. I’ll take a bit of poetic license now. It seemed that the service went on for perhaps sixteen hours, and it was completely in Hebrew. The rabbi’s incantations continuously filled the room, but to their credit, his congregation remained apace with his every word, gesture, and wail.
Jeffrey and his wife were seated directly in front of my wife and me. As we neared what must have been close to the third hour of this Hebrew madness, my wife leaned toward me to whisper a question.
“Alan, what does that gold inscription on the Bimah mean?”
“My Hebrew is rusty,” I replied. “I don’t know.”
“Oh,” she said.
Fifteen more minutes of wailed Hebrew passed.
My wife, bored out of her mind, leaned forward and tapped Jeffrey lightly on his shoulder.
“Jeff, do you know what those gold words in Hebrew on the Bimah mean?” she asked of him, her voice barely audible.
Without a moment of hesitation, Jeffrey turned and whispered these words.
“Dry Clean Only,” he replied.
As my inappropriate laughter filled the room, Jerry turned, looked at me from his seat in the torturous front row, and smiled.
Stop what you’re doing. Hug your family members and your cherished friends.
Our meters are all running.
Alan Levy is the author of The Tenth Plague, which will be published by Chickadee Prince Books in 2019.