My flight to New York was filled with orthodox Jews with the beards, the yamulkes, the hats, the whole deal. If we’d had a horse-drawn cart, some milk and some cheese we could have staged the opening musical number from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.
Midway through the flight, I got up to stretch my legs and use the restroom. When I got out, I bumped into this young boy, maybe 12 years old, who looked at me and asked:
"Are you Jewish?"
"Yes," I replied.
He immediately ran back down the aisle to his father, who stood up, offered me his hand, and then started talking to me in Hebrew. Or at least I think it was Hebrew.
"I’m sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew," I said. "I’m not a practicing Jew."
"But you’re Jewish," he said.
"Yes, I am," I said. "Have a good trip."
I started down the aisle, but he wouldn’t let me pass. He said something else to me in Hebrew.
"I have no idea what you’re saying," I said. "I am a very Jewless Jew."
"Did you have a Bar Mitzvah?"
"Nope," I said. "And I don’t celebrate passover. And I had bacon for breakfast yesterday. I’m watching my carbs."
"Where are you sitting?" he asked.
"Up there," I said, gesturing to the front of the plane. And as he turned to look, I used the opportunity to slip past him and return to my seat.
I settled in, and was starting to watch 30 ROCK on my iPod, when the guy, his kid, and a bearded man in a long, black coat showed up at my seat.
"This is our Rabbi," the guy said.
The Rabbi introduced himself, asked me my name, and the next thing I knew, they stuck a yamulke on my head and started chanting something in Hebrew.
I began to protest, but then the kid started wrapping my arm with some kind of leather strap and I figured I’d just let them do their thing. The guy put a card, written in Hebrew in front of me, and told me to repeat after him. I did, if only to get the whole awkward scene over with.
The people sitting next to me looked like they wanted to crawl under their seat and hide. I would have liked to join them but the Jewish kid had me lassooed pretty good.
The three Jews finished up, congratulated me on this very special day in my life, slipped a card in my hand and returned to their seats. The card had a photograph of a rabbi on the front and on the back there were illustrations of the steps in something called the Mitzvah Campaign. I’m not sure, but judging by the drawing, I think one of the steps, Tefillin, had something to do with what they did to me. You tell me. What was all that about?