Thursday, February 26, 2009

We have some Jews on this plane...

[The new Kosher Cooking Carnival is here!]

I routinely stand out as a Jew, but it can still be uncomfortable.

Earlier this week I spent a few days in Canada. Because I was there for a work-related project, I checked “work” on the visa form.

"Work" was really the only honest answer, but the result was a trip to Immigration, ostensibly to discuss the purpose of my visit. I’m not sure why this came under Immigration, and what they hoped to achieve, but you really don't have any choice other than to comply in that situation, so I did.

The interview lasted only about ten minutes, but it felt like forever, and a bizarre forever at that.
• The officer asked me if I was there to work as a consultant, and told me about how they feel about consultants in Canada. When he heard I was a rabbi, though, he lightened up.
• He seemed to be having a good time as he searched my Interpol records, or whatever it was he had in front of him. He mentioned to me all sorts of information about other Torczyners (yes, there are some) living in Canada, including address, names of children, etc. I’m sure that’s illegal in the US under HIPAA.
• He asked me about rabbinical training, and told me I seemed pretty young to be a rabbi. (I would have kissed him at that point, had I been able to reach him.)
• Then he informed me that he was Irish Catholic, and he was going to tell me “the only rabbi joke” he knew.

The joke wasn’t bad, actually; here it is in briefer form: An aging rabbi has a son, and he wants to know what the son will be like when he grows up. He tests his son by setting up a table with a Bible, a pile of money, and a bottle of wine; if he takes the former he’ll be a rabbi, the second he’ll be a businessman, the third he’ll be a drunkard. The kid walks over and first picks up the Bible, and the rabbi is excited that he will be a scholar. Then the kid pockets the Bible and picks up the pile of money. The rabbi says, “Okay, he’ll be a religious businessman.” Then the kid picks up the bottle and starts guzzling it – and his father wails, “Oh, no – he’s going to be an Irish parish priest!"

The whole interaction, standing out as a Jew and being at an airport and having personnel pick up on my rabbi-ness, reminded me of an incident I had forgotten about for many years.

Some 13 or 14 years ago, a friend and I were headed on a Friday morning flight from New York to St. Louis for Shabbos. We stopped to change planes in O’Hare, got on the new plane, taxied out on the runway – and then sat on the tarmac for a long time. I don’t remember how long it was, only that Shabbos was getting closer.

Finally, we decided that we had better get off the plane and find somewhere to stay in Chicago; my friend knew some people there. We summoned enough guts to ask a stewardess for help, but she explained that we were already on the runway. We insisted. She went to the pilot.

Soon enough, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentleman, we have some JOOOZ on this plane.” And the pilot explains that we need to get out of line for takeoff and go allllllllllll the way back to the airport to drop off them Jooz for their Sabbath.

I don’t consider that anti-Semitism, but it was an uncomfortable walk down the plane, me in my black hat etc, as the rest of the passengers watched us disembark.

Kind of like the people behind me at Immigration listening in on the rabbi joke.

But it's all part of the game, right?


  1. First of all, I don't understand why Canadian Immigration felt the need to question you. I thought that passing between the United States and Canada was relatively simple.
    And that pilot's announcement- really inappropriate!

  2. That pilot announcement is just beyond rude!!

    We Canadians are so nice aren't we?

    When i was returning from Europe, the border guard was more interested in my Hebrew sounding last name than my whereabouts for the past three weeks...

  3. Not easy to be a Jew, true Jew, is it? But I wouldn't be anything else!

    Great story and thanks for linking KCC!

  4. Canada if the only country that ever asked me why I travel to Israel so much

  5. SuperRaizy-
    Maybe it's a reciprocal thing, since authorities in the US do it to Canadians.

    I actually like Canadians. Especially the aboot thing.


    Anonymous 12:29 PM-
    What did you tell them?

  6. when i went up to Canada for Torah Tours last year, the Canadians let most of us in fine (although a few of us had some ID trouble)... the Americans on the way back, though, had trouble understanding what we had traveled to Canada *for*, specifically. Luckily we were bringing the assistant rabbi of the shul we visited back to the States with us, and he explained everything.

  7. Friday, March 23, 2007

    Old Chestnut [John Derbyshire]

    I'll wager this joke is a hundred years old at least. It was new to me, though, and tickled my fancy. Very American somehow.

    What's he going to be?

    An old southern Baptist country preacher had a teenage son, and it was getting time the boy should give some thought to choosing a profession.

    Like many young men, the boy didn't really know what he wanted to do, and he didn't seem too concerned about it.

    One day, while the boy was away at school, his father decided to try an experiment. He went into the boy's room and placed on his study table four objects:

    A Bible,
    A silver dollar,
    A bottle of whisky,
    A Playboy magazine

    "I'll just hide behind the door," the old preacher said to himself, "and when he comes home from school this afternoon, I'll see which object he picks up. If it's the Bible, he's going to be a preacher like me, and what a blessing that would be! If he picks up the dollar, he's going to be a businessman, and that would be okay, too. But if he picks up the bottle, he's going to be a no-good drunkard, and, Lord, what a shame that would be! And worst of all, if he picks up that magazine he's gonna be a skirt-chasin' bum."

    The old man waited anxiously, and soon heard his son's footsteps as he entered the house whistling and headed for his room. The boy tossed his books on the bed, and as he turned to leave the room he spotted the objects on the table.

    With curiosity in his eye, he walked over to inspect them. Finally, he picked up the Bible and placed it under his arm. He picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. He uncorked the bottle and took a big drink while he admired this month's Centerfold.

    "Lord have mercy," the old preacher muttered in disgust, "he's gonna be a Congressman."

    03/23 11:21 AM

  8. Anonymous-
    Thanks for providing that version!