A ye aye aye, aye-aye-aye-aye-aye; aye aye aye aye aye - aye-aye-aye!
That was my favorite tune when I was a youth. Me and the boys, we'd gather 'round a big rotted wooden table, singing and drinking seltzer, trembling from the gaze of the photograph on the wall, a water-damaged Kodacolor of the Holy One Blessed Be He. Not God - yipes! - G-d, but his Appointed One, the rebbe. Our hero. The Moshiach.
So godly was he that, like the Abishter Himself, he couldn't have children the normal way, G-d forbid we should ever think of H-m doing that. Instead, we were his children. We, the little lads of Lubavitcher Yeshiva.
Can you imagine what it was like for a stupid kid like I was to have a father like that? My peyos weren't yet long enough to wrap around my ears. I didn't know the Grace After Meals by heart. The straps of my tefillin still had a like-new sheen that indicated I wasn't wearing them out with daily zealous use.
And the endless hours, those hopeless endless eons studying the Gemara, desperately trying but failing to understand a whit of the Aramaic taught in rapid mumbling Yiddish to my sluggish English brain, producing exam results that - well, let's just say that any mark of 20 percent would've raised my average nicely.
But I was assured that the rebbe was very proud of the little progress I was making on my mishnayos. I was also assured, wrathfully, humiliatingly and in front of the whole class, that the rebbe had personally given word that I should not be bringing a Mad magazine to heder, and that it should be torn up and thrown where dead pigs go.
When the time came to choose, I chose Mad over mishnayos.
Now I'm a stinking apikores, a non-believing sheigetz who believes that God doesn't believe in rabbis. I wear short sideburns instead of long peyos. I make friends with goyim, those anti-Semites. I drink milk approved by just any rabbi. And 23 years after I first put them on, my tefillin still have that telltale sheen. But at least one thing: I still have my fingers crossed that the rebbe will be formally unveiled as the Moshiach.
I may be backing the wrong horse, and frankly I'd just as soon bet on Yossi Sarid as the Chosen One, or Charles Bronfman, or even Wayne Gretzky, for God's sake, but I'm pulling for the Big Cheese of Eastern Parkway because I want to see what good it'll do me if he gets the job.
You don't clinch a high position in any Jewish organization (and here we're talking about the CEO of Judaism itself) and then forget all the little people you stepped on along the way.
IT HAPPENED years ago, before the whoredom of secularity stole me from the motherly clutches of righteousness and rabbinicalness. I got shlepped to a farbrengen, a revivalist haj to the rebbe at his Valhalla, 770 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights, Somewhere South of Canada.
Such a convention of Lubavitchers is something to see. (Actually, at the time I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but now I work not so far from Mea She'arim.) A sea of black-garbed men with one single thought in mind, and that's not if the Mets won today or not: they wanted only to see the rebbe. Maybe, with luck, to hear his voice. To touch him forget it; you may as well pray for Halley's Comet to land on your neighbor's Harley-Davidson.
I don't know why the Abishter chose me for this moment of holiness. At first, I was able to cast mine eyes upon the Moshiach-in-training and just get a glimpse above and through everyone else. I didn't go blind. I kept looking. He got closer. So close that I could just make out the color of his hat (it was black). And then a great surge, a shoving black whirligig, churned through the middle of the hall as the rebbe strode through the multitudes, towards the door, towards ... me.
Closer he came. I was trapped in a fervid vortex, me and the entire world's population of male Lubavitchers, packed in like a tin of penguins. I felt like a sliver of wood in the path of a terrifying chainsaw.
And then I heard his voice, softly, softly: "Aye aye aye; aye-aye-aye-aye-aye ..." He was humming our song! I was in heaven. And then - then, as the chainsaw tore through the mass it reached the splinter, and the Lubavitcher rebbe, our very own Moshiach, came right up to me - and stepped on my foot. My left foot, crunch, right across the three big toes. Our soles came together.
"Aye! Aye! Aye!" I howled, leibedik-like.
And then he was gone.
Some members of his coterie asked me for my shoe, the one he stepped on. Something about saving my sole, they said. I'm lucky they didn't ask for my foot too. I had to decline, as I explained to them, because I had to get back home to Montreal and there was some obscure law in the Province of Quebec that forbids you from traveling on a bus wearing only one shoe unless you have only one foot and if you speak English.
The truth is, I wanted to keep that shoe for myself, for show-and-tell when the day would come when God made it official. I'd become a real hit at cocktail parties.
Instantaneously, from that moment when his rubber heel stroked my patent-leather upper, I was miraculously cured of an ingrown toenail and, not long afterward, I grew up and found a wife and my home became filled with children.
I had forgotten about all that incident in my lascivious latter few wasted, wretched, secular years, until the other day, just after Christmas, when I saw a flickering neon sign near my house. "Welcome King Messiah," it read, alongside a picture of the guy who stepped on me on his way up the stairway to heaven. And so I figured, if they're already advertising, spending that kind of money, then this must be it, it's happening. Surely he'll come to Jerusalem - what messiah wouldn't? - and then I'll remind him of the time we spent together.
At the very least, I will be able to tell my grandchildren that me and the Moshiach, we were very close at one time.
Editors Note: Longtime Jerusalem Post columnist and author Samuel 'Sam' Orbaum died in December 2002 at age 46. We think of Sam often.
- This article first appeared on January 22, 1993.
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