Lessons from a Jamaican Cabby

February 2, 2009

CabI woke up to bright lights and the sound of screeching brakes, as my Greyhound bus pulled into the station. “Welcome to Downtown Baltimore! This is the final stop,” said the driver in a thick, Baltimore accent. I hurried to get up, making sure not to forget my hat from the rack above.

I stepped out into the bitter cold, tightening my scarf and putting down the brim of my hat, hoping I wouldn’t get blown away by the wind. I picked up my suitcase, and headed off to the sidewalk, waiting for a yellow-checkered cab to pull into the station.

My three friends from the back of the bus soon joined me, all of us having spent our off-weekend in New York somewhere, and now ready to (or not so ready) to come back to our vigorous Yeshiva routine. Within minutes, a cab pulled up and we got in, me taking the front seat.

As soon as we pulled out, the cabby leaned over and put out his hand. “Troy”, he said, to which I replied “Yonatan”, with a smile. After seeing his baffled look, and failed attempts of pronouncing it, I laughed and said “Hebrew for Jonathan”. He let out a chuckle and said, “ahh, now I got it!”. It was then that I noticed his thick Jamaican accent.

My friends pretty much remained silent, each doing his own thing as we drove the 30 minute trip to Yeshiva. Slowly, Troy and I started talking, him asking me if I was from Israel. I told him my family was but I was American, and proceeded to ask him where he was from. “Jamaica,” he said, before adding – “And I love Jews”.

I tilted my head questioningly, to which he smiled and said “you have time for a story?”. “As long as it wont make that meter take any longer, of course!”. Here is what he said:

“When I was a kid in Jamaica, I was a very social guy. At school, around town, everywhere. I hung out with the “cool kids”, and as we grew up, I started hearing things about your people (a statement he used often, but with much respect).

I came home one day, my Momma was in the corner knitting something. I was in a foul mood, and somehow, it came out: I cursed using the word Jew! My Momma jumped up, asking “What did you say son?”. I noticed she was upset, something I barely ever saw in my Momma. She grabbed me by the arm, as old and frail as she was, and gave me the harshest beating in my life. As she was beating me, she was screaming “Don’t you ever say a word about G-d’s Chosen People boy! They’re kings, and you have to treat them as such! Whenever you meet a Jew, remember that they have the secret to the world – the only true understanding of G-d and morality. Serve them, and never let your mouth or mind be contaminated with such evils about His People!”

I noticed the earphones coming off from the guys in the back of the cab, as they heard the cabby actually screaming now, worried that something was going to happen to me. Troy continued, as I was blushing, and not even sure of what to say:

“You people are holy. All of you! Especially you guys, you’re gonna be rabbis! I promised my Momma, and I swear on Jesus and everything holy to me, that since that day, I never opened my mouth to speak badly of you people. You are kings! The sons of G-d!

If only the world would learn from your people. Your children are kind, and respectful. Your girls – they wear clothes, not like everyone else on the streets! I always see husbands buying flowers for their wives. The world would be perfect. No crime, no murder, no abuse, no drugs, nothing! Isn’t that what the prophet talks about, Zachariah, that we should all grab the corners of your cloaks and ask you  to teach us the word of G-d? Please, teach me!”

I looked at him, looked back at my friends in the back row, and back at him flabbergasted. What to say? Did this cabby have more respect for G-d and His People, than even I did? More understanding of the truth of the Torah, than us Yeshiva boys did?

We got stuck in traffic, Troy not minding, and realizing we didn’t care as well. In fact, this was something we were interested in hearing more about.

The topics discussed in that cab ride, were endless. Troy asked, and with as little knowledge as I had, I attempted to answer. Why do children die young? How do you have so much respect and love between husband and wife? What is the Jewish view on premarital sex? (Yes, one of the guys in the back cringed as we discussed that one!). Do I believe in Jesus? Why not? What can he do in his life to help the Jewish people? Do I think his kids can also grow up to be moral people like mine will be?

As we pulled in to the lit up campus, driving past the aging yellow sign in the entrance, Troy stopped the cab suddenly, as all our hearts skipped a beat. He looked at me, the first time he’d caught a good glimpse of me in the light. I smiled and told him I was in high school. “No way, man!” he said, “tell me really!”. He turned to the guys in the back and asked them, to which they all responded the same thing. “You are all so young, yet I learned more from you, then anyone else in my life! Unbelievable man…”, he muttered to himself as he pulled up to our dorm building.

As we all stepped out into the crisp winter air, I opened the door of the cab again.

“Troy?” I asked.

“Yes?” he said, looking back at me.

“Thank you.”

“Thank you for what?!” he asked confused.

“You might have learned a lot from us. But I think you taught us more than you will ever imagine. It means a lot to me, thank you.”

He smiled and shook my hand. “Anytime brother. You’re G-d’s boy, always remember that. And hey – thanks for talking to me like you did. I felt like I was a person, not just a cabby. May G-d bless you, and your people!”

I put the brim down on my hat, as I stood up again. “That’s because you’re not just a cabby. G-d bless you too Troy, have an amazing rest of the night.”

As he drove off, I stood there, knowing I was changed eternally, as were my friends.

Troy, I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, or if the two of us will ever meet again. But I just wanted to say thank you – for believing in me, in us, as a Jewish people.

And you dear reader? I hope that you’ll be inspired to believe in yourself, as well. Believe in yourself like Troy does. Maintain your self respect like his mother did.  Believe the truth of your inner Judaism. Not by feeling a sense of  superiority, but by believing in your ability to grow, and showing the world what G-d and morality are all about. Give yourself the gift of not just knowing – but really being, a true child of G-d.

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