There I was, on the last 400 metre stretch of my daily constitutional walk, when a small car approached on the wrong side of the road, and I could sense that it would stop and the driver would ask me for directions.
It happens frequently when I’m out. I must have the sort of face which says: ‘Grew up up in the era of the A-Z and will know where Acacia Avenue is’. It always amazes me that not everyone has sat-nav these days or thinks to carry a map, or plan their journey in advance.
But I digress.
The car pulled over to the kerb a few metres ahead of me, the driver’s door opened and out sprang a man in his thirties “of Middle-eastern appearance”. Now, not being one to tar everyone with the same brush, and being rather taken aback that he hadn’t just wound down his window and said, “you look like someone from the era of the A-Z and will know where Acacia Avenue is’, I felt that leaping out at me from his hatchback was of no immediate concern.
“Sorry to burden you”, he said, “but I have found some books”. This wasn’t the statement I was expecting. Now, it seemed, I looked like someone who might be interested in books, and this nice young man thought he would stop the first random pedestrian and offer him some.
“They’re in the boot”, he informed me. Still thinking it perfectly normal for a complete stranger to be offering me books rather than asking about said Acacia Avenue, I accompanied him to the tailgate. It was at this point I also noticed a little boy in the back seat. However, this gave me no comfort as my mind was not saying ‘jihadi with a Kalashnikov in the boot’ but ‘pleasant, smartly-dressed person desperate to relieve himself of a book collection.’
“I found these”, he said, as we both stared at a large cardboard box in which were an assortment of Jewish religious texts and the remnants of a pair of tefillin covered in dirt and grime.
“I wanted to know what to do with them. I respect all religions and I thought someone would want them”.
I then gave him a brief introduction to the rules of “shaimos” – the disposal of Jewish religious texts and explained they should be buried by Jews.
“Where did you find them?”
“I’ve just moved into the area and I was digging in my garden and I found them there. Should I take them to the synagogue?”
I thanked him for being so sensitive about the nature of these objects and advised him what to do with them. I couldn’t carry them home. Too heavy and awkward (not me, the books). I trusted him to do the right thing because he had thus far.
When I was home, I called the secretary of the synagogue informing him that a Muslim was on his way with a box and not to be alarmed. He told me something similar had happened before when a Muslim had come on the bus on a 10-mile journey because he had found some Jewish prayer books and wanted to personally deliver them.
It was only afterwards that I wondered how the man had known I was Jewish. I had no outward visible signs of being such. Do I really look so obviously Jewish? What if I hadn’t been Jewish. Some unsuspecting non-Jew would have puzzled over the texts, shrugged and carried on to Acacia Avenue. Was the driver just stopping everyone he could see who looked like they might be Jewish and I was just the last in a long line of hopeful, but ultimately disappointed bibliophiles?
It does show you, doesn’t it, that there are still heart-warming stories out there, and plenty of good, decent folk ready to confound your prejudices.
At least I now know that I have the appearance of ‘a Jewish man of a certain age who not only looks like he has memorised the A-Z, but also know what to do with disinterred Jewish religious artefacts’.