I saw my rabbi in the men’s locker room at the Berkeley Y. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and rainbow flip flops. Instead of a yarmulke, he wore a swim cap. A Speedo. And he had a shaving kit under one arm. My rabbi was going to shave in the shower at the Y. Was that kosher? I wondered.
“Hello Rabbi,” I said. He nodded, remembering me, I think.
“Blessings, blessings,” he said.
“I didn’t know you worked out here,” I said.
“I swim,” he said. “Ten laps. For half an hour I think of Moses crossing the Red Sea. You?”
“I like the machines upstairs.”
It made me feel good to chat with him in the locker room. It humanized him and, for the moment, exalted me.
A week later there were two rabbis in the locker room. My rabbi was colorful with a white flowing middle eastern style shirt, a tie-dyed prayer shawl, and baggy oompa loompa pants. He could have been walking along a Berkeley street on his way to the park. The other was bearded like a goat and had small eyes like pieces of red glass. I said hello, surprised to see my rabbi in the locker room again. He smiled politely. But he was more serious today.
“This is Rabbi Shmuel Warshavsky from Poland,” my rabbi said. “We met at Yeshiva in Brooklyn.”
The other Rabbi said something in Hebrew.
My rabbi translated. “You should come with us,” he said. “Come take a shower.” Since I was going to take one anyway, I thought why not. If it had been anyone else asking to take a shower with them, I would have said no fucking way, but it was two rabbis, one of them my very own.
We walked towards the showers, in our flip flops and skimpy YMCA towels. And I noticed along the way that now the whole locker room was filled with rabbis. Some with peyiot (sidecurls) and beards, some clean shaven, some perpetually davening even as they shuffled like mental patients towards the shower door.
“It’s time,” my rabbi said. “I’m so glad you could join us.” And he opened the glass door to the showers, and there, surrounded by my naked brethren, my naked ancestors, I waited, wondering if someone was going to turn on the gas or if that time had finally passed.