1/14/2006

The ShoweRabbi

This post about the awkwardness of self-conscious youth meeting the unselfconsciousness of old age in a JCC sauna reminded me of one of my favorite rabbinic stories, though it involves my father, who, while a rabbi, holds no rabbinic position. I heard the story from him. I was not an eyewitness.

My father played racquetball at the JCC regularly for a number of years. He'd go to shul, then racquetball, shower and change, and head for work. Anyone who's been in an old-school JCC men's shower room will remember that it's a big square with no partitions and a bunch of shower heads coming out of the wall. As a kid, I remember it being sort of horrifying to be in the shower room with naked old men. My peers and I definitely went the bathing suit route. The old men, however, had no such reservations (as a side note, my more recent JCC experience indicates that the generation of old men has, unfortunately, passed on, and been replaced mainly by Russians). Kids self-conscious about their naked bodies, adults who were not. In the showers, the locker room, the sauna, and even the swimming pool during the men's swim hour (including one legendary occasion when a local rabbi accidentally walked out of the men's locker room into the pool area a few minutes before men's swim started).

One morning, I believe it was a Monday, when my father was showering after racquetball, he noticed that one of the old men was belting out Ein Keilokeinu as he rub-a-dub-dubbed. My father informed him (because le-hafrish min ha-issur is muttar even in a makom tinofet) that what he was singing contained God's name, that it's a hymn of praise, and that perhaps a shower-room full of nude alte kakers (no pun intended; ok, maybe a little bit intended) was an inappropriate venue for such holy words, despite the fantastic acoustics. The senior fellow thanked my father for the sage advice, and immediately ceased his cantorial rendition.

From then on, my father became the unofficial rabbi of the shower room. Every week, when my father would step in for his post-racquetball shpritz, the septuagenarians would line up with all questions Jewish. Anything and everything you wanted to know about Judaism, you could just ask the ShoweRabbi. Feel free (if being in the buff isn't sufficiently liberating).
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