Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Cursed a Rabbi

Day 27:

Friday morning I was up early.  The nearest Jewish community was Saint Tropez, and I had hoped to spend the Sabbath in a community.  The wind was with me, the temperature was a crisp degree or two, and day was beautifully sunny.  I wasn't certain that I would make it in time for the sabbath, but there were a number of villages along the way that I could stop at if I needed to.

Saint Tropez I had been told was a town for movie stars and the wealthy in the summer, and in the winter a slightly cozier place with friendly people.  I had asked a friend of mine, via email, to please contact the rabbi of the community and tell them to expect, and hopefully, to host me.

I traveled east along the coast for a while, and then turned with it north.  The air was good.  I was also making good steady progress; it's getting easier to maintain a good speed without breaks.

As I went around a mountain corner (43.199607,6.68149) I was greeted by two things.One of the most amazing views I have ever seen, and a head wind.  The headwind was coming from the northwest, and that was the direction I was now headed.  When I would cross a bay it got bad, and when I was in close to the shore with the mountains intervening on my behalf, the water was smooth.

The view was of the Alps.  I have now seen from the water two of Europe's mountain ranges.  Compared to the Alps, the Pyrenees are puny midgets.  The mountains that I could see in the distance to my north were not producing an occasional head of snow for me to admire, they were up there in the clouds enormous ranges displaying great masses of glowing whiteness.  It was awesome.  And I don't mean to belittle their green children who have been providing me with a lovely landscape for the last few days, but Alps that I could now see, where of an order of magnitude that surpassed everything on my trip so far.  Magnificent.

I had stopped to take some pictures and admire them, I also turned my map to the next page.  I was on the last stretch, but I was now heading directly into the wind and it was almost the sabbath.  I saw a small concrete peer extended from a private beach.  I kept on paddling into the wind hoping I would make it.  Another peer, and then another, with a little beach next to it.  I pulled over at the beach and got out (43.274411,6.682509).  I moved my kayak away from the water up the small beach, noticed an abandoned boat house, and went to ask the owners of the property above for permission.  There was nobody there.  The windows were covered in a way that said, “It's not the season for us to be here now.  But our security service will be happy to pick you up for trespassing.”

I went back down to the beach, changed, packed my stuff up, grabbed a bag of essentials, and began my way into town.  I was in a suburb of sorts.  Teaneck, the town were my parents currently live, has the largest mansions I have ever seen (my parents live on the other side of the tracks).  And that is still true.  The mansions in this neighborhood weren't as large, unless you count the enormous swimming pools, but they were beautifully set on giant properties that were taken much better care of than most children.  Oh, and the view.  No matter where the mansions were set up, they had an unbelievable view, and where I was, it was that view of the Alps that I described earlier.

I began walking into town.  Passing a security station, I asked the guard for directions.  His job was to keep people like me out of the neighborhood, and while he may have been pleased to see me leave, I think it bothered him that I was there to begin with.  I also got a look at his station.

Once in the center of town, I asked in the Office for Tourists where the Synagogue was.  They told me it was closed in the winter.  They called to check for me, and while I tried to tell them it was unlikely that anybody would answer the phone this close to the Sabbath, they wouldn't understand.

I wanted to try to go there anyway, I had nothing else to do, so they gave me the address and showed me its location on a map.

I went there.  They were open.  No, they hadn't been told that I was coming but that was OK.  Did I know it was Hanukah?  Would I like to light candles?  All was well.

After a couple of hours, we waited in vain for the prerequisite ten men for a prayer meeting,  there was a prayer in unison of sorts, and then we were invited downstairs for kiddush (traditional sabbath blessing over the wine).

I asked the rabbi if he knew of anybody that might like to host me for the meal, and he said “Not really, no.  Sorry.  Have kiddush with us; it's sort of a meal.”  The kiddush was accompanied by a small choice of foods including two special Sabbath breads as well as a bunch of toast with tuna and loxes on them.  Olives were put out too.  I ate a lot because it was all I was going to get.

Finally all the food was gone and everybody except the rabbi and his friend had left.  They were looking at me.  I asked if maybe I could sleep on the floor of the Synagogue overnight (not the chapel, but the downstairs part.)

“No, it would be best if you didn't.”  I was told.

When three Jews eat a meal together, it is traditional to add a bit to the grace after meals in union.  “Should I say Grace on my own as everybody who left before me did?”  (They hadn't, but that was fine.)

“Yes.”  The rabbi told me.  So I did, and left him there with his friend.

I began the walk back to my boat.  I took off my bright yellow jacket while cutting around behind the security station.  I looked around in the dark.  There were no lights, and the neighborhood which I had rushed through quickly on my way out, was now quite different with only a fraction of the starlight making its way through the canopy of tree branches above.  There were no sidewalks, if you lived here, you drove everywhere in one of your expensive cars.

There was a camera that was clearly watching me, turning as I moved.  No lights were in the area, I guess it was infrared.  I headed down a road, then cut back a different way a few moments later.  Headed in my new direction a car shot after the way I had originally gone about five minutes later.

It took a while, but I finally found my boat.  Mucking around behind some houses, I wasvery careful not to step off any ledges or into any pools.  Next to my boat was the abandoned boathouse, a concrete cave into the side of a cliff.  The entrance was boarded up, but only half way.

With my sleeping bag I hopped over the boards and felt around on the floor for a good spot.  It was very dark, but I would rather stick my hand into something gooey, then sleep in it, so I felt around until I was satisfied.  It was a good night’s sleep.

Saturday morning I took a path above the cliffs on the sea to get back to the synagogue.  Puddles everywhere were frozen.  How exciting, the first freeze.


  1. what is the service like? Ashkenazi / Sephardi ? anything particular about it? did they make minion on Sat? what is the water temp like now?

    and good interesting writing BTW!

  2. Dov -
    I don't know about your kayaking, but your writing is getting quite good! Kol Hakavod. It looks like you actually found your way to Sedom for Shabbat - just be thankful they didn't read the original script!
    Love from Jerusalem

  3. Hey Rabbi G!
    It pleases my heart to no end to know that you're enjoying my blog. Thank you for the kind words.
    No need to exaggerate, it was purely coincidence that it was the coldest night so far, and in Sedom they probably seal all their caves completely, where as I had a very nice half sealed cave which was perfect. Also, one of the chabad people who was not in charge slipped me a bag full of salami, so Saint Tropez will always hold a special place in my heart, or at least, it will temporarily hold a heavy place in my stomach.
    It was embarrassing when people in the synagogue had asked me where I slept and after being told said to me "That's crazy, you should have told the rabbi!"
    "I don't know why I didn't think of that."
    Chanukah Samayach Rabbi G and to all my other readers as well (unless you get a happy holidays, in which case, Happy Holidays)!

  4. Thanks Steve.
    I found one sort of ashkenazi service in Marseille, though one of the members described it to me not as ashkenazi but as the minyan where people ware suits. All of the others have been Sphardi. Keep the comments coming, I love feed back.