Photograph © AJ Butler

Our Father Our King

Almost The Truth: Stories and Lies

This story is about the time my car was stolen from my driveway. There is a chance I stray a little and talk about religion, observance of Jewish rituals, and belief in God. If I do stray it is likely because the car was stolen on Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of fasting and praying. A day of asking for forgiveness from your fellow man. A day spent at the synagogue with fellow Jews. Am not sure yet which direction this story will take. Am just letting you know it might meander from the automative to matters theological. If it does, there is a chance it is because when I opened my front door that Yom Kippur morning and discovered my Audi SQ5 was missing, I was on my way not to synagogue but to breakfast. I would like to tell you my car was stolen by a sophisticated gang of car thieves who prowled the neighborhood at night casing expensive German automobiles. I would like to. But I can’t. Besides, we both know it isn’t true. And what kind of relationship do we have if it isn’t one based on honesty and mutual respect? It was stolen because I left the keys inside the car.

I opened the door, saw my car was gone, and immediately understood it had been stolen because I had gone to bed the night before and stupidly left the keys in the car.

You know how sometimes you open the door and your car isn’t on the driveway and you feel sick to your stomach and your heart drops because you think it has been stolen until you remember you parked it on the street because you had a couch delivered and the moving guys asked you to move your car because they were worried they might scratch it while moving the couch but then you forgot to move it back and then you see it on the street and breathe a sigh of relief?

Well it wasn’t like that.

Or when you fly back from Florida and land at midnight and customs takes forever and it is freezing but you left your coat in your car and you are on the third level of the parking garage at Pearson freezing your ass off and can't find your car although you are sure you parked it near the elevator on level three and then you give one of the attendants driving around in a golf cart $20 to drive you up and down the aisles until you finally remember you flew down on Air Canada but flew back on WestJet and you are in the wrong terminal?

It wasn’t like that.

I opened the door, saw the car was missing, and immediately realized it had been stolen.

I’m not saying it was a good feeling. But I was spared the sick feeling of thinking it had been stolen. I knew it had been stolen.

I went back into the house and called the police and my insurance company. I told them both the truth. I had left the key overnight in the car.

I then called my friend Carainn and told her my car had been stolen. She said, “Oh my god, is there anything I can do?” I said, “Actually, I would appreciate a ride because I had to go pick up lox.” She said she would be right over and she was. I directed her to Kristapsons on Yonge Street. It has the best smoked salmon and I had told Caroline, my sister-in-law, I would pick up the order she had placed for the break fast meal she was having at her house because the store was in my neighborhood.

When we got there Carainn began to laugh. I said, “What’s so funny.” She said, “I thought you had to buy new locks because your car had been stolen.”

“No, not locks, lox.”

She said, “I get it now.”

I take an Uber to my brother’s house. I have the lox. I don't mind taking an Uber. For a few minutes I flirt with the notion of not getting a new car. But that is crazy talk. I get to my brother's house and everyone is busy getting dressed and ready to go to synagogue for the last evening prayer—it is called Ne’ila—before the end of the 25-hour fast.

I have not fasted nor gone to synagogue in 20 years.

I used to go to synagogue when I was young. My father would take me. It was an Ashkenazi shul in the West Island of Montreal. Beth Tikvah. The house of hope. The rabbi was Rabbi Zeitz. We weren't Ashkenazi. Egyptian Jews are Sephardic. My cousin David, Alain Tibul and I were the only three Sephardic kids. When our fathers were called to the Torah for an ‘aliyah,’ we, as the sons, had to stand while our fathers read that portion of the Torah. It was the Sephardic tradition. My heart would pound the whole time. Everyone in the congregation was sitting but me. Then during my bar mitzvah lessons I would often get the honor of leading the conclusion of the services. Ein Keloheinu, Aleinu, Vinemar, and then Adon Olam. Think of it as the three-song encore at the end of a concert. There was a silent prayer between Aleinu and Vinemar and Rabbi Zeitz would give a signal with a nod of his head.

And then my bar mitzvah. The parsha was Emor. I still know my maftir off by heart. I can still recite my haftorah. Vehakohanim halvim.

I knew my stuff. And I believed in it.

And then things changed. Perhaps maturity. Perhaps the advent of critical thinking. Maybe girls. Maybe sports. I say it was because they changed the tunes of my songs. Without the familiar tunes, they were just prayers. And then there is the whole belief thing.

My brother asks if I want to go to shul (synagogue) for Ne’ila. He does it by rote. Like my mother before him and my father before her. I have said no for 20 years.

Today I say yes.

My brother doesn’t bat an eye. He looks me up and down and says, “Let me get you a suit.”

I change in the bathroom. I eschew the jacket and tie and stick with the dress shirt and pants. Our feet are the same size so I slip on a pair of his dress loafers.

My nieces are abuzz.

“Wait. What? Uncle Ronnie is going to shul? WTF?”

I don’t think this has anything to do with my car being stolen on Yom Kippur.

I don’t.

I just decide I am going to shul.

Believe what you want. I just want to hear some tunes.

I go to shul. There is a lot of standing. Someone hands me a book but I don’t open it. I don’t really get prayer. I see a woman I used to date. I don’t wave. And then it’s over.

The police call while I am having my sister-in-law’s famous butternut squash soup back in the house. We have it in coffee cups. I guess maybe because there aren’t enough soup bowls to go around. They have found my car. Wow, that didn’t take long. It was abandoned in a strip plaza in North York. It was locked. They ask if I can bring a spare key to 41 division. They will then call me in 48 hours after doing their investigation. It is likely some kid took it on a joy ride. I wonder if my golf clubs are still in the trunk. The break fast has great food. I tell my lox/locks story. I tell my I-left-the-key-in-the-car story. I don’t care. I have done worse.

The cops call again two days later. I can pick up my car but I should order a tow truck because the battery is now dead. I call a tow company and meet Desmond and his truck at the police car impound lot. Desmond is a tall skinny Jamaican. He has a Toronto Raptors cap, slightly askance, perched on the top of his head. The battery is not dead. “Battery not dead, man,” he mutters to me when the car starts right up without a boost. I shrug my shoulders. I just want to get out of there. A policeman tells me to tow it to the Audi dealership and have them conduct a thorough once-over.

“You can’t believe what these guys can do to cars they have stolen. Sugar in the gas tank. They piss in the back seat.”

The car looks fine to me but I ride with Desmond to the Audi dealership. I have already decided I am going to trade it in. This car has bad karma. Desmond goes on a rant about thieves and how the city is going to hell in a hand basket.

I don’t tell him I left the keys in the car.

There is a long silence and I get uncomfortable. All of a sudden I tell him it was stolen on Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the year. Desmond asks if he thinks it is a sign. I tell him I don’t know. I ask Desmond if he believes in God.

He hesitates for a second and then replies,

“Here’s the thing. If there is a god and I believe in him then that is good. But if there is a god and I don’t believe in him, then it could be bad for me. I could go to hell. You see? But if there is no god then it makes no difference if I believe in him. It costs me nothing. You see what I’m getting at? Believing is the better deal man. You see?”

I do see. Desmond, in his own way, has just described Pascal’s Wager.

He drops the car off in the Audi parking lot. I sign the Visa charge and give him a big tip. He says, “Nice car,” and leaves.

I do a quick inspection of the car. My CDs are gone. The thief must have been a Shlomo Artzi fan. My golf clubs are in the trunk but the golf bag has been emptied of its golf balls. A coat is missing. But otherwise it looks more or less okay.

I look in the back seat and find a gym bag which does not belong to me. On top of the gym bag is a pack of cigarettes.

I don’t smoke.

I go to the office and the salesman is preparing a new deal offer. I call the police and tell them about the bag.

I don’t mention the cigarettes.

The cop says, “Look in the bag, call us if you find a gun.” I get it. They got the car back. They have bigger fish to fry.

There is zero chance I am going to look in the bag.

The salesman asks how many miles on the car. I say I don’t know. He says, “Let’s go take a look.” So we walk together to the car in the parking lot. I say, “Do you mind doing me a favor? There is a bag in the back seat which does not belong to me. Would you mind taking a look?”

He says sure. He opens the gym bag and hands it to me.

There is no gun. There is a book binder. In the binder is a high school student identification card.

I feel a little bad for the kid. He was likely walking up the street trying car doors to see if any were unlocked. Maybe hoping for some spare change or something more valuable. He comes to my car and sees that the schmuck owner has left the keys in the car. What is he supposed to do? So he takes it on a joy ride. Then parks it. Locks the door. Goes to bed with the thought of driving it again. Get up the next morning and discovers the car, his gym bag, and his student ID are now gone. He’s home waiting for the cops to knock on his door.

It’s got to be a shit feeling.

I reach into the bag, grab the ID, and slip it into my back pocket. The salesman asks what I want to do with the bag. I say he can throw it out.

I pick up my brand new Audi a few days later. The salesman says I can get the type of key you have to insert into the ignition. I say no. I’ve got this.

I drive my new car to my friend Harry’s house. It is poker night. I tell my stolen car story. I tell them about the high school ID I found in the bag. I don’t tell them I still have it in my back pocket. The guys at my poker game say they would have gone to speak to his parents. Teach the kid a lesson. But I think that is crazy. Kid definitely learned his lesson. I go home up $48 driving my brand new Audi... I can buy new golf balls, a new coat, and replace the Shlomo Artzi CDs. I park my car in my driveway, lock the car, and put the keys in the little cubby above the stove. I take the ID out of my pocket and actually look at it for the first time. A generic Canadian name. Wire-rimmed glasses. A bad picture day haircut and a sheepish grin. He could be any kid. I find scissors in my tool drawer in the kitchen and cut the card into four strips. Like a waitress does to your credit card when they get instructions from Visa. I throw the four strips in the garbage.

The Yom Kippur prayer I had wanted to hear was Avinu Malkeinu. Our Father Our King. It is a hypnotic litany asking for forgiveness. The chorus is repeated with rhyming words. It soars and dips as we sway and our voices get a little louder with each new verse.

Our Father Our King
Hear our prayer
We have sinned before thee
Have compassion upon us and on our children

You can’t get it out of your head. It stays with you for a week after the high holy days are over.

It is recited at the end of the Ne’ila services. It was worth the wait. It was like I remembered it.

When I get home from poker I go online and look it up on YouTube.

There are a lot of versions available. Barbara Streisand singing to Bill Clinton and Shimon Peres. An Orthodox choir. Even a 14-minute extended live version by Phish which will blow your mind. I listen to each one. Then I listen to them again.

Avinu Malkeinu
Our Father Our King

I get up to go to the bathroom at 3:00 am. Before going back to my room, I open my front door to check if my car is still there. It is.

Then I go back to bed.

The end.