Sermon on the Hotline
Yoshke sat in the swivel chair in his office, and stared at his computer screen. He was thinking about this week’s hotline recording, and he did his best thinking while looking at his screensaver. Five shiny golden brown challahs and two slices of gefilte fish floated across the screen in random patterns for a few seconds. Then the screen began to fill with more challahs and more fish of all sorts: large braided egg challahs, unbraided water challahs with large crusty slits across the top, small bilkelech, along with slices of carp, white fish, salmon, and for an added touch, a few bowls of chrain. The gefilte slices each had a perfect orange carrot slice on top. The carrot was the graphic artist’s idea, but the chrain was Yoshke’s.
He loved watching his screen saver, it commemorated his most brilliant feat yet, when he had only five challahs and two packages of Flaum’s smoked fish at last year’s demonstration against the Aroinim, and the demonstrators were about to pelt him with eggs, because they mostly came for the food, and he didn’t have enough. He had to call his brother Yanky who worked at Flaum’s, whom he still wasn’t speaking to, at least not with words, since the days when they both worked for their father as carpenters (as they had liked to call themselves, although all they did was install kitchen cabinets). But he was desperate, and within minutes Yanky was there with a van full of challahs and gefilte fish. Since they weren’t speaking, they mimed.
“You’ll owe me one, you mamzer,” Yanky had mimed.
“Yeah, yeah, hock a chainik,” Yoshke mimed back. “You don’t know what means a vierdjin birt, you beheime.” For vierdjin birt Yoshke locked his fingers over his crotch. For beheime, he put up his index fingers to indicate horns.
Shimon walked in and snapped him out of the pleasant brotherly reverie.
“Hey, Petrishkeh,” Yoshke said. It was an old nickname that stuck somehow. No one could remember how or why. Some said it was Greek for something. Although Shimon thought it was a vegetable. Maybe a Greek vegetable.
“You came just at de right time,” Yoshke said, moving his mouse to dismiss the screensaver. “Tonight is bedikas chumetz and I still need to buy anoder box of Pupa-Tzelem matzohs. So I need your input on dis quick.” An audio editing program was open on the screen, with sharp up-and-down green lines on a black background representing the latest recording. “Give a listen,” Yoshke said. He pressed the green “Play” button. The speakers on both sides of the monitor gave a single crackle of static before Yoshke’s voice came through.
“Be’ezras hashem yisburech. Dis is de shiur for parshas Tzav, Erev Peisech, tuf shien aiyen. For last week’s shiur press zero, pound, then 11219, pound, and then 3122, pound. To hear de shiur in Yiddish, press—“
“Nu, do fast forward, I don’t need de hakdumehs,” Shimon said, grabbing a copy of Der Yid laying on the floor. Or was the floor laying under Der Yid? Shimon wasn’t sure. Philosophical questions gave him a headache, which was why he liked Yoshke, who said simple things, like, “Both Aron and Zalmen Leib are hypocrites. Woe unto them.” Shimon sat down in a folding chair and laid the paper on the desk, his knee bobbing up and down as he flipped through the pages to find “In Oilem Hapolitika,” then turned to Moishe Yida Deutch’s editorial column.
Yoshke paused the audio. “Why you reading dat now?” he yelled. “Petrishka, you of little faith, I need you to listen!”
“I’m listening, I’m listening!” Shimon yelled back, quite obviously listening only with his nose. He sniffed. He thought he smelled chicken soup and ayer lukshen from the apartment downstairs.
“Shoin, I’m making it a little furder. Just hear it out, ok?”
Shimon yawned as he scanned the page he was reading. “Nu,” he said and tried to remember if it was Thursday yet, so he could get a slice of gala with a plate of chulent from Grill on Lee.
Yoshke pressed the green button again.
“Dis week, b’emes, I wanted to talk about someting else. But I want first to say someting dat I tought earlier dat it’s very important to hear. And it’s very deep, umik umik mini yam, it’s a gevalidge important ting to hear, and you should listen carefully. I want to say dis:
“Gebentched are dose who are aniyim in spirit, becuz dey really, b’emes, have malchus shumayim.
“Gebentched are dose who mourn, all dose who sit shiva, or are in de yuhr saying kaddish, becuz dey will have a real nechume.
“Gebentched are de meek, de eidele yidden, for dey will have de whole earth as deir yerisheh—”
“Wha—What—What’s this?” Shimon looked up from the newspaper. “You sound like moishe rabaynie by Har Grizim and Har Eivul, or something.” Shimon looked at Yoshke through squinted eyes, which he did whenever he looked at something with disdain, or when he thought someone was hogging the kishke at the kiddush shabbos morning.
“What, it’s not good?” Yoshke asked, looking hurt as he clicked the Pause button. “I heard it from Reb Yoichanan der Mikveh Yid.”
“So say you heard it from Reb Yoichanan. Nu, let’s hear de rest already.” Shimon flipped through the paper to find the ads for this year’s Chol Hamoed extravaganzas.
Avremel, Shimon’s brother, walked through the door just then. “What’s going on here?” he asked, biting into a blintze that he held in his hand, or, more precisely, contemplating how much blintze he had earlier and how suddenly the blintze was so much smaller, which led to all kinds of existential questions.
Avremel was a “bum,” who recently started going by the name Andrew. He wore white polo shirts during the week, trimmed his beard, and liked to go clubbing on motzeh shabbos. But Yoshke liked him nonetheless, called him a tayere neshume, one who will help spread his word. Shimon and Avremel once worked together at a fish store, until Yoshke discovered them and said something about making them “fishers of men,” and recruited them for his work. Although truth be told, they simply hated their old boss, who made them work fourteen hour days, and Shimon and Avremel were just looking for new jobs, preferably in cash, so they wouldn’t have to give up their Food Stamps. But mainly they were lured by the promise of easy Internet access, and the fact that Yoshke himself loved to watch YouTube videos.
Yoshke, in the meantime, began to wax nostalgic about Reb Yoichanan der Mikveh Yid, which was the brothers’ cue to tune him out and hum one of Lipa’s latest hits. “You guys don’t remember him,” Yoshke said, “Our generation wasn’t zoicheh to have such a tzaddik. In de end, dey had his head on a plate, so to speak, and it wasn’t even a good plate, just some cheap plastic, dat you buy at Costco, six packs of 200 count, $7.99.” Yoshke did some quick math with his fingers. “Sorry, $9.99. But was dat ah tayere yid, I tell you. You should’ve seen him wit dat chalat’l de color of camel’s hair, and dat layderne pasik he used for a gartel. He was de first who taught me how to do shai tevilos.” Yoshke’s eyes had a glassy look. “And you know what he lived on? Locusts! Yes, haysheriken! Oven roasted, and smothered in wild honey. S’is delishus, he used to say.”
Avremel tapped his foot in syncopated beats as Shimon quietly hummed Lipa’s song of “Yotzmech batchi” from his “Hallel” album.
“But enough about Reb Yoichanan,” Yoshke said, absent-mindedly rising and swaying his hips to the tune and snapping his fingers. When he spoke again it was to the tune of Lipa’s rendition of Wimoweh. “Back to de shiur for dis week’s hotline. It’s really amkus mikol omkim.” And he was just going to sing, “Abi m’laybt, abi m’laybt,” when Shimon grabbed his shoulder and sat him down again on the swivel chair. “Ouch,” said Yoshke, and slipped his hand under his bony butt to massage where it hurt. “Woe unto you,” he added.
“De shiur, for de hotline, Yoshke,” Shimon said. “For chrissakes,” he muttered. “Let’s hear de rest already.”
Yoshke pressed the green button again, and ran his hand through his beautiful long brown locks.
“Raboisai,” the speakers announced, “I want to tell you a real emesdigeh thing. De best thing, is not to resist a rushe. If a rushe gives you a potch on one cheek, turn de oder cheek also. Let him give you another potch. Petch, you should know, raboisai, is good for de neshume.”
Shimon and Avremel looked up at Yoshke, startled out of reading the “Hashuvas Aveideh” classifieds, which had them wondering whether they could claim the wad of “a gressere s’chim gelt” that someone found on Hooper between Lee and Marcy.
“Also,” the voice from the speakers continued, “if somebody wants to sue you and take your coat, or your bekishe, or your three-piece-suit, give him your shtreimel too.”
“Yoshke, Miriam, and Yossi Batchi!” Shimon and Avremel cried in unison. “That’s not a Jewish thing! Turn the other cheek?”
Shimon looked at Avremel and Avremel looked at Shimon.
“You ever heard such a thing?” Avremel asked Shimon.
“Never!” Shimon said stamping his foot on a locust that was just about to hop across the room.
The door opened again. It was Yidel, the least favorite of Yoshke’s twelve talmidim. “I heard that,” Yidel said and gave Yoshke a kiss on the cheek. Yoshke smiled at him, then stuck out his tongue when Yidel looked away. He pressed the green button on the screen again.
“Moirai v’raboisai, enough wit de empty prayers. A yid needs to know how to daven vie a yid. Dis is a real deep vort from Chazal, and if you gonna daven, don’t daven like a goy. When a goy davens, he says a lot of words, but dey mean noting. Don’t be like de goyim, because hashem yisburech knows what you need before you even ask him.
“Dere’s a tefilla, dat I found in an old siddur from one of de rishoinim, dat all of you should know. It’s a gevalidge tefilla, short, and mit aza zieskeit, mamesh noiam haneshumes. It goes like dis:
Hallowed be dy name,
Your malchus should come,
De rutzoin hashem yisburech should be done,
In oilem hazeh as in oilem habu,
Give us our parnusseh,
And be moichel our choives,
As we have been moichel the choives of others,
And you should not bring us, loi liedei nisoyoin, v’loi liedei bizoyoin,
And rescue us from de yaitzer horeh.”
Yidel looked at Yoshke, then at Shimon and Avremel, then back at Yoshke.
“One of you here will betray me,” said Yoshke. “I just know it. A bandeh mamzayrem is what you are. I am here to spread de truth. How all de rabbis are lying hypocrites, and none of dem want to listen to me. Dis hotline is all I’ve got, and I think dis is de last one. It will be special. I need a catchy name for it.”
“The Final Sermon,” said Shimon.
“The Sermon of the Last Seuda,” said Avremel.
“Sermon on the Rooftop,” said Yidel, who snuck out the door just as Yoshke was preparing to give him a dirty look.
“That is catchy, though,” said Yoshke. “Sermon on the Rooftop.”
“But we’re not on a rooftop,” Shimon said.
“Woe unto you, ye of little faith,” Yoshke said to him. “Always hung up on technicalities.”
Shimon turned red.
“Just kidding,” Yoshke said to him, and laughed that hearty deep-throated laugh that made his kutchma fall off his head.
The recording went up on the hotline that evening. It spread like wildfire. Kol Mevaser even ran an excerpt.
The next day, early morning on Erev Paysech, Yoshke was summoned by Hisachdus Harabunim.
“Woe unto you, dayunim, rabunim, hypocrites!” Yoshke cried.
“Don’t get so hysterical,” the safra d’dayna said.
“Woe unto you, too,” Yoshke glared at the safra d’dayna.
“And let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Yoshke added for emphasis. But none of them had stones anyway, they had eggs and potatos from the kimche d’pischa office, but mostly they had eggs, since they were gevashene, and even the Williamsburg paupers declined to take them. The eggs cracked in their hands before they could throw them, and Yoshke stood there alternately laughing at them and yelling, “Hypocrites!” Only one egg, from some small-time ruv from Borough Park who gave hechsheirim easily, hit him smack in the middle of his forehead. And as the egg yolk dripped down over and between his eyes, Yoshke cackled with laughter. He laughed so hard till he cried, and with his hand on his jaw, cried, “Stop, stop! This is too funny, it hurts! Keili, hehe, Keili, hehehe, luhmu azavtuni, hehehehehe!” And he added for emphasis, “Hahahahaha!”
In the end it was indeed Yidel. It had to do with a real estate deal. Yidel needed another thirty grand for a down payment, the closing was the next day, a “major deal,” he told his wife. For thirty grand he told the rabunim everything, and they promised to let his children stay in the moisdos.
The “Sermon on the Rooftop,” as it came to be known, was all over YouTube within days, with the challah and gefilte fish screensaver as the video. Lipa and Michoel Schnitzler called it “inspiring.” Even Lady Gaga got in on the fad, and wore challah and gefilte fish on her head at all her public appearances thereafter.Printable Version