Friday, January 16, 2015

The Na Nach Bumper Sticker: A Missed Connection

נַ נַחְ נַחְמָ נַחְמָן מְאוּמַן

A stop in to Trader Joe's today to pick up some veggies and fruit (the kid loves pomegranate seeds and cucumbers these days) left me feeling like I'd missed an opportunity. A Jewish opportunity.

As Ash and I got out to the car with our groceries, a well-coifed woman with white hair approached me as if out of nowhere, asking me what the bumper sticker on the back of my car meant.

I was stunned, because in all the time we've had that bumper sticker (that's really a sticker on a magnet, because, you know, resale value), I've never had anyone ask me what it meant. Likewise, in all the time it's been there, especially since Mr. T has been gone, I haven't thought much about it being there.

"Well," I stammered, "it's in Hebrew. It says ..." and I trailed off with the Hebrew, explaining that it's all about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and that it's my husband's thing.

"He's the Lubavitcher, right?" she asked, as a scruffy man shuffled up beside her.

"Oh no," I responded. "This is Breslov, it's like Lubavitch because they're both Hasidic, but different."

"Oh I see," she said. "So what does it mean?"

I was a bit stunned again. I read the Hebrew off, but I forgot what it all meant. The flames in the classic "logo" of Rebbe Nachman spell out "Ha'Aish Sheli," or my fire (from the petek). I related that to her, but the conversation sort of ended there.

As they walked away, the scruffy man threw up his arms in frustration and shouted to the sky, "And I come from a line of Chasidim!"

It appeared to me that, here was a man who clearly had a history that he didn't understand and here was a woman (his wife?) who clearly had a curiosity. And my response to this man, in his expression of frustration or perplexity?

"It happens!" I said.

The woman wished me a Shabbat Shalom, they got in their old, white boat out of a 1970s cop drama and drove away.

The whole way home I considered how I could have handled the situation differently. Was it an attempt for someone to connect to Judaism through me? Was it an attempt to get me to connect to my own Judaism more deeply?

The fact that I couldn't easily explain the meaning of the Na Nach sticker on the back of my car probably points to an issue. It's always been Mr. T's thing, not mine. He reads Likutei Moharan, not me. He knows the petek inside and out, not me.

Was the missed connection for me or about me?