FULTON, Ohio. It’s the opening night at the Fulton County Fair in this tiny town in northwest Ohio, and the grandstands are packed for the first round of the event that is the annual highlight of this rural chivaree–Demolition Derby.
“We draw our biggest crowds for Demolition Derby,” says the fair’s general manager, Oren Daily, Jr. “I don’t know what it is–people just love to see cars smash into each other.”
In addition to crowd favorites from the past such as Floyd Littleton, the “Sandusky Sniper,” there’s a new kid in town this year. A bearded man wearing a hat and a black suit–Rabbi Eli Silberstein of Temple Beth Shalom in Shaker Heights, Ohio–sits in the “shotgun” seat of his 1992 Volvo. His driver is Jim Bob Embry, who wears a shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve on his bicep.
The “Kosher Krusher,” the name painted on the front doors of Silberstein’s car, is the rabbi’s recruitment tool as he takes a radical step to reverse the declining number of Jews in America. “Intermarriage is the silent Holocaust,” he says to Embry.
“Uh-huh,” Embry replies, nodding slightly. He has his eye on a red Dodge Charger that is idling near the bleachers.
“Unless we become proactive, Jews will disappear from the face of the earth.”
“That’s what I hear,” Embry says quietly. He guns the engine and takes off after an Oldsmobile Rocket 88, ramming it in the front left bumper, causing Silberstein to lurch forward.
“You okay, Rabbi?” the goy driver asks.
“I’m a little tsedreyt in kop (disoriented), but I’ll be okay,” the holy man says. “Anyway, before 1965 10% of Jews married non-Jews. Since 1985 . . .”
“Hold on, padre—”
Embry steers the Kosher Krusher into the Sandusky Sniper, and Floyd Littleton gives him a dirty look before driving off, damaged but still going.
“As I was saying,” the rabbi continues, ”since 1985, 52% of Jews have married outside their faith. One million American Jewish children under the age of 18 are being raised as non-Jews or with no religion at all.”
“Jesus Christ!” says Embry.
“Goot gezugt,” (well said) Silberstein replies with emphasis. “Anyway, I thought it was time to get off my toches (rear end) and get out here among the Unchosen People. Maybe pick off a few goyim.“
“Should be like shootin’ fish in a barrel,” says Embry. “We don’t get many Jews come out for demolition derby.”
“I wonder why that is?” the rabbi asks, staring off into the crowd.
“Probably ’cause of your people’s higher level of education,” Embry says as he eyes the car on his right about to cross the center point of the derby’s figure-eight pattern. “You won’t find any geniuses in the stands here tonight.”
“Could be,” the rabbi replies modestly, not wanting to seem too proud.
“You know, teaching them kids of yorn Hebrew in addition to English is a real IQ booster,” Embry says. “At least according to psycholinquists.”
“I did not know that,” Silberstein says in a distant tone, as if he’s considered the possibility for the first time.
“You know where them Catholics went wrong?” Embry asks sharply as he swerves to avoid a three-car pileup.
“Priestly celibacy,” Emply replies with authority. “You take the smartest man in your congregation, at least by book learnin’, and you tell him he can’t reproduce. Takes a lot of smarts out of your gene pool after a while.”
Because the first round of Demolition Derby is held on Friday night, the rabbi must leave the driving to a shabbas goy–a non-Jew who assists him by performing work that Jews are forbidden to engage in on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.
After a while the pack is thinned and only the Kosher Krusher and the Sandusky Sniper are left as the remaining cars are reduced to smoking hulks. Embry plays cat and mouse with Littleton, his lone adversary, with the rabbi urging him on.
“A broch su dir!” (“A curse on you!”) Silberstein yells out his window at their opponent, and Embry feints a charge. The Sandusky Sniper bites on the fake, and its passenger side door is exposed.
“I got him now,” Embry says. He steps on the accelerator and, like a matador, skillfully discharges his opponent with a single direct hit that sends Littleton to the hospital with a fractured collarbone.
“You egg-suckin’ dog, you,” Littleton screams in pain as he is loaded into an ambulance. “Next time I see you I’m gonna punch you a new asshole, you little peckerwood.”
“A glick ahf dir” (“Good health to you”) the rabbi says as the ambulance drives off.
The winning team steps to the podium to accept their prizes; $200 in cash and two ten-pound packages of Roseland Lard. “You can have mine,” the rabbi says, handing the clarified hog fat to his partner.
Embry and the rabbi are the stars of the moment, and they wade into the crowd to accept the congratulations of men and women who have little formal education and–in many cases–less than a full set of teeth between them. He introduces himself to Gene Ray and Veneta Sue Doogs.
“Hello, there,” he says. “Have you ever considered converting to Judaism?”
“Wait a minute,” Gene Ray says suspiciously. “I thought Jews weren’t supposed to proselytize.”
“Good point,” the rabbi replies. “Under normal circumstances, the Jewish community does not seek converts.”
“Where’d you learn that?” Veneta Sue asks her husband.
“I heard it on ESPN2′s Texas Rattlesnake Hunt.”
“These are not normal times,” the rabbi continues. “Jewish fertility rates are not high enough to replenish our people, so for a limited time only, we are accepting new members.”
“I like music in church,” Veneta chimes in. “The Old Rugged Cross, Just a Closer Walk With Thee . . .”
“We have a full-time cantor–he’s excellent.”
“How many days off do Jews get?” Gene Ray asks.
“We got holidays like Heinz has pickles,” the rabbi replies, as he begins to tick them off; “Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Channukah, Purim, Pesach . . .”
“Sounds like a good deal,” Gene Ray says. “I like to fish, and I can’t get off unless it’s a religious thing.”
The Doogs take a pamphlet and Gene Ray accepts a complimentary yammukah, which he holds gingerly on his head. They say goodbye and walk across the parking lot to their truck, which seems unlikely to get them home.
“Well, Jim Bob,” the rabbi says expansively as he watches them go. “I think we caught a couple tonight.”
“Good deal, rabbi,” Jim Bob says. “See you tomorrow night.”
“Looking forward to it. I always enjoy our little conversations on comparative religion.”
“Aw shucks,” Embry says. “‘Tain’t comparative religion so much as comparative sociology of religion.”
“Yes, I think that’s a bit more precise,” the rabbi says as he starts to walk off.
“Say–you better fix that front suspension before tomorrow night if you want to win the championship,” Jim Bob calls after him.
“Not to worry,” Silberstein replies. “When I get under that car, I work like a moyel who gets paid by the schlong.“