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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is a master storyteller. Many of his stories are drawn from his own experiences. But on his recent trip to South Africa, he had one experience I doubt he’ll be sharing anytime soon, which is why I feel duty-bound to share it myself.
by SIMON APFEL | Aug 02, 2018

Last Monday, the day after Tisha B’Av, I received an urgent message from a friend saying that the rabbi was desperate for a game of squash while he was in South Africa. Would I be able to meet him at the Zulberg family’s private squash court?

Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, unaware that I was the seventh person this friend had asked. I rushed from work, knocked on the door of the house, went through the lounge and living room and down some stairs and around a long winding passageway. Suddenly I found myself bathed in fluorescent light, standing on a beautiful maple wood court deep in the bowels of Château de Zulberg.

The great rabbi was warming up, and greeted me with a wide smile and beaming eyes. I’m no championship squash player, but he knew I was doing him a solid. I then realised two things simultaneously. The first was that I was still in my work clothes. The second that there was no change room. A third, horrific realisation quickly followed…

Firstly, some background. As I said it was the day after the fast of Tisha B’Av, which is the culmination of the “nine days”, a period of mourning for the ancient Temple in Jerusalem during which, among other restrictions, it’s forbidden to do laundry.

I normally plan it to perfection and have just enough clothing to get me through the nine days. This year, however, because Tisha B’Av fell on Shabbat, the fast was pushed out to Sunday, with the result that the nine days were actually ten. Which is just an extremely long-winded way of saying that on Monday 23 July 2018, for the first time I can remember, I wasn’t wearing underpants.

I’d already unpacked my bag, my shorts were lying on the top. If I’d opted not to get changed at this stage, it would have been painfully obvious and embarrassing that I was avoiding getting changed. I decided to take the plunge.

I took my sweet time over my shirt, but I knew I was just delaying the inevitable. The pants came off. Sometimes, there’s some kind of coverage from the shirt, but alas, this wasn’t one of those times. In my desperation to expedite the process, I missed the hole for the leg, and for a few mortifying moments, I was hopping around the court stark naked from the waist down.

At this point, Rabbi Teller ceased his warm-up and out of the corner of my eye I saw him look up to see what all the commotion was about. If I’d made eye contact at this stage, it would have been the end. Of everything. Ditto if I’d tripped and fallen on the floor. I steadied myself on the adjoining wall, and finished getting dressed.

If he’d noticed the horror show taking place on court, he didn’t let on, and the game progressed pleasantly enough. Of course, he was awful, even for a beginner, but that was of no consequence, and at one stage I’d even recovered enough dignity and self-composure to offer him a few tips on technique. By the end of the game, we were getting on so well that I took the opportunity to ask whether I could interview him for a podcast. He graciously acceded.

We recorded Rabbi Teller the next morning, and now it was his turn to be opportunistic. He asked me whether I’d be keen for a follow up game that evening. I politely declined. I’d seen enough of him. More to the point, he’d seen enough of me.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Devin 05 Aug
    reat story. So funny. You do realise that you can wash underwear during the nine days. Rabbi Teller is a world class squash player. You probably just flustered him...

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