April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Behar: The Barracuda • Vayikra: 25: 8-14

Harold Dworkin loved cars.

It is a very American thing, to love your automobile, and of course it is oh so materialistic, but Harry didn’t have a problem with it. He just plain adored cars. As a child he read Road and Track and Motor Trend with a fervor his parents wished he would have applied to his school work. His grandfather marveled how a 5-year-old could recognize every car model on the road by name. By age 12 he could tell you their engine type and horsepower without popping the hood. At 17, Harry saved all his money to buy an old, beat-up Chevrolet Camaro for a few hundred dollars, and then he spent his entire senior year of high school trying to keep it running.

Harry took pride in what he drove. He had a Toyota Camry in his driveway to commute to work, and half of his two-car garage housed his wife Sheila’s Dodge minivan. But in the other bay of the garage he stored his “baby.” It was a 1971 vintage Plymouth Barracuda convertible in canary yellow with a racing stripe down the side. It was a four-speed automatic with eight cylinders, a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine and 425 horsepower. Its motor made a rumbling noise that made Harry smile like nothing else, and when you put the car in gear and pushed your foot down on the gas pedal, it gave you a sensation that could only be matched by a space shuttle launch.

The ‘Cuda was mostly driven by Harry on the weekends, on joy rides around the winding roads of northern Bergen County, and once a year he would drive it in the Bergenfield Memorial Day Parade (usually behind Rosco Lodato’s ‘68 Corvette and in front of Ricky Levine’s ’74 El Dorado). In the parade, Harry would drive down New Bridge Road and beam like a proud father, while his kids, whom he had forced to come along, sat in the back seat, crouching down and trying to hide from their friends and neighbors.

Harry rarely loaned out the Barracuda, but one beautiful Sunday in May, he was in a magnanimous mood.

“David, come over here,” he said to his oldest son.

“Yeah, Dad.

Harry tossed David the keys.

“Why don’t you take her for a spin?”

“Really?” David had only driven the Barracuda once before, and that was with his father in the passenger seat, biting his nails the whole trip.

“Why not?”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Sure I’m sure,” Harry said, tousling his son’s hair. “Go have a good time. Maybe take Tammy along.”

“Dad!”

“Sorry. Just go have fun. Try to be back in a few hours.”

David knew not to give his father a chance to reconsider. He dashed to the garage, backed the Barracuda out ever so slowly, under his father’s watchful eye, and he was gone.

The call came about an hour later. Harry was sitting in the backyard reading the New York Times when Sheila walked up with the cordless phone. One look at her ashen face, and Harry knew what it was about. He took the phone.

“What happened?”

“It was an accident,” David said. The other guy ran a stop sign on Graphic Boulevard. I didn’t see him coming.”

“Are you O.K.?”

“I, I’m fine. Just a little shaken up.”

“O.K.  don’t worry. You’re the important thing. How’s the Barracuda?”

“It’s bad.”

“How bad?”

“Bad.”

“Oy.” There was a long pause on the phone. “I’ll be right there.”

Harry jumped into his Toyota and drove to the scene of the accident. Scenes of former fun drives in his Plymouth kept flashing through his head. He pictured himself on Skyline Drive on a beautiful fall afternoon, with Sheila by his side. The leaves were changing colors on the trees and the Beach Boys were playing on the car stereo. Good times.

When Harry pulled up, the police were still there, and David was sitting on the back bumper of the Barracuda, staring into space. Harry gave his son a big hug. Then he looked at his car.

The Barracuda had been struck broadside by a large Ford SUV. The Ford had a few scratches on the bumper, but the Barracuda had definitely seen better days. The passenger side door was crushed into something that looked like a bright yellow potato chip. The front wheel was resting at an angle that suggested significant axle damage. There was also most likely damage to the car’s chassis. David was right. It was bad.

Harry smiled at David. “That’s the way the cookie bounces,” he said to his son with a shrug.

“That’s it?” David asked, expecting the eruption of a paternal storm.

“That’s it,” Harry said. “Let’s see about getting a tow truck and hauling her back to the body shop. Maybe she can be salvaged. But to be honest, I kind of doubt it.”

“Wow, Dad, you’re being so cool about this. I was sure you were going to kill me.”

“Well, I can’t say I’m pleased that the car is wrecked, but it really wasn’t your fault. Besides, these things happen.”

“But Dad, that was your baby. I can’t believe you’re taking this so well.”

“David, my boy, you’re my baby. You, Tova and Michal. You’re the only babies I have. And the Barracuda? That’s just a car. A really nice car, I admit, but underneath it all, it’s just rubber, glass and metal.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything. You just have to appreciate what’s important, David. In this week’s parsha, Behar, the Torah tells us about shnat hayovel, the jubilee year. On that 50th year, all land returns to its original ancestral owners, and all land transactions are nullified. Slaves go free, and all debts are forgiven. I think Hashem is trying to tell us that we shouldn’t get carried away with our possessions. Essentially God owns everything, and we just borrow it temporarily. So, my Barracuda? It was a rental, from God.”

“Very profound, Dad.”

“Thanks.”

“So what are you going to do on Sundays now that your convertible is trashed?”

“I was thinking that with the insurance money, I might buy myself that ‘69 GTO I had my eye on.”

“Hard top or convertible?”

“Soft top, with a 400 engine and whitewall tires.”

“Sweet.”

“You know it.”

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and author of the parsha story blog Themaggidofbergenfield.org

By Larry Stiefel

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