As a religious man, as a Jew, as a rabbi, I love to confess my sins. Confession relieves my neurotic yearning for perfection and cleanses my soul. Confession reminds me of the cacophony and turmoil which rage on inside me on a constant basis. Confession enables me sometimes to move on, leaving behind a trail of mistakes, infuriating errors of judgment, and conflicts with those I love the most. Oy, am I ever a human being, with size 14 feet of clay!
As a committed environmentalist, I have to confess my sin of automobile addiction. Nothing we do so damages our environment, consumes too much of our natural resources, or undermines our endeavor to preserve Nature. And yet, my sin as an automobile addict continues.
As long as I can remember, I identified myself with my car. Long before I could drive legally, I drew pictures of Jaguars and other British sports cars. I practiced stick shift in my parent’s garage. It was always important to have a cool car, even in my teenage fantasy.
Throughout my 43 years as a congregational rabbi, my car symbolized me. In the New Haven years of my career, I drove a succession of cool cars, with the Connecticut license plate “Rebbe.” In New York, it was a 21 year succession of Datsun/Nissan Z-cars and Toyota Supras with the license plate “Rebbe.” What most endeared me to the teenagers in my congregations were the pictures their parents took of them behind the wheel of the “rebbe-mobile” when they became Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. If they remained involved in Jewish education through Confirmation, I gave them stick shift lessons in the latest edition of the “rebbe-mobile” in the synagogue parking lot after they got their driver’s licenses.
Moving to England for thirteen years suspended the “rebbe-mobile” gig. First, driving such a sports car in London was not viewed by my lay leaders as proper for a rabbi in my position, and second, the British don’t exactly do vanity plates the same way as Americans. Shockingly, to all of my friends who knew of my automobile addiction, I gave up the car that came with the job after my first three years in London. What a liberation! I walked in Central London where I lived and worked. I either took public transit or a taxi or car service to get around. Best of all, when you turn 60 in London, the government gives you a “Freedom Pass,” which grants the right of free passage on all public transit. Talk about British civilization.
Retiring back to America, where there is virtually no public transit most places and where the automobile is everything, I reclaimed my “rebbe-mobile” from my son. My 1994 Toyota Supra with a sportroof had been sitting on his driveway for my entire London sojourn. Reclaiming my “rebbe-mobile” was vital to my repatriation. I even registered it in Delaware, where my son lives and where I could get a “REBBE” vanity plate. In Florida where I live, some other rabbi apparently had stolen my “REBBE” license plate before I got to Florida.
After 2 years of constantly repairing my classic treasured 1994 “rebbe-mobile,” I just sold it to a car collector. I bought myself a more normal car, a Lexus IS250 convertible in Harvard Crimson red, no less. “REBBE..M” is on its way from some state prison. I recently got 32 miles to the gallon on a round trip to Key West on the “overseas highway.” And I did tell the Lexus dealer that I looked forward to buying a plug-in hybrid version of the same car when it comes out. So maybe there’s hope for me yet. I may yet resolve my internal conflict between my environmental values and my automobile addiction.