Visiting Karen’s parents in Brooklyn was always a joy for Ariel. He loved sitting with his Saba, grandfather, and learning Torah. Being fed one delicious meal after another by his Savta, grandmother, invariably brought a smile to his lips.
Ariel also enjoyed exploring Brooklyn, where Karen and I spent our youth. Bensonhurst, where Karen’s parents live, is adjacent to Boro Park, perhaps the most densely populated Jewish neighborhood in the world. And where there are Jews, there will be hat shops. Many hat shops.
“That’s the problem with Los Angeles,” Ariel once said, “not one store where you can get a good black hat.”
On this trip, Ariel was determined to buy the perfect Shabbos hat.
I drove with Ariel to Boro Park, with a list of hat shops in hand. Ariel did some serious research into hat shops. We shlepped from store to store.
Living in sunny and laid-back California all his life, Ariel was unprepared for the congested streets, the manic hustle and bustle, and the incredibly surly salesmen we ran into.
I quickly learned that not all black hats are created equal. There are wide brimmed-hats, and wider brimmed hats; there are countless shades of black, and the subtlety of brim shapes could easily test the aesthetic eye of the greatest art critic. Each model is associated with a particular “hashkofah” and the sectarian implications are worthy of the pioneering sociologist, Emil Durkheim.
I admit I was thoroughly bewildered. I was also intimidated by the condescending salesmen, who had all the arrogance of snooty Bergdorf’s “sales associates.”
As always, Ariel was shy and exquisitely polite. But even Ariel became frustrated by the shabby treatment we were receiving from these jaded and jagged New Yorkers. And so, in the third store on Ariel’s exhaustive list, Ariel tried on a hat, examined his reflection in the mirror and asked me what I thought.
“Very handsome,” I said.
“Does it look Yeshivish?”
“Nice enough for Shabbos?”
“I think so, but then I’m not really a hat maven.”
Ariel approached the salesman and asked him if this model was the best hat for Shabbos and holidays.
The salesman shrugged and brusquely told Ariel that he was busy with other customers and didn’t have time to answer every little question.
I was about to jump in and tell the salesman to start acting like a mensch. Watching your child being treated so curtly can provoke feelings of homicidal rage in any parent.
But there was steel in Ariel’s calm demeanor. To the rude salesman he said, “Are you interested in making a sale?”
“Well, yes,” stammered the salesman.
“Good, good,” said Ariel, “then would you please tell me if this hat is the most suitable for Shabbos? As you know, it’s a halacha to look your best on Shabbos. So think of this sale as part of a mitzvah.”
Ten minutes later we left the store, hat in hand. Ariel was smiling happily, proud of his new black hat.
And I was smiling, proud of my son.