Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Short change

Posted on: August 11, 2022

On a rainy night in September 1996, I emerged from Baker Street Station and sought a taxi. Almost immediately, a taxi driver pulled over next to me. Rejoicing in my luck, I opened the passenger door but an elderly, myopic gentleman swept past me and settled himself on the leather seat. I had intended to give him the kind of hard stare which Paddington Bear perfected, but noticed something unexpected about the man. He was Rabbi Albert Friedlander.

I said ‘Rabbi, I’m going to the same place as you. Can we share this taxi?’

Courteously he indicated assent and I got in, sitting opposite him on one of the drop down seats. I was on my way to a graduation ceremony at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, to be awarded a masters degree from Leo Baeck College where Rabbi Friedlander was the Dean. I mentioned this and he insisted kindly on paying my fare, ‘as a graduation present’.

My parents, my partner, zichrono livracha, and some of my children had piled into a car and headed to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, to see me graduate, but there wasn’t room for all of us and I was best suited to make alternative travel arrangements.

At the synagogue, I went into the ad hoc robing room, where gowns but not mortar boards, were laid out on tables. I found I was among the hocher fensters, distinguished academics and clergy, about to be honoured with honorary degrees and professorships. I recognized Rabbi Louis Jacobs and saw the director of my college, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Magonet, as well as the college librarian and renowned author, Hyam Maccoby. The engineer and scientist Professor Ludwik Finkelstein was there to collect another masters’ degree to add to his qualifications.

There was a problem in finding a robe short enough for me, which I remembered had been the case when I graduated at Manchester University. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not Tyrion Lannister. I was five foot two; perhaps now five foot one and a half with the passing of the years. Most of the people in the robing room were men but, as the photo above shows, there were some women graduating, and some rabbinical students were picking up degrees on the road to semicha (ordination).

The robes were turquoise blue, the masters degrees being awarded under the auspices of the Open University.

Attired in one of the smaller robes, I joined the procession of graduands as we lined up to receive our certificates from the Dean of Leo Baeck College. I was glad that I hadn’t said ‘Beat it, old man,’ when he took my taxi, but there had never been any danger of that.

I didn’t even know how to be rude, until the age of Twitter.


3 Responses to "Short change"

Fantastic story and Mazeltov for then. My much missed mother-in-law lied to us all; she told everyone she was 5’0″, but the hospital confirmed she was 4’11”!

What a lovely story. Amazing that he should jump into your taxi. Thank you.

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