Where do I begin really?
The beginning I guess, right?
I remember living in Midwood and walking past MB Vineyards and glancing in the window and seeing–gasp–another Black Jew. From then on things get fuzzy until a Facebook exchange about some topic or another–probably one of Yitz Jordan’s statuses–and we got to talking. Occasionally I’d post my blogs to his page, but nothing more than that.
And then I decided–since I knew where he worked, after all–to finally meet the man face-to-face. We had a good talk, a little bit of a laugh, and that was it.
Then April came. He had a project he wanted to work on with me and to give him a call. He was writing his book and wanted me to contribute a chapter to it as a Black Jew who was an ffb as an addition to his experiences as someone who came to Judaism from another way of life.
And that’s when everything changed.
I’d be by the store more often, especially for the wine tastings that would happen Thursday nights. I went by his place after lunch for Shabbat and we’d spent the rest of the day together, usually outside in his backyard where we would proceed to drink McIvor’s scotch until it was time formincha. A scotch which, by the way, he hated. But I was his Shabbat guest, so he’d buy it AND drink it with me because he knew I liked it. And we’d spend those afternoons talking about how we’d change the world. The Black world. The Jewish world. The Jewish world of color.
Because Yoseph Robinson got it.
He was a proud Jew AND a proud Jamaican, and he never forgot or let you forget either one. He understood that we as Jews of Color couldn’t afford to have “only one” syndrome, and that individuals we stood no chance. We’d only change things if we stood together. And he was keen on using every situation and occurrence and advantage towards the end of getting our voice and our message heard.
Then I moved. To Mill Basin. I.e., about 70 blocks away. And so we had to stop our Shabbat afternoon tete a tetes. We used to joke that my parents thought I was having too much fun over at Yoseph’s so they moved us all the way across the borough.
“But we’re just getting started!,” we both laughed once. “Why did you move NOW! Why’d we wait so long to start hanging out!”
It DID seem like the universe was conspiring against us. After all, I’d been living in Midwood for 15 years, Yoseph for 3, and JUST when we each found someone who so totally understood where the other was coming from, we got separated. So what happened next?
I ended up at the liquor store more. Which is how, in July, I met Lahavah. Yet another Facebook friend I’d had for a while but never talked to. Mostly because her profile picture looked less like her and more like a gremlin who’d been hit in the face with a shovel. But that’s a story for another time. Lol.
As it turned out, Lahavah had just met Yoseph a couple days before, coming into the store looking for a bottle of Absolut Brooklyn.
And that’s when everything changed again.
The three of us were a crew. A unit. Like the Three Musketeers.
I’d come down from Mill Basin and stop at Lahavah’s job, kick the breeze with her for a few [usually Yoseph would call while I was there], then I’d head the couple blocks down to Yoseph’s store, kick the breeze with him for a few [usually Lahavah would call while I was there], then I’d head down to the Brooklyn College campus, manage my websites and blogs, and when I was done I’d head back up to Yoseph’s, Lahavah would join us after she got off work, and we’d eat lunch [sometimes something Lahavah had cooked, sometimes not], order dinner, and pretty much stay with each other for hours–sometimes until closing–eating, drinking, laughing, debating, arguing, fighting, smoking, and drinking some more.
That would be our pattern for three or four days out of the week. And for Shabbat I’d sleep over at Yoseph’s and then we’d both walk over to Lahavah’s for lunch. Which usually involved the only kosher Jamaican patties you
will ever find in New York. Home cooked. The patties would usually last us into the week and we’d start the cycle again.
The liquor store became a hub where I’d invite my friends to introduce them to Yoseph and network even. We’d laugh about the irony of people walking into a kosher liquor store and finding a bunch of Black Jews hanging there all the time and the irony of the liquor store being where Black Jews came to meet each other. Apparently even when there’s Jew in the Black, you can’t take the Black out of the Jew.
We were like a well oiled machine, the three of us, who felt like we’d always been friends, despite the fact that we’d really actually known each other for less than a month. But we all knew each other’s buttons and how to get at each other in the way it usually takes people YEARS to figure out.
And then Thursday nights–because we were all ALWAYS there together on Thursday nights–we’d make plans together for Shabbat. Except for one.
I was in a cab with friends in the city when I got the call. It was Lahavah. From the precinct. She was crying.
“There was a robbery at the liquor store. They shot Yoseph. He didn’t make it. He’s gone.”
I looked at the phone in silence all the way uptown while my friends chattered next to me, unaware.
I didn’t believe it. This was worst practical joke in the world, right? Yoseph was gone? Nah…nah, this was a joke.
I didn’t believe it. But I knew I had to to get back to Brooklyn as soon as possible. As I headed home, I bumped into the friend who’d invited me out, the one reason I wasn’t at the store that day–another JOC, no less.
“There was a robbery and they shot Yoseph. He didn’t make it.”
“But Yoseph is still alive right?”, he asked. He didn’t want to believe it either.
“No.” I forced myself to say.
But I still didn’t fully believe it myself. Not until on the 2 train at 34th, in that weird spot where you can get reception, when I got a call from Yitz did I know it had to be true.
The liquor store was on my way home. It was 1:45 in the morning when I got there. People were still standing on the corners. The block was taped off. Police lights were flashing. Forensics were dusting off the glass. And I knew he was really gone.
I went home that night. Pulled out every bottle of liquor I had stashed that I’d ever gotten from Yoseph–including that scotch he hated. And I sat in my backyard and had some last drinks with my friend on the night when that’s what we would’ve been doing the most. And all the while his cup sat next to me. But I knew he’d never come to finish it.
Yoseph was always a giving man. Selfless. I remember a time when two customers came into the store. One of them was talking about how he needed carfare to get to his girlfriend but didn’t have any. They weren’t even talking to Yoseph. But when the customer paid for his liquor, Yoseph opened the register and gave the customer’s friend $2.25.
“Here’s your carfare”, he said. Because that’s the kind of guy he was.
In fact, I came down to the store the day he died, as I always did. I told him I was headed for the city that night instead of hanging at the store as usual. We talked a little, laughed a little, discussed the shoot we were going to film the next day for the Punk Jews documentary. I asked him to spot me $5 for food and I’d pay him tomorrow when I came to pick up the wine for Shabbat. He gave me a 10.
And that was the last time I saw him alive.
You, my good man, were one of the best. And I’ll miss you my friend. I promise you.
After all, you owe me a race. You’re not getting away with all that trashtalk.