We met by happenstance on the afternoon of Dec. 23, the first day of Chanukah in 2019.
As I approached the station’s cash register to pay for the gas I had already pumped, I saw that the man behind the counter was seriously occupied with paperwork. I paid him, and he handed me my change, saying, “Merry Christmas!”
“And a Merry Christmas to you,” I said, as is my way on those occasions.
At the door, about to leave, I had a wait-a-minute moment. I returned to the man and asked, “Are you a Christian?”
“I am a Muslim,” he replied.
“And I am a Jew,” I said, and the two of us stood shaking hands, smiling and laughing probably the biggest laugh either of us would have all day, perhaps all week.
A short time later, seated behind the wheel and about to start my car, I heard a tapping on a window. My new mate, now bound to me by laughter and more, was asking me to wait a moment, and I did.
He entered the gas station and then returned, and through the open passenger-side window he handed me a nine-ounce box of Russel Stover chocolates. “Happy Chanukah!” he said.
I would, if I could, add an insightful lesson to the story. Something extraordinary was built there, something of the soul, a something not obscure to me, yet the name for it eludes me.
Whatever we call it, it binds so very many American Muslims and Jews; it rebels against Charlottesville and bigotry and assaults and hatred of the other. And it does so with acts and words of kindness.
I offer prayers of thanks for it. It is a wonderful gift.
Joe Dailey, who is retired from teaching communication at Carroll University, is a member of Congregation Emanu-El of Waukesha. He has served on the synagogue board and taught in Sunday school.