Shoyn Fargesen

Shoyn Fargesen

Cantor Mandel drives his beloved Morgan.
Cantor Mandel drives his beloved Morgan.

It’s a well-known old joke. Yankev Zlotogorsky is on a ship bound for America, with little knowledge of the English language.

His Yiddish name would be almost impossible for the immigration crews at Ellis Island to understand, so fellow travelers, speaking to him in Yiddish, say: the officer is going to ask you, in English — what is your name? Can you remember those words? What is your name?

Yankev nods, and they give him a new, anglicized name, which he repeats over and over.

Two days later the ship docks at Ellis Island, and when Yankev gets to the immigration officer, he hears, “What is your name?”

Flustered, he smacks his hand on his forehead and exclaims — “Shoyn Fargesen!” (Already I forgot).

The immigration officer looks up and says, “Welcome to America, Sean Ferguson!”

I’ll bet you’re wondering where this old story is going….

It starts back in 1965. As I rode through the streets of Brooklyn on my Suzuki 150, I noticed a guy standing next to a car that had a belt holding down its hood. I asked if he needed help (figuring that if he had to strap down the hood, there must be a problem there). He just smiled and said that the car was a Morgan, and that the bonnet strap was a Morgan feature.

A Morgan and a bonnet strap? Oh yeah, this guy was handing me one helluva line. “Listen,” I said, “I know that I was born at night, but not last night.”

When he stopped laughing, we were speeding down Ocean Avenue with me in the passenger seat, friends from that moment on.

Fast forward 40 years.

This is a more complete view of the Morgan.

I’d been riding motorcycles for most of those years. In August 2004 I was hit, spent almost two months in hospitals, and my family asked that I stop riding. (It was a near-death accident, though the details and injuries are unimportant now).

We started looking for something to take the place of the bikes, and that meant something that could handle back roads and twisties and have the speed and comfort to handle highways as well; I remembered that 1965 Morgan and wondered if the company still existed. My wife, Shelly, and I spent a day just looking at Morgans, and she fell in love with their look and their style.

I was introduced to Scott, a Morgan enthusiast since the ’70s, who started looking around for a car for us. He found a beauty in a suburb of Cleveland. After a few months of deliberation, we flew out. It was beautiful, I bought it, and we drove it back to New Jersey. Driving the Morgan was almost akin to riding a motorcycle, but with four wheels and a body around you.

We drove back roads all over the Northeast, and one weekend Scott invited us to a Morgan owners’ group get-together up in Connecticut.

Shelly and I wondered if we’d be accepted in a Morgan club filled not just with whites but with very white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. This was a good old boys’ car club, so there couldn’t be many (if any) MOTs, but we figured that if I kept my inner “boy from Brooklyn” in check, it’d be fine. (Of course, I wasn’t sure that I could — or would — ever do that, but we went.)

It was a beautiful day, a wonderful ride, and we got to the house of MaryJane and Tom, who greeted us with welcoming, open arms.

The earliest arrivals had surnames like Willoughby, McNichol, and Smith, and Shelly and I just smiled.

A car pulled in, parked right next to us, the driver jumped out and introduced himself: “Hi, I’m Barrie Abrams, and this is my wife, Mara.” The smiles on our faces were palpable.

The next car belonged to Eric and JoAnne Singer, and then Bennett Schulman. It’s amazing, I thought. We’re actually two short of a minyan.

There were lots of laughs, food, and refreshments. Many of the Morgan crew were heading down to the Abrams’ home for a BBQ dinner; we were invited as well.

There was lots of fun riding the back roads down to eastern Westchester County. The Abrams’ home was right on the Sound, and we watched boats sailing by as people told story after story.

Dean Meyer, whom we had just met, told me that he was from southern California. “What do you do for a living?” he asked. “I’m a cantor,” I said. “Wow,” he said. “My significant other, Susan, is Korean, but I’m Jewish.”

Shelly and I were ready to leave when a man walked over to me. A raging Scotsman, by the look of him, the front seats of his Morgan sporting his clan tartan. He introduced himself: “Hi, I’m Sean Henderson. I heard that you are a can-tor,” he said, enunciating both syllables. “Where do you do that?”

I started to explain what a cantor is and where I serve. He interrupted me. “I’m a member of Temple Emmanuel in Manhattan,” he said.

I laughed and must have looked pretty startled (of course thinking that now we had a minyan). “Sean Henderson,” I asked?

“What?” he replied. “You never heard the one about Sean Ferguson??”

Cantor/Rabbi Lenny Mandel, who left the wilds of Manhattan almost 50 years ago and lives in West Orange, has been the hazan at Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson for the past quarter-century.

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