Jerry Gordon's Car Kippah

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
jerry gordon s car kippah

If you have any kind of tribal affiliation, you probably have the experience of spotting signs of others who might have the same affiliation. Deadheads will spot a dancing bear decal on a VW bus and car enthusiasts, no different, will note a track decal on a coworker’s bumper. That’s how I found out about Jerry Gordon’s car kippah.

A kippah, also known as a yarmulke or a skull cap, is the small head covering religious Jewish men wear to showtheir respect for God’s omnipresence. While it’s not a biblical commandment and as far as I can determine it has no basis in scripture, a man covering his head is one of a number of Jewish traditions that was embraced so long ago that it epitomizes the rabbinic idiom, minhag Yisrael k’dat hu, a tradition of Israel is like religious law. Tevye wasn’t kidding about Jews and tradition. We take that stuff seriously. I may fight with God on a regular basis, another old Jewish tradition, but I’ve worn some kind of head covering, a Kangol style cap, a baseball cap or a fedora since I was a teen.

I suppose “men who wear hats” is another one of those tribes. As someone who owns two Stetson Sovereign Temples in black (my opinion is that Stetsons are every bit as good as the twice as expensive Borsalinos) and a recently acquired grey Selentino made in the Czech Republic that’s just a little more casual than my black hats, I’ll compliment someone on their haberdashery.

I’ll get back to hats in a second but let me digress. Have you ever known, or even done business with a professional career car salesman? Sure, they’re rare, but the ones who are good are really good. Joe Girard was a legend around Detroit and ended up in the Guinness Book of records after selling 13,001 cars in just 15 years. A guy or gal has to know what they’re doing to do that. Ask our reader Buickman. I get the impression that the best car salesman stay at the same store for years.s. The two times that I bought brand new cars were both from older, experienced car salesmen. No bullshit guys who knew that getting you the best deal was the route to making them the most money.

Jerry Gordon was one of those pros. A lifelong salesman who eventually gravitated to car, he ended up retiring from the Grossinger group of car dealers in the Chicago area. Maybe I liked him because he reminded me of my father. People who knew my dad would tell me, after he died, how much they loved him. I recently asked Jerry’s widow, Arlene, if she ever gets tired of hearing how people loved her husband, and she said, “Never!” I know exactly how she feels.

Speaking of never, I never bought a car from Jerry. I don’t live in Chicago and never have, but my cousin Gary went to podiatry school there, met and married Jerry’s daughter Cheryl there, and they settled down in Skokie. I use a lot of words but I can’t say enough about what wonderful people Gary and Cheryl are. Most of the times I’ve worked the Chicago Auto Show, I’ve stayed with them, not in a hotel. Sweet and generous people who go out of their way to be nice. Jerry was like that too. He died much too young.

Gary and Cheryl’s youngest child, Scott, is getting married this weekend to a girl from New Jersey and the wedding is in Teaneck. It’s an orthodox Jewish wedding and since it’s being held on Sunday, with lots of out of town guests from both Chicago and Detroit, logistics meant that many of the folks from the groom’s side came in on Thursday or Friday and then spent the Sabbath in a hotel in Fort Lee.. With that many observant Jews, it made sense to hold religious services in one of the hotel halls.

Showing up on time has never been one of my strong suits and as I found a seat in the back row after Friday evening services had already begun, I noticed that the slightly grey haired gentleman sitting in front of me was wearing a black leather kippah that had been embellished with colorful cars hand painted around the border, along with the word Zaida, one of the Yiddish variants for grandfather. Remember what I said about indicators of tribal affiliation? I know what it means when a guy has a dancing bear on his kippah and the same is true of cars. I thought to myself, “Cool, a car guy. We have something in common.”

Isn’t it amazing how the human mind works? I’m sitting in a makeshift synagogue in a room filled with Jews like myself, people that know many of the same people that I know, attending the same wedding, many of whom are related either by blood or by marriage and I’m thinking that the fact that the guy has cars on his hat gives us something in common? Go figure.

During the short break between the afternoon and evening liturgies, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked about the kippah. It turns out that it was Cheryl’s brother Lee and that we had something else in common. He’s a writer and editor in the sports department of the Chicago Tribune, responsible for all their published stats.

Lee told me that the kippah was originally his father’s, a gift from Arlene 36 years ago after the birth of their first grandchild. Cars weren’t just Jerry’s way to make a living, he was a genuine car guy. I remember talking cars with him at family celebrations. Lee told me that his mom gave him his dad’s yarmulke, but only after he himself had become a grandfather. Call me sentimental but I think that’s charming.

The car hobby has its clones and replicas of significant automobiles. Lee told me that the kippah he was wearing was actually a ‘clone’ car kippah, a reproduction that he had had made after he thought he’d lost the original. I can understand just a little how he must have felt. One year when working the NAIAS, I thought, for about 20 minutes, that I’d lost the famous autographed bag. It turned out that my son had left it in the car but I was already going through the stages of grief by the time he told me. The same was true with Lee and his dad’s beanie, though, obviously, a family artifact is more important then Carroll Shelby and Richard Petty’s autographs. Lee Gordon already had commissioned the reproduction when, a week after losing it, he found it between some couch cushions. Appropriately it had fallen there when he’d been playing with his grandkids. The image at the top of this post is of the original.

To preserve that original, he usually wears the reproduction, saving Jerry’s actual car kippah for special events, like his nephew’s wedding. Lee was wearing another piece of family art during the weekend, a necktie dye sublimated with photographs of his grandchildren. I told him that some day one of his descendants will be wearing both his tie and his father’s kippah and he smiled. Cue Tevye.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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