There’s a Christian Palestinian owner of an auto shop in San Diego with a penchant for Jews. Or is it that Jews have a penchant for him?
Toni’s Five-Star auto shop sits on a busy street in East County of San Diego. This is part of suburban San Diego with love for cowboys, large track-homes and a lot of American flags. It is also home for one of the best wrestling teams in America (the only sport mentioned in the Torah) and to several Jewish Orthodox Synagogues. Toni is a nice guy with a Middle Eastern accent, a bushy black mustache and friendly eyes. Toni hails from Jaffa, Israel and runs the shop with the help of Jimmy, a funny guy from Boston who greets customers with a dry sense of humor from behind the front counter.
Over the years, this Palestinian auto shop became a magnet for Jews in the area. Whether it is the customer service, a good deal or quality work or all of the above, whatever the reason, he is good at providing all three to his customers which include author/start-up guys like me, writers like Rob Weinberg and surprisingly, local Rabbis.
I found out a lot as I chatted with Jimmy while waiting on my oil change. Jimmy is as funny and gregarious as he is plump. To me, he was an older, raunchier and Boston version of Chris Farley. Rob, the columnist for local papers had a white Cuban straw hat on, an unlikely man to banter with Jimmy. Jimmy, a man with 12 children from six women has seen much of the world and tossed insults back and forth with Rob as I filled out information about my car on a small white scratch paper. It seemed as though Jimmy could make a cow feel comfortable in a slaughterhouse.
Jimmy’s boss Toni, came to the states in the seventies at the age of seventeen. He came here because in the sixties Israel was not as fair to Arabs as it is today. At the time Arab Israelis were often barred from education and good jobs, a situation which has drastically changed today. I know, because my cousin, a nurse in Beer Sheva, works for many Arab doctors at his hospital and Toni himself now has many relatives in all parts of social circles in Israel including a cousin with a high-tech company producing artificial heart valves. But back then, to make a life, one often had to leave Israel and so Toni came to San Diego. Funny enough, when he arrive, he first settled in Del Cerro, a very Jewish area at that time.
During my travels I saw this all the time, Jews settling with Arabs and Arabs settling with Jews. Somehow we find that as much as we often hate each-other, we do understand each-other and are much more alike than we care to admit. Our semitic connection is stronger than religion. After all, Christians in Israel were at one time Jews who happened to be the ones who converted first. Toni later moved out of Del Cerro but his connection to Jews did not. Today, his shop is patronized by many rabbis in the area; Jews like to go by word of mouth, so if you make one happy, many more will come.
Toni said that the rabbis trust him. So much so, that they will leave the keys on Friday before Shabbat and come back on Saturday. Toni trusts them as well, knowing that payment on Saturday will not come, but Sunday he’ll be sure to get the payment from the Rabbis, in return for the good work and the good deal.
It shouldn’t be surprising that peace exists in an idyllic place like San Diego. And yet, stories like this still surprise us, maybe because the media really does shape our perceptions such that we only see the conflict, when in reality, the world is far more complex and diverse and generally peaceful. I hope this story will be a reminder that if peace can be here, in sunny San Diego, a place so similar to Tel Aviv, then it can be there as well, in Israel and Palestine.