"Like Lightning in the Dark"

Dec 19, 2011

The spirit of giving infuses the holiday season. But essayist Leslie Guttman found some giving comes unscheduled, prompted by unusual and unforeseen events. This is a story about a star and a bolt of lightning, and what happened after they met. 

It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning reached out and struck the six-cornered Star of David that stood atop Temple Adath Israel. The stone exploded into a few big pieces and a thousand little pieces.

Temple Adath Israel has been in Lexington for over 100 years and on Ashland Avenue for more than 80. For the first time since anyone could remember, it was a temple without a star. 

The temple started investigating how to replace the star … but for one reason or another, a series of obstacles prevented timely replacement. 

Meanwhile, a phone call was made to Emanuel Gilpin over at Gilpin Masonry. Emanuel, known around the Bluegrass as Gil, had done some work on the temple a few years earlier, and the temple thought he’d know what kind of material the star had been made of. Concrete, for example, might be too heavy. 

Gil is in his early 50s and grew up in Lexington, attending Ashland Baptist Church.  At that time, his church was down the street from the temple.  Gil remembers his mom telling him about neighborhoods in the 1940s and 1950s that would put up big signs saying “NO JEWS.” 

On the phone, Gil identified the fallen star as being made of Indiana limestone. The call ended and that was that. 

But it wasn’t. 

After the phone call, for two mornings in a row, Gil woke up in bed with a strong feeling that he should be the one to replace the star. Something said to him: You should fix this.

Gil told me: “It was as simple or as complicated as that. I don’t usually wake up with those kind of impressions on my mind. I told my wife, ‘I feel we should donate this.’ ”

The largest piece of the broken star now sat in a temple member’s garden. Gil came and measured, figured out the new dimensions, and drove two and half hours to an Indiana quarry, where a craftsman carved a new star. It cost a couple thousand dollars. 

I met Gil at a Friday night Shabbat service when he was honored for replacing our star. He and his wife sat in the front pew, looking shy. Later he told me that although he was honored to be there, he also felt like a hillbilly. He’d never been to a Jewish service before.

Jewish people are still a minority in Central Kentucky: maybe 25-hundred people out of a population of 250,000. The discrimination and anti-Semitism Gil’s mom told him about doesn’t exist anymore, but scraps remain, mostly from lack of knowledge. It can be in passing, like people using the phrase “Jew you down,” when referring to bargaining, or scheduling major work events on our High Holy Days. When stuff like that happens, even if unintentional, it hurts. 

While Gil doesn’t think what he did was a big deal, his action took away a big chunk of that hurt for me, in the way a drop of food coloring will transform a glass of water. Other people I know at the temple felt the same way. 

This story with Gil happened a few years ago, and since then it feels like the news has gotten even worse about divisiveness in our country and intolerance on our planet. 

But maybe what's just as true is that on quiet unobtrusive streets, ordinary people wake up in the morning with ideas they’ve never had before that end up connecting their communities. Like lightning in the dark, they illuminate everything around them. 

Leslie Guttman lives on a quiet street in Lexington.  You can see video produced by Leslie at our website…weku-dot-fm.  She’s author of “Equine E-R: Stories From a Year in the Life of an Equine Veterinary Hospital.