Wearing a beard is not rare in the trucking industry, except when it is accompanied by a kippah and tzitzit. But Salford based Moshe Rothstein, known as Mozzi to his trucker colleagues, says he had nothing less than a friendly welcome to the trade since getting behind the wheel last June.
“It’s not hard to be Jewish and work for a proper company. I tell them when I can’t work because of a festival or I have to leave early on a Friday and they don’t ask any questions. Often I end up explaining about Shabbos and they are impressed with our day off,” says Rothstein.
Night shifts allow Rothstein – believed to be Britain’s only strictly Orthodox truck driver – to volunteer for Chaverim by day, a free service run by on-call Charedi volunteers who help in household emergencies ranging from a flat battery to being locked out of the home. His skills came in handy when he helped a colleague who had locked himelf out of his lorry.
“I got out my car kit and had the lorry open in five minutes. They really respected me after that.”
He adds: “One of the guys who trained me was wearing a Magen David. Apparently his grandmother on his father’s side was Jewish. He took me under his wing for the first few days and showed me the ropes,” reports Rothstein. “I was shocked myself how friendly people are. They respect me as much as anyone else.
“I’m not saying there is no antisemitism in the world, but no-one should hide they are Jewish. I think Jewish people are a bit too paranoid,” he adds.
The 26-year-old Chabad member studied for 7 years in yeshivot in Israel and Australia. But he gained a taste for driving large vehicles as a Chabad emissary driving buses on an American summer camp and ferrying tourists to a kosher hotel in the French Alps.
And after returning to his native north Manchester roots three years ago he decided his office would be a 44-tonne, 55-foot heavy goods vehicle. It comes complete with a built-in iPod connection which he uses to listen to Torah classes to keep up his studies. Two folding beds store conveniently away making enough space to stand and daven the Amida prayer while stopping on a nine-hour night shift in which he can cover 500 miles.
At Xmas time he joins other drivers who rig up festive lights inside their cabins, except for Mr Rothstein a giant electric menorah adorns his window.
“I learn Chumash, Tehillim (Psalms) and Tanya (the main Chassidic writing of Chabad), while I wait for my truck to be loaded. I have never had a problem with people asking me what I’m doing.
“But I stopped off at a service station to daven minchah recently. Some Jewish people watched me get into my cab and their mouths dropped open,” says Mr Rothstein, who described how he also stunned Charedi neighbours when parking his truck at his parents’ home in Salford’s Broughton Park.
“People look at it as a down-and-out job, but the people I work with are respectable with families. Down and outs can’t afford to get the licence.”
After completing training, which cost him £2,000, he works for a major distributor of well-known beer labels in Preston, Lancashire.
“I remember the first day on the job. When you’ve got £50,000 worth of beer and one little mistake could lose you your job and cause havoc on the roads it makes you concentrate. But now I’m not nervous and really enjoy it.”
Although not married Rothstein says that he is “hoping to settle down one day”. Referring to the night shifts he says: “I’ll give up the job if my wife didn’t want to be married to a truck driver.”