As some of you may know, I have taken lately to selling my life on the installment plan. That is, I am writing short memoirs of episodes in my life for the wonderful magazine called Common Ties.
The most recent is The Kindest Cut of All, where I describe a very unusual circumcision in which I participated. Have a gander.
What set me off today was a story by author Beverly Carol Lucey. It is yet another shallow rehash of a Jewish childhood without a Jewish education, a ubiquitous genre of surpassing superficiality.
In response, I sent this letter:
Much as I hate to be critical, I really don’t get this at all.
It seems to be the story line should have been: Hi, my parents took me to an Orthodox synagogue as a kid, but they were too cheap or too short-sighted to send me to a Jewish school. Pressing, I discovered they were ignorant themselves and oddly at peace with their ignorance.
One day I woke up and asked myself: wait a second, isn’t Judaism a 3300 year old philosophical system that changed mankind? Wasn’t King David the most powerful poet who ever lived - and writing that poetry 1000 years before anyone else? Aren’t there 24 books in the Bible that have fascinated billions of people through the ages and inspired most of the great art and science in history? Aren’t there 20 volumes of Talmud explicating the laws taught briefly in the Bible, including an entire civil law system still active today in Rabbinical courts? Isn’t this a religion that prophesied its people would retake its land at the end of history despite the land being desolate and the people dirt poor, and then amazingly, astonishingly, that occurred? Aren’t there Jewish schools from k-12, followed by Jewish seminaries and colleges; they must be learning something more than what to mumble in Hebrew at which cue? Why does Hebrew feel dead to me when in fact it is the most miraculous language, the only language in history to be revived as the spoken language of a country after over 2000 years? A language that in its revival has been rich enough to breed an entire new generation of evocative poetry and beautiful songwriting, both religious and secular? Could it be possible that a religious system that sustained a nation of brilliant, talented people through 2000 years of exile and poverty is nothing more than a few Hebrew mumbles and bad trumpet blowing?
I concluded that my relatives were neglecting their heritage and stifling mine. I dropped what I was doing and went to Israel to study Judaism intensively for four years. I was amazed to discover an entire body of thought and law, a philosophy of life, a mission of great purpose. Having used energy and intelligence in this diligent investigation I am now prepared to intelligently opine that… x. Whatever x may be: I love it, I like it, I hate it, I’m indifferent to it.
Instead we get this. No one taught me why. They didn’t even know why. So I walked. And I have a vague idea that what I left was probably flawed. But for a minute there it gave me a warm feeling. And that’s kinda cool.