Non-fiction writers: You’re stuck in an elevator with a person from your past.
Oh that dreaded moment–having to get on an elevator! I had to ride up to meet with my new shink on the 28th floor of the newest building in town–the amber hippopotamus. I tried to get on so as to ride alone, but, just as I was closing the door with the button a hand and “wait!!” stopped the elevator.
An old man got on He looked very familiar. Then I looked…for sure, he was very well-preserved for his age–it couldn’t be!!! He must be 100! Well, almost. It was the rabbi!
The rabbi. From my past. That refused to give me a Bar Mitzvah. I decided to say nothing at all–what could I say? It would make it uncomfortable for both of us. I watched him get off the elevator–floor 26–Law Offices–and I rode on up to the head shrinkers.
I could not stop thinking of him even through my therapy session. Did he know how he ruined my young life? Did he know how he had alienated me from God at the time and had probably led to my adolescent rebellions? Had he know I felt like a failure, all washed up at 17 and my highest goal had been to be a damn GROUPIE–until the perps had even taken THAT away? Did he know that as a last-ditch effort to save myself from complete madness and suicide I converted to Christianity? Of course not–he didn’t know. When he sent me out of his office disappointed at 17 when I tried to get a late Bar Mitzvah he never knew. He was gone in a few years to greener pastures. He hadn’t even remembered my sister’s “perfect” Bar Mitzvah when she did the WHOLE SERVICE flawlessly.
How disappointed she’d seemed! The senile old bastard! Not remember ME? Well those weren’t her words as “miss perfect” never cussed around those she wanted to deceive into her apparent perfection. That was 20 years ago–a lifetime–and here HE was.
I got on the elevator to do down after my appointment, pushed “1” but the elevator stopped at 26. HE got on again. I slunk to the back of the car and pushed myself against the wall.
“Nice day isn’t it?” ashed the Good Rabbi
“Um, yes,” I said
“Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“Yes, yes I do. You look very familiar,” insisted the Rabbi, “Where do I know you from?”
“I dunno, I probably just look like someone you knew,” I evaded.
“No, no, no you are…yes you are, Hannah Rosanschweitz.”
“Hi,” I was busted
“I always wondered what happened to you!” he gushed exitedly
The elevator stopped and we got out. All of a sudden Rabbi Schwartz grabbed my arm and pulled me into the coffee shop on the first floor.
“Get whatever you want,” he ordered, “I’ll pay.”
How generous of you I thought, you ruin my life and I get a cup of coffee as a consolation prize.
“Just a large coffee,” I said
He got some herb tea.
“So how did it turn out?” he asked me when we sat down.
“What turn out?” I mumbled
“Your life, of course,” he said.
“Guess how it turned out,” I said with hostility in my voice.
“I cannot guess, I’m not God. Well let me tell you about my life,”
He went through the litany of his accomplishments, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc…He was now a Torah Teacher and did public speaking. He was recently widowed and was sought after by lots of old ladies not all of them his faith.
“So, nu???” he asked.
“There’s really nothing,” I said.
“You are married?” he asked.
“What do you do?”
He looked at me oddly and I thought he might take off then but he peered at me and slowly asked,
“Do you believe in God?”
“Yes,” the answer that got the Columbine girl killed.
“That’s great! What Congregation do you attend?”
“You should find one. No use not having a shul to go to.”
“I converted to Christianity.”
I expected him to at least look disappointed, but he smiled and said, “Mazel Tov.”
“Huh?” now I was really mixed up and a bit irritated growing onto annoyance.
“Yes, Hannah, It was the point all along,”
“I don’t get it,”
He started what turned out to be a very long story, indeed. To this day, I think I must have dreamed it or had one of those hallucinations that the Dr. insists I must have and I the ti insist I don’t have.
“You were the only kid in the whole Cheder that showed any evidence of having a real soul and I wasn’t going to mess that up. Sure, I could have pushed you through your Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation Class, but I wanted you to find God for yourself not become a brain dead drone otherwise known as the assimilated “cultural Jew” with not enough spirituality to fill my Grandma’s thimble.”
“I CONVERTED, I did not become a better Jew,” I insisted
“Well, I guess you could’ve popped into the closest Chabad House and became a Super Jew–that might have done.”
“I DIDN’T I’m a fundamentalist Christian,” I said, getting very frustrated.
He paused, took a drink of tea and said, “Let me tell you something, I was not born Jewish. I was born into a Holiness church. My father was the pastor. We were a radical church, we handled snakes, spoke in tongues, had services that ran all day, and more rules than the “Orthos”. I was considered gifted. I was going to succeed my father as pastor one day. I rebelled. I could not handle the pressure–leading that flock deep in the Kentucky hills. After getting beat by my father for a tiny infraction, I ran. I was almost big enough to beat him anyway. I left Jesus, as well.
“I ran to New York and became a foster child. I ended up with a Jewish family. For some reason, I thought becoming Jewish and a New Yorker would hide me from my family. It worked. I went to Rabbinical School, met a nice Jewish girl, started running a congregation–everything.
“My foster parents adopted me and created a phony Jewish identity for me. Caleb McDonald no longer existed.”
“I was initially excited over Judaism as a “purer” form of serving God and I thought my congregants would be kind, sweet and wise. I looked forward to having long philosophical discussions with the old men and teaching lots of eager students. Boy was I disappointed. Most of my congregants were only superficially Jews with only a few core members who at least went through the motions of religion but had no real soul. The real men and women of God in my shuls I could count on my fingers. Even with the “Jewish revival” in the 1980s there was a whole lot of energy going in but it devolved into cultism and rule following to the extreme.
“The whole Bar Mitzvah thing was a racket. I HATED it. It was merely a way for the kid’s family to show their money off and what a clever little soul dead arrogant brat they had. Kids were future congregants and income, so, I could not shirk my duty…”
“By the time you came along, I was in my middle years as a Rabbi and unhappy. I missed my old faith. I missed Jesus. When I used to pop into the Cheder from time to time I would see you and see the light in your eyes only believers at home had. I saw hope. I would NOT grind you through the “machine” that created responsible Jewish soul dead adults. I was too scared to share Christ with you and get fired from my congregation. I just let you go knowing Jesus would find you. and he DID. You are the only soul I’ve won since I left church.”
My mouth would not close.
He went on, “There, I’ve preached my last sermon. Rabbi Schwartz is now Caleb McDonald again. I plan on being in church the next Sunday. Do you have a church?”
“No I don’t.”
“I’m not surprised. You never fit in. Most churches, like synagogues, are filled with hypocrites today and you can see through the bullshit.”
“My life is no good,” I said.
“Don’t worry, just persevere until the end and you will meet Jesus when He returns. These are the Very End Times. Last night, I prayed to Jesus for the first time in 70 years. His love and forgiveness filled my soul.”
“Caleb McDonald, or Caleb.”
I turned to get a napkin and when I turned back he was gone. I never saw him again. There was a “missing Rabbi” in the paper a few days later. It was on the TV news, then it wasn’t.
When the bombs started to fall the next week, I was not surprised.