Imagine the entire Holocaust happening between the release of Beverly Hills Cop 1 and Beverly Hills Cop 2 – that’s how fresh the Holocaust was in the world in which I grew up.
On a friend’s recommendation, I went to see the Broadway musical Godspell. I found myself watching Jesus get hoisted on a cross by Judas Iscariot, surrounded by an audience with tears and/or rage in their eyes. At that moment, being the only person in the room with a Kippah on his head…made me stand out. But I forced myself to stay. Because I had never experienced this as a Jew.
I was Jew-bashed, and almost killed, before I had my first thought of becoming a Jew.
Throughout my life, I have always been drawn to great speakers. As a word-lover, I have to keep an eye on this predisposition, the same way a wine-lover must be careful about that second glass.
The secularists and atheists in my life don’t know enough about Judaism to know how big of deal this is, so they tend to look at my journey as a mildly exotic lifestyle choice – like a phase Madonna might go through – before they focus on the real issue at hand: circumcision.
The most recent dream was downright weird and complex. I was confined to a hospital bed, and a doctor gave me an injection. When the “medicine” hit my bloodstream, I sensed something wasn’t Kosher. I asked the doctor: “What did you put in me?” He brushed me off. “Was there pork product in that syringe?” Again, no response. So I grabbed the doctor by his coat, yanked his face closed to mine, and said: “Tell me doc: will that shot kill me now, or in the afterlife?”
The problem with turning the other cheek is: it doesn’t work. Not with bullies. Not even with Catholic school bullies. Because bullies don’t consult the “Good Book” before they do bad things.
My earliest thought of Judaism came in Catholic school, when I cussed out my grade three teacher for being an anti-Semite. I was no Biblical expert at the age of nine, but even my cursory understanding of the Bible told me that Christians had a heck of a lot in common with Jews.
My considerable experience with bad people is: showing weakness to them never, ever works. Not ever. Never. As evidenced by the entire arc of human, and Jewish, history.
Years ago, I was taught by secular Jewish friend that giving away money was disrespectful to money. It devalued money to give it away. And, for years, I agreed. Until I tried it.
Many atheists carry a theological crutch. Most are unaware of it. And, if you show it to them, most will deny it’s there. It is the silent belief that, should they ever change their mind about God, God will always be there for them.
That’s right. I’m calling out the Dalai Lama. And here’s my problem with His Holiness in particular, and with Buddhists in general – and it also happens to be one of the first things that drew me to Judaism: Jews understand evil. Buddhists do not.
One of the main things I’ve learned about the differences between Jews and non-Jews (namely Christians) is that non-Jews place a great deal of importance on how you feel, what you believe, your intentions, your inner motivations for being good. By contrast, according my friend Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Jews “care far less about what you believe. What you do is more important.”