Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Kabbalist on the Upper West Side

A few nights ago, a Kabbalist from Israel, a great Rabbi with a rep for miracles, praved at an apartment on West End Avenue—receiving hundreds of visitors apparently all in need of blessings.

A donation was expected.

The host, a 30ish sweet ortho, came by to exult after the Great Man left, and he was shaking and holding his little son, his face lit up like Charlton Heston’s after the burning bush when Yvonne De Carlo says “He has seen God.”

Amazing—he was rocking back and forth with the little son—that couple you saw, who couldn’t have a baby—not 20 minutes, not 20 minutes after they got home from his bracha they got a call from the fertility clinic—they’re pregnant!

And a Kollel boy who never worked a day in his life and suddenly his father-in-law dies and the money dries up and he has to get a job to support his family—right then-- he gets a call from a big Yeshiva with an offer!

I could not understand why modern doctors and lawyers and professors and… well that’s pretty much the entire spectrum of frum professionals, would allow themselves to go all hoo-ha about some bearded hypnotist wielding 17th century technology.

Jeremiah was roundly ignored in his own time. And do any of us stop for those The- End-of-Days-is-Next-Week guys in the white vans?

A few months back I was up too late and saw this guy on TV, Murdock. It was unbelievable and it made me freaky sick. I couldn’t stop talking about it, and here I am still talking about it.

This guy was an evangelist shyster of the highest order. Take out your wallets he murmurs to the poor African-American (this was in South Carolina) congregation. DON’T open them. I want to bless them. (I want to bless your wallets?!?)

And right there, on TV, these folks take out their wallets. They don’t open them. Murdock smiles small and spreads his hands. One thousand fold, he says. It will come back to you one thousand fold.

Perhaps you have a bank account that no one knows about, he says, real smooth. Maybe not even your wife. One thousand fold. Maybe you were saving for a new car, or a vacation, or your son’s college education. One thousand fold. What good is that thousand to you—one thousand barely matters these days—but send it to me and it will be repaid one thousand fold. The Lord himself has blessed me and I will bless you. A thousand thousands—now that’s real money.

Google this guy, seriously. Why should I be the only one sick from it?

Anyway, growing up Orthodox in Queens, NY, meant, to me, anyway, that knowledge was respected and Chassidus and Kabballah were not.

My dad had and still has a Gemorah Shiur, and all his fellow college professors who met every week around a table laden with Shabbos delights with the wives standing by to serve the tea, were renaissance men with degrees in sociology and science and mathematics and history. And they could read the Aramaic.

Better not delve into Kabballah until you’re forty, they would wink. Your eyes could fall out.

The synagogues were guitar-less, even the non-ortho ones, and there were no Tot-Shabbats, or synaplexes, or a Rabbi at my shul younger than 60--and I cannot remember one mystically laced sermon in all the years at all the Young Israels or, later, Beth Els or (gevalt!) Emanuels I ever went to.

(Sruli prodded me on this point during a general discussion about religion that we had—it’s his favorite topic bar none, oy--and got me to admit that yes, I did know one or two Queensniks who went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, got their blessing and their dollar and put it right back in the pushke. But that was pretty much as far as mysticism went to my memory, and anyway, I don’t let Sruli read this blog.)

Things are way less stern now, of course. There was positively a country-club feel at the orthodox shul I belonged to in fancy Scarsdale. I hear to sponsor Kiddish there cost about 15 thousand dollars now. The chulent is really good, though.

And maybe that’s really what it’s all about. Not the chulent, the feeling lucky country-club thing.

It doesn’t explain the Murdock churchgoers—they are just victims of superior salesmanship— and he is an ugly crook who preys on desperation--and while I have experienced Rabbis’ sermons that make you cry in order to shell out more for the Kol Nidre appeal, there are no televangelist machinations in synagogues; Jews wouldn’t stand for it--they are too good a salesman themselves.

No, I think that people who feel lucky actually believe in luck. The God of Luck. And orthodox people with nice homes and fancy jobs and pretty wives and talented kids are the most superstitious of all.

So that sexy wow I don’t understand it, it’s bigger than me, it makes me warm and red all over just thinking about it, hey, it’s possible, maybe those mystics in Meron knew things—they weren’t just smoking hyssop leaves—and it all might be taken away at any minute, so get the blessing, pay off the Mekubal on the Upper West Side, and exult and feel humble in the real touch of ancient Jewry.

You’re gonna put a price on luck?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Princess Dreams

Thirty years ago, for the last Royal Wedding, Maurice, the boy who probably loved me more selflessly than any other boy ever will, shlepped into town, rented a tiny TV, magically rigged it up in the middle of his cabin, set it for 3 in the morning and came through the window of my bunk at Camp Hillel (where I was a counselor and he was a cook) and woke me up so that I could watch it.

This time around, I got up leisurely at 8, and CNN had the long version, the highlight version and the still version all awaiting my pleasure. And this time it was in color.

Of course, CNN did not do this especially for me.

Thirty years is an awfully long life-yardstick and plenty of time for even a much-loved girl to realize that she ain’t never going to be no princess.

So many of the smart and beautiful women who have let me into their lives and intimate thoughts have (was it Steinem who said it?) become the man they wanted to marry.

I have not.

Way, way back, when I was cute enough to collect a few, the proposals ranged from the family-spice-business suitor who informed me that I would, of course (OF COURSE!) not be able to work, but he would take care of me and our many kids in a beautiful house and give all of us everything we could possibly want. I said no thank you.

Another, a prominent Rabbi’s son, promised me that although we’d have to “hew” to his father’s orthodox regulations he would always get us really good weed. I said, no thank you, I don’t smoke.

A third was already supporting his parents and was already a rising banker and couldn’t take his eyes off me but I said, no thank you, and what I didn’t say was that I can’t even bear to kiss you let alone do anything else.

The man I actually married did not have that I will take care of you mentality nor does my current partner.

We women are on our own.

One of the business bloggers I read says that we are sold this fairy tale and that wanting to be taken care of means you are not dreaming big enough.

I am trying to dream big these days.

And Sruli and I rely on each other, in a modern Mom ‘n Pop shop kind of way.

So no glass carriage or convertible with the steering wheel on the wrong side for me. My waist will never be that tiny and I couldn’t possibly fit into all the requirements and protocols that the new Princess will have to “hew” to.

I hope her fairy tale has a continuously happy ending, unlike the one, nebikh, thirty years ago.

Meantime I am in the middle of creating my own tale, which has its magical moments, as well as some scary dragons.

I am not my own Prince, but my own Fairy Godmother, I guess.

I wonder if Maurice watched this time.