I am a Jew. Second generation American. Of Ashkenazi descent. From the huddled masses coming to our shores, yearning to breathe free.
I remember the pickled herring, stuffed derma, whitefish chubs, lox (nova was too expensive), salami and a bottle of scotch or vodka that were delicacies served in my grandparents’ rundown apartment. They were poor Jews, but the children and grandchildren were coming over. The apartment was in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, back when it was a dangerous, largely burnt-out neighborhood. My grandparents never could pronounce a “W” so until I could read, I thought they lived in Villiamsburgh.
I tell you this so you will understand the apparent incongruity of what follows.
There is a man who walks up and down Broadway between 100th and 110th Streets yelling that he loves Jesus and that Jesus is the Lord. My son calls him The Preacher. In rain, heat, cold, morning or night, The Preacher is seeking to share Jesus with every passerby.
Today, I envied The Preacher his mission. His sureness of purpose. His rock-solid belief. Unwavering in the cold, the heat, the pouring rain. Jesus is with him. More than that, Jesus is in him.
It doesn’t matter if The Preacher is right or wrong. When he finds that out, his days walking Broadway to spread the word will be over. (And he appears well-fed, well-clothed and, in all other respects, well-kempt, so I am not worried about his day-to-day livelihood.)
As a Jew descended from those who fled Europe, members of my family have turned away from our version of G-d, shaken their fists at our version of G-d, and, sadly, resigned themselves to not having earned the love of our version of G-d.
Me? G-d and I are not so close. So much so, that I think it is better for everyone if I not keep anyone in my prayers, lest doom and gloom come to them.
But The Preacher has a hold on me. He exudes love and trust. Maybe borne of revelation or desperation. I won’t ever know. But a love and trust so deep in something we cannot see. Something that our society holds as both an ideal and a reason to commit a person to mental institution.
After my mother died, I asked Rabbi Ayelet Cohen why she believes in G-d. She answered, “either I am right or I am crazy.” All these years later, I remember her words.
Rabbi Ayelet, maybe being both is the magic mix.