The Jewless Jew

My flight to New York was filled with orthodox Jews with the beards, the yamulkes, the hats, the whole deal. If we’d had a horse-drawn cart,  some milk and some cheese we could have staged the opening musical number from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. 

Midway through the flight, I got up to stretch my legs and use the restroom. When I got out, I bumped into this young boy, maybe 12 years old, who looked at me and asked:

"Are you Jewish?"

"Yes," I replied.

He immediately ran back down the aisle to his father, who stood up, offered me his hand, and then started talking to me in Hebrew. Or at least I think it was Hebrew.

"I’m sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew," I said. "I’m not a practicing Jew."

"But you’re Jewish," he said.

"Yes, I am," I said. "Have a good trip."

I started down the aisle, but he wouldn’t let me pass. He said something else to me in Hebrew.

"I have no idea what you’re saying," I said. "I am a very Jewless Jew."

"Did you have a Bar Mitzvah?"

"Nope," I said. "And I don’t celebrate passover. And I had bacon for breakfast yesterday. I’m watching my carbs."

"Where are you sitting?" he asked.

"Up there,"  I said, gesturing to the front of the plane. And as he turned to look, I used the opportunity to slip past him and return to my seat. 

I settled in, and was starting to watch 30 ROCK on my iPod, when the guy, his kid, and a bearded man in a long, black coat showed up at my seat.

"This is our Rabbi," the guy said.

The Rabbi introduced himself, asked me my name, and the next thing I knew, they stuck a yamulke  on my head and started chanting something in Hebrew.

I began to protest, but then the kid started wrapping my arm with some kind of leather strap and I figured I’d just let them do their thing.  The guy put a card, written in Hebrew in front of me, and told me to repeat after him. I did, if only to get the whole awkward scene over with.

The people sitting next to me looked like they wanted to crawl under their seat and hide. I would have liked to join them but the Jewish kid had me lassooed pretty good.

The three Jews finished up, congratulated me on this very special day in my life, slipped a card in my hand and returned to their seats. The card had a photograph of a rabbi on the front and on the back there were illustrations of the steps  in something called the Mitzvah Campaign. I’m not sure, but judging by the drawing, I think one of the steps, Tefillin, had something to do with what they did to me.  You tell me. What was all that about?

20 thoughts on “The Jewless Jew”

  1. Congratulations! You’ve just been officially made the lead Matzah Balls salesman for the entire West Coast! You should study up on Passover…
    Your experience reads like a scene from Monk, and I’m still laughing at the humorous awkwardness of it. It reminds me of a nightmare I had about meeting my old Parish priest, getting sprinkled with holy water and incense, and being pressed into duty as an altar boy again.

  2. According to a more knowledgeable friend, you had morning services forced on you by (likely) Chabad-Lubavitch Jews. (the leather straps on your arm)
    From my friend: “From their standpoint, they enabled him to gain spiritual benefit for something he didn’t know enough to do on his own. More or less.”

  3. Lee, I thought us lapsed Catholics had it rough! But I agree with an earlier posted comment, it needs to be in one of your books, or maybe I can steal it? Truth, as the old saying goes, (probably an old saying because it’s true) is stranger than fiction! Enjoy snowy NYC.

  4. Lee,
    I had to laugh at this one. I’m starting to get grief from some sectors about my new book because it examines all kinds of intolerance — including within in the Jewish community.
    Unlike you, I am a “practicing” Jewish person; we’re raising our kids in a Jewish home. For me, the negative comments hurt.
    But posts like yours remind me to laugh.
    Thank you.

  5. Had a good laugh over this one! Then I started wondering two things: the Journey of the Hero myth; and tv pilots.
    The Call to Adventure begins the Hero’s Journey. So could this experience be a “call” to you for some kind of spirtual journey or awakening? Were you touched in some way? Or do you feel the need to respond somehow? Or to learn more? One time, some people prayed over me too. I’m a Catholic and it was in a church and there was the laying on of hands. It seems to me that when people are actually praying for your soul, it means you’re not alone.
    The TV pilot thing was just a happy thought. Let’s say there are these people who go around and ‘awake’ others. It could like “Touched By An Angel” but the person is given some kind of power and has to perform some kind of good deed within a certain time and afterwards gets some kind of presonal reward. Or, maybe like the X-Files, the group are aliens and they are conducting experiments on us. Some work out to give us more powers, some don’t. And a Special Ops group is trying to track the aliens down, maybe.
    Anyway, that sure was a funny story. Do you know what you get if you cross an atheist with a Jahovah’s Witnes? Someone who knocks on your door for no reason at all!

  6. Rather than go into any detail about what they did…Just let me reassure you… it wasn’t a bris.
    By the way,once a Jew always a Jew..It’s almost like saying you are a non-practicing Italian.

  7. If I Were a Rich Man

    I flew to New York on Monday on Virgin America which, once again, was like flying in a synagogue. The plane was full of orthodox Jews, though at least this time they didn’t give me a Bar Mitzvah (or whatever

  8. That made me laugh out loud. Oddly, it also made me feel wistful. Which makes me aware of a double standard, because I’d be terribly uncomfortable if a squad of any flavor of Christians did the same, but… I kind of wish a group of the devout might come around and re-Jew me. Mostly when I was wandering around in China running into large gaggles of Israeli tourists, and explained I was an American sort-of-Jew, they looked at me with some combination of derision and pity. (Father’s side; Hebrew school; no nifty coming-of-age rites.)


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