Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stairway To Unleavened

Now there is a certain hurdle that men have to surmount if they’re interested in converting to Judaism.

There’s really no two ways about this one, either. Either you do it or you don’t. It’s kind of a deal-breaker.

Chances are that if you were born in the United States when I was, this hurdle was negotiated early on. Without asking your permission, in fact.

There’s even a movement now of men who look back in anger at what was done to them and actively try to reverse it via a complex system of weights and pulleys and…

Well, we needn’t continue.

The way I look at it, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And there’s no point in closing the barn door after the horse has gone. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

However, even though I had already fulfilled this requirement, it was still necessary for ritual purposes for the skin to be broken and blood to be drawn from the, er, sacrificial site.

I was of two minds about this, not that this was going to be a Santería style bloodbath or anything. On the one hand, I was a little anxious about anything sharp getting close to this particular neighborhood. I had, I will confess, grown accustomed to it.

On the other hand, I felt a little flattered that so much attention was being paid to something that I had struggled in vain to interest people in for so many years.

At any rate, I kept my appointment and met with a fellow who apparently had experience in these delicate matters. With some trepidation, I watched as he applied a numbing agent to this most unnumb of areas. Then with a small scalpel, he pressed forth as gently as possible and made the tiniest of pricks.

(That’s just an expression, you understand. I’m definitely all man and the faint aroma of Old Spice wreathes my head like mosquitoes at a summer picnic.)

Having been witness to this action, the man looked up at me and said with a faint smile that seemed born of experience:

“Welcome to the tribe.”

The Lubavitcher had wrapped my arm in the tefillin before I knew what was happening.

Rush hour commuters barely gave us a glance as he fitted more leather straps on my head and led me in reciting a prayer. I tried to keep up with him as he went about the ritual, checking to see if any other parts of me were getting wrapped up in anything else.

Like a magician pulling off a tablecloth and leaving the plates intact, the Hassid finished the prayer and removed everything with a practiced flourish, almost as if he’d finished giving me a haircut.

He told me that what I had just done would bring me closer to G-d, which may have been true, but as I glanced at my watch and noted our rapidly depleting timeframe, I realized that it was bringing us no closer to Lou, or Elvis for that matter.

As I stood there dizzy, another fellow nods over at me and says, “You know, if you really want to do it, take it all the way, you have to go Orthodox.” I nod back groggily.

The wife then casually mentions that this was the first time I had ever worn tefillin and so everyone gets excited again, joining hands as we dance in a circle and sing Mazel Tov:

Simen Tov u Mazel Tov u Mazel Tov u Simen Tov!
Simen Tov u Mazel Tov u Mazel Tov u Simen Tov!

Here’s the interesting thing, though:

One of the commandments that a Jewish boy is expected to keep once he becomes Bar Mitzvah is to put on tefillin.

So, in essence I was having my Bar Mitzvah on a New York streetcorner, across the street from Radio City Music Hall.

Not to mention the fact that it was more or less 39 years late which, for me, was positively prompt.

It wouldn’t be a Bar Mitzvah without music, of course, so it was off to the TV studio where we witnessed the rare spectacle of Elvis Costello doing two old Velvet Underground songs, Beginning To See The Light and Femme Fatale.

Here comes two of you,
Which one will you choose?

One rarely knows who they really are, let alone who they may become. Anything can happen, depending on the time and the place. Sometimes you just have to ride it out and keep quiet and let the gifts come to you.

Well I’m beginning to see the light.

For instance, if we’d walked the same route through Times Square one week to the day after this, we’d have run into two nearly naked women from PETA showering in the street to protest the fact that it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat.

The Naked Cowboy even showed up at one point to join them in naked solidarity.

How does it feel to be loved?

I daresay the day might have gone very differently.


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