Religion & Beliefs

Rabbis, Heal Thyselves

I needed to say Kaddish.  My father was dead.  I wanted to honor him with prayers for his soul, with prayers to God, with prayers to fill my empty heart. This was my time as a Jew to become a … Read More

By / September 9, 2008

I needed to say Kaddish.  My father was dead. 

I wanted to honor him with prayers for his soul, with prayers to God, with prayers to fill my empty heart.

This was my time as a Jew to become a man, an adult.  It is this moment that is truly the bar mitzvah of one’s soul.  I anticipated stepping into these shoes as everyone before me had done.

The first synagogue told me: No ticket.  No prayer. 

And again, at the next: No ticket, no prayer.

Finally the third told me: No ticket no prayer.

Three synagogues had turned me away because I was not a member and did not have a ticket to pray. 

I understand needing a ticket to see a movie, a rodeo, a boxing match, or a play, but not needing a ticket to talk to God, to beg God to lift my heart.  I don’t mind praying whenever, wherever.  I don’t need four walls to do so.  But that day I needed the ancient ritual to guide me through my grief.  I needed the community of others who had lost their world and cried with remembrance.

I was not a happy Jew. 

A friend said, "Try the gay synagogue in the Village."  Gay synagogue?  There’s such a thing?

On Bethune Street, I walked right in.  No one asked me for a ticket.  No one turned me away.  Instead I was handed a prayer book and a yarmulke.  I said kaddish for the first time in my life.  One does not forget such moments, just as one does not forget the fabled and by now banal question, "where were you when JFK was assassinated?"

Next, the Rabbi asked, "who would like to stand and say kaddish for those who have died from AIDS and have no one to say kaddish for them? 

Silently and immediately, the entire congregation stood.  I was honored to be amongst such people who would remember and pray for those that could easily be forgotten.

So, here was a group of people that were praying without tickets AND saying kaddish for total strangers.  While I am not a Talmudic scholar, this looked to me like God’s work in action.  What I was witnessing was Jewish nobility, the majesty of our religion to care for others, to be compassionate, to repair the world.  All without tickets. 

Were the synagogues that turned me away also praying for those who had suffered, who had died alone and were forgotten?  Or are people with tickets absolved of that responsibility? 

This is just my opinion, but I gather that God’s a pretty busy chief exec.  There’s a lot going on that requires his or her full attention–the sun needs to be lifted up and put in the sky every morning for every single person, bug, and bird on the planet, stars need to twinkle, babies need to be born and corn has to grow.  So given this kind of schedule, when does God have time to worry about tickets?

Given what I saw that night I said my first kaddish, I would like to assume that God was pleased.  So, if you don’t mind, I am going to just take a wild guess here and posit that God might not care that you turn on a switch on the Sabbath or whether you love men or women, as long as you love.  Instead, on the off-chance that God has a second to spare, I would assume that God would be more concerned with how you move through the world, how you express love, and how you contribute to others. 

It is sad that there is the necessity for a place where Jews can worship because they are not welcomed amongst other Jews and yet they themselves welcome all Jews without questions and without tickets.

If for one moment, I would ever dare to think like God, he or she might say, "Rabbis, heal thyselves." 

Philip Smith, author of Walking Through Walls, is guest blogging for Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.

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