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Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

L'Shana Tova, Jeffrey

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

When I was younger, I was once temporarily pissed off that Gentiles get to have wild parties and champagne for New Year celebrations, while all I got was hours in the synagogue and some apples and honey. Then, I realized that I was always going to the Gentile parties anyway, so what did I have to complain about?

A week ago, I ran into an old friend, a guy I'd met in Israel in 1996 who was so taken by my descriptions of my home town of Bellingham, Washington, that within months of his return to the U.S. he moved here from Boston. We had not seen each other in a while and he invited me to his house, he said, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. I hadn't been very active in anything Jewish for a long time outside of the occasional Shabbat service, observing Hannukah at home, and attending a Seder at the Unitarian Fellowship every year, so I was happy to have this opportunity to mark, at least in some small way, the Jewish New Year.

We get to his home and proceeded to notice some very odd things that, slowly, over the course of the first hour or so, built to a full-on crescendo of uncomfortable suspicion. The first anomaly I detected came after blessings were said over the wine and bread. My friend proceeded to pray, out loud, a kind of free-form, improvised kinda thing, thanking God for everything and asking for blessings for his family and ours. I couldn't quite place it at the time, but there was something awfully familiar about it.

I knew very little about my friend's wife, what her religious affiliation was, so the next thing I noticed that was odd, in and of itself, didn't cause me to jump to any conclusions. All around the home, as I took it in, there were quotes from the New Testament written with crayon on colored craft paper. His wife, I concluded, must be Christian and they must have found a workable, mutual acceptance of their separate religious faiths. Nice.

Then, all of a sudden, they dropped the bomb. My friend, not his wife, asked, "What is your relationship with Jesus Christ?"

The question took me so by surprise that I became unable to say a word for the next hour or so, while my wife graciously fielded questions and tried to fend off the onslaught of proselytizing without getting angry. They bombarded us with stories of miracles they had witnessed, visions, exorcisms, etc., trying to prove to us that Christ is the only truth.

When I couldn't maintain my silence any longer, I blurted out, "Do you know what really bothers me? I'm not disappointed that you have abandoned Judaism. I'm very happy for you that you have this new-found, passionate faith. It's that we are here being non-permissively preached to when your invitation was to come celebrate Rosh Hashanah with you. I feel manipulated and lied to. And, what's worse, despite the fact that we haven't seen you in quite sometime, we have not been able to simply talk about our lives. You have not asked either of us anything like, say: So, what have you been up to? How are your careers going? How's parenting going? Did you do anything fun over the summer? Nothing."

The next day, I discovered that another friend of mine, Jeffrey, who lives in Tacoma, Washington, is fighting for his life, under treatment for throat cancer. Jeffrey is one of the dearest, most selfless men I know, and yet his family has been hammered with health problems. His young daughter has to have insulin injections for diabetes, his wife had a benign uterine cyst that, though it was not life-threatening, destroyed their chances of ever having another child, and now it was Jeffrey's turn.

The interesting thing is that, amidst the well of anger that came up for me about Jeffrey's illness, I had these thoughts: Ok, my newly Christian friends. Here's a chance for your beloved Christ to show his stuff. You want to prove to me that 'through Christ anything is possible'? Have him heal Jeffrey and we'll talk.