Short Tales

Jewish World Review March 22, 2001 / 27 Adar 5761

The Hitchhiker
o why the kipah?"


"The yarmulke. I see no tszit- tzis (ritual fringes), but why do you wear a skull cap?"

This time he darted his head left, then right, as if he were looking for a worm.

"I like attend the New Joy Minyan (prayer group)," he said. "Maybe you've heard of it: Rabbi Sri Elmo Pincus?"

"No, I haven't had the privilege."

"It like combines Kabbalah with Rastafarianism, godess worship, and transmetaphysical psychotherapy. You know what I mean?"

I thought: You know nothing of Kaballah, you spineless, strawberry-smelling ahm-ha'aretz (ignoramus ). Neither does Madonna, nor her Hollywood friends, nor anyone else who thinks our books are one more fast-food item in their spiritual shopping mall. Kaballah decoupled from Talmud-Torah is not just destructive and deeply insulting --- it's utter nonsense.

But I didn't lose my temper... yet. It was lonely on that freeway, with the headlights whooshing past, and I still hoped to discover some small patch of common ground between us.

"Your ideas are new to me," I offered. "I come from a very traditional Jewish background."

"I like categorically reject that tradition," he said.

Left hanging, of course, was the $64,000 question.

"But you yourself are Jewish?"

This made him think especially hard, making all kinds of facial contortions as he waited for the answer to appear on his personal movie screen. I counted four discrete twitches of his shoulder and neck.

At last, he was ready to speak: "I don't know what you mean by Jewish," he said.

I can still see him saying those sad and terrible words, with that thoughtful but paralyzed look in his eye. "Jewish in like what sense? Culturally? Religiously? Spiritually? Genetically?"

"There's only one definition," I shot back. "Is your mother a Jew?"
He thought about this with a new assortment of twitches, like he was priming himself to cluck the right answer. His seriousness was such that I could imagine veins throbbing in his high Russian forehead, which -- to be honest -- made him look like one of my less attractive cousins.

"Yes, my mother is like Jewish," he finally disclosed. "Beatrice Blumenthal. And Myron Blumenthal. Those are like my parents. I actually went to like Hebrew school and had like a Bar Mitzvah."

"So where are you from?"

"In what sense?"


"I grew up right here in Sunnyvale," he said. "We belonged to like a Reform temple."

Another of their great success stories, I thought. And when Boneless Chicken and his Goyishe, goddess-worshiping wife have children, they will expect us to honor their like conversions to Judaism. Performed by Rabbi Sri Elmo, no doubt, to Pink Floyd music under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority.
Now I was getting angry, stuck on one of those topics that invariably causes my fists to clench and my hear to pound. I thought about giving him a good smack in the mouth, leaving him on the side of the freeway to ponder the various meanings of a fat lip . But then I remembered Sarah and Avi. My obligation, as husband and father, to stay out of trouble, set a good example, and avoid keeling over from a heart attack or stroke before Avi was all the way grownup. You've got to stop letting every momzer get your blood pressure up, is how Sarah put it. I know you think of yourself as the big gever, Issac, dispensing strict justice. But this is California, where the messhuga flock from every corner of the world. So how about a little less justice and a little more mercy? Less life wasted on things you can't control. More energy for your work, your family, the Sabbath.

I said a quick blessing to calm myself. I thought about Avi, who had just turned five, blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.

"So what do you learn from Rabbi Sri Elmo?" I asked.

An answer to this required another three, four neck bobs and shoulder twitches. "He's like a major renewal of the Jewish religion," is what he said. "One of his main teachings is the like damage done to the male psyche by circumcision, which can be healed through transmetaphysical psychotherapy. You probably heard of his book: Resheathing the Soul."

Even I could smile at this last example of the High California messhugas. What did they do in their therapy sessions: sew it back on?

"No, I'm not familiar with Sri Elmo's contribution," I said.

"Transmetaphysical psychotherapy is a lot like transpersonal psychotherapy," he said. "But a lot more spiritual."
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