Thursday, July 21, 2005

Chapter 14

All day yesterday I was experimenting with the title for this thing. First I was calling it "Matzoh Ball Cinderella", a name I came up with in the shower and that has no particular meaning. I like it. Now I have dubbed it "Once a Chicken, Now a Fish" and I felt I should explain.

The title refers to the punchline of a very old Jewish joke, which reveals alot about Jewish attitudes about conversion, Catholics, and other things I can't quite put my finger on. But here is the joke:

An old Jewish man lived next door to the church for years and one day he decided to become a Catholic. So he went to the priest and said "I vant to convoit". So the priest said, "You're an old man, you've been happy your whole life being a Jew, you don't need to convert". But the old man insisted. Again, the priest tried to put him off. The old man came back yet again and said "I vant to convoit". At this point the priest was fed up with him and said, "Okay I'll make you a Catholic, but remember, Mass every Sunday and NO MEAT ON FRIDAY!".

So the priest raised his hands over the old man's head and intoned "Once a Jew, now a Catholic. Once a Jew, now a Catholic. Once a Jew, now a Catholic". The old man went home and was very happy.

Some months later the priest dropped in to visit him on a Friday, and the delicious scent of chicken soup filled the man's apartment. "Irving", he cried, "You are a Catholic! NO MEAT ON FRIDAY!"
to which the old man replied "it's not meat" and he raised his hands over the pot and chanted "Vonce ah chikn, now ah fish!"


So I came back from Israel, determined to go back the very next year. I put together a powerpoint presentation, and brought to the local Reform Temple, where a few idiots decided to pontificate about what a racist state Israel was, based on their visit there as college students back in the "golden age" (ie. the 60's). The best talk I gave was at a ritzy private school. I showed them this picture, and asked them who they thought these guys were.

Most of them said, "Palestinians?" "Arabs?" and I was able to tell them, no, Israelis. One guy's family escaped from Yemen and the other guy's family escaped from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church was racing headlong into obsolescence. My husband began to get more and more dissillusioned with it. One day, we had a conversation with someone who not only sang in the choir, but was on the Vestry, and was very involved with the church. Her very liberal and unorthodox views prompted the question " What makes your beliefs any differant than the Unitarians down the road?" She replied "very little, just the aesthetics". And there you have a brutally honest assessment of what the Episcopal Church is all about: Unitarians in Catholic clothing.

And then of course, there's the thorny little issue of Gene Robinson. The church of my husband's youth was rapidly become unrecognizable. He stopped going. The people in our community thought it was because of some internal parish politics, and for some reason the issues facing the larger church were simply ignored.

And I was undergoing an internal change as well. I wanted to be in a religious environment where it was okay to be devout. I wanted a devotional life in community like I saw amongst the orthodox Jews. I also wanted the stability of tradition. I started to read all sorts of things on the internet. I discovered the wonderful "Ask Moses" site, where you could get an answer from a Lubavitch rabbi any hour of the day or night. I don't know how, but somehow I found my way to the Catholic Bloggers (See you guys? it's ll your fault!).

At this point, it is only appropriate to thank people like Fr.Bryce Sibley, Kathy Shaidle, and Rod Dreher with whom I corresponded and who helped me along the way. I also want to thank Mark Shea, who I think deserves a kick in the keester, especially about Israel, but whose website also provided alot of good information. All of these writers have at least two things in common: they are catholic, and they appreciate a good vintage. Most of them have cool taste in music and movies, important stuff like that.

I began to see that Catholicism is kosher. I mean that much more deeply than just a cute phrase. Catholicism has the devotional life of the Orthodox Jews, and many of the very same attitudes about things. Catholicism has Halacha, certain rules which are there to benefit the spirit. And you can daven, with various devotions like the rosary. There are sacramentals, earthy mnemonic devices to help your prayer life.

But best of all, Catholicism has the Blessed Sacrament. In every synagogue, there is an ark with the Torah in it, and over it, the "Eternal Light" or ner tamid, as we call it. When the Torah is taken out, everyone stands and reverences the Word of God. Also there is a lovely tradition, now imitated in Reform Temples where no one pays any attention to the Torah, of touching it and kissing your fingers, or with the fringe on the prayer shawl. In the Church this has become the Tabernacle, and the Word of God Himself reposes there. And you know He's there because the ner tamid is lit by the Tabernacle.

To be continued.........