On my way last night to my writers group I was stopped by a group of young, orthodox Jews who asked me if I was Jewish. Knowing by the etrog and lulav they carried that if I’d answer in the affirmative I’d be asked to pray as part of the holiday of Sukkot. Well, I’m not presently in the business of denying who I am, even if I’m not quite comfortable with everything that mainstream Judaism proclaims, so I said, “Yes,” and soon after was given a kipa (a yarmulke) and a palm frond and a citron fruit and a little pocket prayer folio. The young men proceeded to prompt me in the prayer, but more than a half-decade of Hebrew School and many a Friday-night Shabbats with my family, and lots of High Holidays in between made me somewhat adept at the first 9/10ths of the prayer. The young Hasidim leaned back and smiled smugly at each other. “Have you done this before?”
“When I was a boy,” I responded.
Then came the Hebrew. I’m not sure what prompted them to think I was suddenly fluent. Maybe it was my mad praying skills. But soon I was drowning in Hebrew phrases. I shrugged and said “What?” way too many times. He held out a tin cup with a slot. “Tzedakah?” Oh, I knew that one. Charity/Righteousness. I had no idea what charity this was going to, but they were surrounding me. So I opened up my wallet and stuffed my last $2 inside the cup.
Then more Hebrew. Several more whats. “Moshiach Now,” he said. Moshiach = Messiah, I knew. Messiah Now? He handed me a card. On it was a picture of the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, a rabbi from Brooklyn who was so righteous, his followers believe, that he is the Messiah the Jews have been waiting for. (Never mind that he died eleven years ago.) Then, I was handed a card as the Hasidic boys chased down an Israeli tourist and his girlfriend and tried to get them to pray too.
I looked at the card. On the back it said, “Moshiach’s Address.” The Messiah’s address. There was a postal address and website. Messiahs have come a long way.
I found all this rather amusing, but my serious side kept poking my jocular side in the ribs. The Jews didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah because, well, the world was still pretty shitty after he came, and the Messiah’s supposed to herald a Messianic age of happiness and light and all that utopian crap the religions use as carrots to keep people under control. Then along comes this particular sect of Lubavitch Hasidim who proclaim that their dead hero is the Messiah.
Not that I believe in any of this crap. Mostly, I participate in religious experiences because I attempt to connect with a higher part of myself that I pretty much ignore in my mundane, day-to-day existence. Any decently intelligent kid realizes around puberty or so that if he was born into any other faith, he’d probably be a practicing Catholic, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist, and that to say any one faith is more correct than any other amounts to nothing more than rooting for a favorite sports team.
It just seems really hypocritical to me to reject Jesus and proclaim the Rebbe a divine messenger, when really all you are doing is re-enacting the same story from your own point of view. I think they thought that if I held a palm frond and citrus fruit in my hands and said a prayer I don’t think I understood that somehow their dead hero would make the world into paradise. All in all it seems kind of crazy to me.