My Call Home

I celebrated my 19thbirthday in London. It was May 1966, the end of my freshman year at the University of Michigan. The end of the first year I had lived on my own, away from my family, friends and the lifestyle I had grown up with.

 

But I needed to go even further away. I bought a ticket on a flight chartered by the university, which left on May 15th, the day before my birthday. I didn’t have much money and had almost nothing planned, just a general idea of a route to follow, from London to Amsterdam, north to Denmark and Sweden. Then a flight south to Italy, hitchhike through southern France to Spain, and then back to France for a return flight from Paris. Almost four months of traveling with no travel partner, not even a room reserved to stay in while in London.

 

The world was different back then. Despite the assassination of President Kennedy almost three years earlier, the war in Vietnam and the burgeoning opposition to it, the civil rights and other movements, the culture and U. S. government seemed a little more stable then than it does now. The sense that something was off, or wrong, that big changes were needed both nationally and personally, was growing in so many of us, but we hadn’t yet realized what the growing pains meant.

 

All I knew was that my life felt set, predetermined by family and culture. It was a clear and linear progression from public school, to university, career and family, then old age and death. Death and vulnerability were walled away in time. Maybe today, in 2018, many students would be happy to feel their lives secure in such a progression, but all I wanted to do was break it. I wanted to feel free and to see the world outside the little space I already knew….

 

To read the whole story, please click on this link to Heart and Humanity magazine.

**The photo is of me with my brother and mother, in Ann Arbor, at the end of August, 1966, after returning from this trip. I didn’t hitch-hike with the duffel bag.

 

The Boy Who Thought He Was The Messiah

A story I wrote a few years ago:

I was in the third grade when I first thought I might be the Messiah. This was back in the fifties and I was attending one of those elementary schools in Queens, New York that had no name, only a number, PS 46 or 192 or 238. It was the usual type of building, red brick with bars on the windows.

 

The thought came to me soon after an incident in the morning assembly. The principal, like usual, had walked onto the stage at eighty thirty a. m., flanked by two of the oldest teachers in the school, and told us all to bow our heads as he got ready to read us a prayer. This was before the Supreme Court had outlawed this sort of bowing in schools.

 

Seated in the audience, I remembered being told in Hebrew School that Jewish people do not bow their heads, at all, to anyone, except in G-d’s own house and to Him only. Bowing outside of G-d’s house would be to acknowledge a god other than the Almighty.

 

Back then I thought of Him in a very spatial way. He was The Man Upstairs, looking down on us all. And even though I had never met Him, at least not face-to-face, I clearly wanted no trouble with Him. Sure, I was very curious. I mean, He was quite a celebrity and I wanted to know all the details about Him, like what He looked like and if He held a grudge.

 

But none of the answers I was given made any sense. The adults that I talked with obviously knew no more about Him than I did. So, I wouldn’t bow my head. My unbowed head attracted attention. I was taken to the principal’s office and my parents were called.

 

I remember sitting outside his office. The halls were empty, as everyone else was still in the assembly. Despite the isolation, I felt safe, because wasn’t G-d who inhabits the heavens and created the universe larger than a principal who inhabits a dusty eight by ten office? The principal was physical, someone I could touch and see, but who could touch G-d? Who could see eternity? My math teacher couldn’t even define ‘eternity.’ And especially to the limited view of an eight year old, this principal could be defined quite easily.

 

As students and teachers began to crash through the halls to their classrooms, his secretary rushed me into the principal’s office. The move was so abrupt as to be almost violent, and I began to wonder what it was about my action that had brought this on.

 

For a moment I faced doubt. My knees began to shake. I felt I was walking a tightrope of mind, stretched between what I assumed to be Heaven and what I feared to be Hell.

 

Then the principal entered. He tried to look angry and severe but it was too difficult a job for him. Confusion seemed more appropriate. “How could this eight year old boy,” he must have been thinking, “defy my authority, defy my whole idea of what should be happening, defy my whole notion of God?” He didn’t realize that we were talking of two different deities, his and mine. His, I could defy quite easily. But not mine, not the Almighty, Blessed Be He. He was Christian and I was Jewish and I would not let my religion be placed second to any other.

 

I must admit that the whole incident might have arisen from my looking around for something to act up about. You know how life is; it just goes by, day by day, and we read about exciting and courageous deeds that other people do but we don’t see them, not often, not first hand. And to live one? To live a heroic moment, to live as the Hero of G-d—how could I give up the opportunity?….

 

To read the whole story, go to Heart And Humanity magazine.