John Shropshire, the former Dean of Admissions at Clarion University, my neighbor and my friend in Clarion, once told me a pertinent piece of information. When an African American walks into a room of white people, the conversations stop. When a Jew walks into a room, the conversations just keep on going. It did not take me long to figure that one out. Being African American is obvious, being Jewish is not.
My adventures with Judaism go back to my days in Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva on the lower East Side of Manhattan. It was a super Orthodox school. I wore the yarmulke, had pais ( long curly sideburns) and wore tzi-tzis ( under prayer shawl with string hanging out). There were no doubts as I walked on the streets that I was a Jew. I spoke Yiddish pretty much all of the time at home to Grandma ( and Grandpa when he took me to services). I was as observant a little boy as I could possibly be. I was, however, not really all that interested in the trappings of Judaism. As a child you always wanted black and white answers. Judaism had more questions than answers ( and still does). It must be nice to be in a religion that pretty much has all of the answers to the mysteries of life. I was really not taught that way. By the time 7th grade came, and we were studying the commentaries on the bible ( gamarrah), I was a full blown skeptic.
I trudged through my Bar Mitzvah and happily gathered the fountain pens and money that was given to me ( all of about 50 dollars) and ended my formal relationship with the religion.
My high school was filled with Jewish kids, all older and smarter than me, other than Stephen Schucker who was the youngest kid in the class at 15. However, Steve went to Harvard and I went to Queens College. My time in the service had some sporadic events that concerned Judaism ( A Texan would not believe I was Jewish because I did not have horns). I believe that I did not go to Temple from the first week of basic training till I got out of the service. I don’t believe that I went to shul till our children were born and a few years later. That’s about 17 years of non-observance and a distance from my religion. I never denied that I was Jewish at any of my jobs or social situations. I had pretty much decided that the formal part of the religion meant nothing to me.
That all changed when we moved to Kutztown. As our kids got older, we took them to a Temple in Allentown for Hebrew School and later Bar/Bat Mitzvah training. The Temple was Reform and the Rabbis were down to earth people. I liked each one of them. Their basic characteristics did not allow them to push their beliefs unto others, but just to explain the history, ritual and philosophy of Judaism. This was a far cry from the injection of orthodoxy that I had as a kid. The rituals were familiar, but not imposed by people on high. I became a bit less antipathetic to the religious aspects of Judaism. I was kind of looking at the religion as an adult with many questions to be answered and more interest in finding them.
By the time we left Kutztown to go to Clarion, Marc had been Bar Mitvahed and Dara was on the threshold of her Bat Mitzvah. We actually had her Bat Mitzvah in Allentown while we lived in Clarion. Dara had taken most of her instruction before we left. They both did a bang up job and we were proud of them. The ceremonies were attended by our families and we had a home made reception at the synagogue courtesy of Carol and some friends.
When we got to Clarion we looked around for a synagogue.There was one in Oil City, about 25 miles away. Oil City had been a thriving oil town for many years. It was then the home of Quaker State and Pennzoil. It was at the end of their tenure there and things were beginning to go downhill. The congregation in the synagogue was most peculiar. The traits of some of the members were rather strange. There was a president for life person, a woman who believed that bridges were useless and we should all use jetpacks, a beer distributor who was accused of watering his beer and a junk yard owner who had gone to MIT with a 1600 on his SATs ( only to last one semester). This was a really interesting group of people.
The Rabbi was from the old school and I really mean the old school. He had spent the years in WWII in Japan. He had escaped the old country and gone East. You may know that the Japanese refused to give any Jews to Hitler when he asked for them. Rabbi Goldberg was so old fashioned that we had to stand when he entered the sanctuary. He was the only person that I ever head say that from now on aluminum foil would be kosher. He had so many rules and regulations that we could not keep up. Carol and another woman Barbara Gold got on the board and eventually saw to it that Rabbi Goldberg entered into retirement. However, what we did not know was that President for life had arranged for Rabbi Goldberg to remain in town, so that he could come back to the rabbinate when the new person failed. How’s that for planning?
And so it came to pass that we went out on a search for a new Rabbi. The number of applicants was sparse. We came up with a total of three candidates. President for life did the reference checks and we hired Rabbi Lorenzo Lunatic ( not his real name). He arrived in town and claimed that his car had been severely damaged on the way in. One of our members, an auto parts dealer looked at the car and could not see anything wrong. Rabbi Lunatic pointed to a scratch on one of the bumpers and exclaimed, “ I was almost killed in the collision.” Some of us knew that there was something really wrong with Rabbi Lunatic. What we found out later confirmed all of our suspicions.