Simon Sobo Writing

CC: A chapter debating religion

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It is 1968, a year when conventional religion seemed to dissipate.

 

Chapter 32

 

Mr. Gordon has his coat on near the door of Jay’s apartment. Jay kisses Dora and their baby after he puts on his coat. They are rushing to get out of the apartment. Jay shouts to his father.

“Do you have the tickets?”

“Mr. Gordon waves the two tickets.”

Dora fusses over Jay. “Don’t forget your gloves. It gets cold there. I made you sandwiches.”   She looks at Ira as well. “Don’t throw them out this time.”

Jay smiles guiltily. So does his father.

“We like the hot dogs there.”

Jay takes his gloves out of his coat pocket and shows them to Dora. She stares at her father—in law. Guilty as charged he waits to be sentenced.

“Well?”

“I don’t need gloves.”

She returns from the bedroom with turquoise wool mittens.

“Oh If you told me. Blue mittens. Turquoise blue!” he says with a laugh.

“Aquamarine I knitted them for Jay as a Hanukah present. He refuses to wear them.”

Ira puts them on and claps his hands like a happy nerd.

“Okay. I get the point.” Dora tells him.

“You married a good women Jay. Caring. You remind me of my mother. She made mittens.”

“She was a nag?”

He puts his hand under her chin and lifts it. “A Yidisha Moma…26 hours a day. She cared.”

She steps away.

“Dad. Did you wear your lucky socks?”

“Jay lifts his pants revealing his own wild striped socks.”

“That’s good enough for both of you.”

Mr. Gordon lifts his own pants. His socks are even wilder. Kangaroos eating lightening, and lighting up.

“The question is. Is it good enough for the Jets?”

“God likes striped socks”

“And kangaroo lightening socks.”

“Well there you have it:” Dora tells them.

As they walk down the hall, Dora shouts after them: “Go Jets. Go Namath.”

“Go Maynard”, Ira shouts. “Namath’s nothing without him to catch the ball.”

In unison they shout as they enter the elevator, “Go Maynard.”

At Shea Stadium, as predicted, Namath throws a perfect pass to Maynard who runs it in for a touchdown. The stadium crowd goes wild.   Jay and Mr. Gordon slap hands.

While breast feeding her son, Dora is watching the game on TV. The first half has ended with the Jets leading 16—7.

Dora puts her sleeping son in his crib. She goes to the phone and dials CC’s phone in her dorm. She’s told CC isn’t there, but then a Sheila comes to the phone. CC had given her Jeremy’s number. Dora dials. Jeremy answers in the bedroom. but then hands the phone to CC.

“You watching the game? Jets are beating Buffalo 16—7.”

CC signals Jeremy to give her privacy He goes to the kitchen.

“I haven’t been following the Jets. They don’t get them up here.”

“But today’s game is probably on. Buffalo. You know Buffalo beat them the first time they played, their only victory   They’re 1 and 7.

“So that means the Jets aren’t that good?”

“Are you kidding? That loss was an anomaly. This year there’s going to be another super bowl, the third one, the NFL champs playing the AFC champs. Jay’s told me, with Namath, the Jets might go all the way. It will give the AFC respectability.”

“First they have to get into the playoffs. Jay’s always an optimist.”

“So is your Dad. He’s excited.”

There is a pause. Both are silent.

“Was that your friend that answered the phone? What’s going on with you? We haven’t had a good talk in a while.”

“Well…”

“Tell me.”

Again a long delay. Then: “You can’t tell Mom or Dad what I tell you. Promise me.”

She doesn’t know why she is asking this of Dora. They already know about Jeremy. Perhaps it is to protect her parents from Dora’s judgment.

“Okay, I promise.”

“The guy who answered. Jeremy. He’s one of my teachers. I’ve been staying at his house.” She hurriedly blurts it out. “He’s married with a kid. His wife is in the hospital”

Dora responds coolly. “How did that happen?

“I don’t know but it did… Don’t tell Jay.”

“How old is his child?”

“He’s a toddler.”

“He’s going to leave his wife?”

“He says he loves her. He’s told me he will never leave her.”

“So what is it then? Sex?”

“I love him and he loves me.”

“I’m sure you know what I think.”

“I do.”

“So why did you tell me?”

“I wanted to get your perspective.”

“I blame Mark… He’s filled your head with all this crap. He’s always turning morality into this crazy universe of no right and no wrong. Like it’s up for discussion. Meaning anything is okay. CC what you got going with this guy is not okay.”

“His name is Jeremy.”

“Jeremy” Dora repeats as if named, he now exists.

“He’s a lot like Mark. He’s been arguing that ending the war, saving the planet, are far more important than the rights and wrongs we were raised on. He thinks those are nonsense.”

“It’s not just Mark,” Dora adds. “Everyone’s talking like that. I don’t know what’s going on. Jay told me his therapist was always getting on him about his guilt, like it was the main cause of his problems.”

“Is it?”

“Sure his “rigidity” comes from that but that is what I respect about him. I think therapists making fun of guilt are trying to destroy Judaism”.

“That’s a little extreme.”

“But it’s true. Everyone wants to put an end to Judaism. Remember Robin Schaff? She was a year ahead of us in school.”

“Yeah. She’s very spiritual. When you see Robin you think religion. She’s off somewhere from the bullshit world. She’s serious. She’s with God.”

“She was always that way. She came from a kosher home. But religious? How can you be religious and write songs for Shiva and Krishna and Vishnu?”

“Why not? If they’re beautiful songs, something you could sing to God, reach out to him… Maybe please him. Why isn’t that religious?”

“What you are asking is, do I think Robin has God on her mind when she sings to Shiva or Vishnu? The answer is no. The songs are for not just for Krishna, or Vishnu. There are a dozen different, … I don’t know what they call them.”

“Gods. Indian gods,” CC answers.

“What’s screwy is that’s what Jews believed before Judaism began, before God spoke to Abraham. The Shma is repeated in every service. The whole congregation sings out. “Sha- ma Yisra-el…Adoshem elohaniu… Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

One” she repeats emphatically. Who is she praying to? 12 different deities, 15? Accepting that there is one God is the cornerstone of Judaism. Never mind the rest of it, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…”

“Robin thinks of herself as spiritual. She presents herself that way. I’m sure she thinks of herself as equally holy as the most observant Jew.”

“Perhaps. Except I don’t think she believes in God.”

“Then who is Vishnu, Krishna all the gods she prays to?”

“While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the newly freed Jews started to worship the Egyptians gods, idols, all kind of mumbo jumbo, some of them got into orgiastic rituals. Naked, drugged orgies. They were enchanted by exciting food. Pleasure. Like that is what life is. Getting as much pleasure as we can, while we can… Do you remember the rest of the story?

CC does. “When Moses returned from Mount Sinai and saw it? He had been in the presence of God, given the Ten Commandments as his gift to his people.”

“And what did he do?

He threw down the tablet, smashed it to smithereens.”

“Robin’s far from stupid. She graduated from Stamford Phi bête, but I don’t know if the thought crosses her mind. That she is not having a dialogue with God, not embracing him.”

“But she is so serious. So accepting. She seems to have godly qualities, her belief in tolerance.”

“Exactly. I don’t know if it crosses her mind. Not only is she renouncing the most holy Jewish belief, that God is one, stomping it with her feet,  Tolerance?   Speaking about it in a loving way… Tolerance? She repeats. Anything. Everything is okay? Whatever floats your boat.”

“So What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s a repudiation of everything a practicing Jew believes. Forgiveness perhaps, being able to ignore other people’s sins. But tolerance worshipped as much as it is. It means every word we hold sacred is wrong, every prohibition we hold holy, all that God ordered us to do and not do. All of it is nonsense. It means the Torah is a book of stories, nothing else. God didn’t talk to us And if he did he was wrong about what he thought was wrong. Claiming that anything is okay. You don’t think that is an attack on Judaism?”

“And Catholicism…All religions. It’s not just people like Robin. Marx proclaimed, “Religion is the opium of the masses. It’s bullshit. All religions. They’re a trick, to make people satisfied with how shitty capitalism is. The Communists took Marx very seriously. The party closed down the synagogues and churches in Russia, and every country they conquered. Religion had to go underground, All because Marx called it opium.”

“Mark and Jeremy are not communists. I can’t imagine either would want synagogues closed.”

“I hope not. No I’m sure they aren’t. I know they are not communists. They love America.”

“So you’re saying it is a coincidence.”

“I think they believe it would be a better world if everyone embraced no religion or a different religion than what they were raised on. Mark has tried to teach me that, and sometimes I think he’s right. You don’t think Jewish guilt is overdone?”

“Overdone!?”

“My therapist always made fun of my guilt. According to him that’s why I’m neurotic. I can see his point.”

“I told you what I think already. Therapists are directly attacking Judaism, not just Judaism, Catholics’ guilt– they feast on their ridicule. But therapist are so slippery. They would never own own up to that’s what they’re doing.”

Spiritual? NO way Robyn is spiritual. She’s selling a Hallmark card religion. Your soul can’t get to a higher place that easily. Catholics only reach a state of grace when they’ve confessed their sins-admitted transgressions they may have kept secret for years, that they were too ashamed to tell anyone. Same for Jews when we fast on Yom Kippur and promise to try harder to be a better person. Our dialogue with God is the real thing, hoping to be returned to innocence. You can’t simply sing about peace and love and jingle a bell to get there. Or stretch your body into a yoga position.”

Dora continues. “You can’t make guilt disappear by making fun of it. Calling it neurotic is a cop out. Jay would come home from a therapy session and tell me crazy things his shrink said, just like yours.”

“Like what?

“Like how everyone has a god within them. They just have to go there. Stuff like that. It’s nonsense.”

“That’s how Jeremy talks.”

“And a thousand other people like him. You can’t be your own God, no matter how many chants you perform. I’ve seen people go there. Get glassy eyed, have this beatific smile. They look like they’re on heroine. It’s the easy way to a state of grace. It may feel the same but—

CC lashes out: “Mark thinks you are the least liberated person we know. Your kosher home. How you force Jay to not eat lobster.”

“So?”

“Lobster was Jay’s favorite food.”

“Poor Jay.”

“Jay can’t drive his car on Saturday. Even to go to the supermarket. He can’t turn on the light. All this mumbo jumbo– he can’t use a stapler, lick an envelope on Saturday. Sins, sins everywhere, about to be committed. Tell me that’s spiritual liberation.”

“Who’s talking about liberation.” Dora answers

“What is it then?”

“Devotion. Knowing what God allows and what’s okay has guided us for centuries. Guilt has been at the core of Judaism for a thousand years. It never occurred to anyone that it could be anything else… You never thought God was watching you? Judging you?”

“I guess so. Well maybe when I was 10. But now…”

“So you think there is no one there now.”

“I suppose.”         `

“So you are not Jewish. Judaism is based on this very simple, sane idea. God is there, he’s watching us, expecting us to follow what he told us to do. It’s all in the Torah. That’s the whole story. That’s the core of Judaism.”

“You mean it’s not lox and bagels?”

“I’m serious”.

“Gefilte fish?”

Dora is smiling but is intent on not being sidetracked.

“That’s why the Torah has a crown on it. That’s why we kiss it as they walk it through the congregation. His do’s and don’ts. Written down. God’s commandments! He watches every last thing we do.   Making sure we obey.”

“And…”

“And nothing. You’re big on the whole Jewish intellectual thing?”

“What about it?”

“How do you think it started? For centuries the most serious scholars studied the Torah inside out, trying to glean every hint God gave us about what he expected. The Talmud, the Mishnah, it was all to try to figure the Torah out. This hippie idea that God is this nice guy saying “Oh well” to everything. That is totally wrong. He wants to be taken seriously. He’s made these rules and it’s our job to follow them.”

CC imitates God’s voice.

“Thou shall not eat bacon and eggs… Sounds like God is not a very spiritual guy.”

“You’re exactly right. He’s not concerned with the spiritual, what ever that means.”

“It means peace and love and understanding.”.

“And repeating those sweet chants. That’s right. God is not a hippy. He has rules and he’s given them to us.”

“In the shtetl the smartest student would be rewarded with a wife from the richest family so that he could study all his life. There was no Ford Foundation. Understanding God’s will was considered the sweetest, the most meaningful way any one could spend their life. Understanding his rules. Interpreting new ones and obeying them. But never mind all that. Let’s cut to the chase. You don’t need the Mishnah or the Talmud to rule on what you are doing. Adultery. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.”

“You really think there is a God?”

“He’s right there, watching me. And you. “

“But that’s so creepy.” She remembers one of Mark’s jokes. “Does he have a calculator counting the sins, or just a great memory…”

“Very funny.”

“That’s from Mark…Seriously, how do you picture God?”

“I picture God as fair. If you go along with him he’s on your side.”

“Religious Jews never get cancer? They never die young?”

“They do. There’s a lot we can’t understand, but who am I to question him? Dora Gordon at 39 Yellowstone Blvd, Forest Hills, Queens?”

“It’s more than that. God can get pissed. He killed everyone on earth but Noah’s family. He’s definitely not a live and let live God.

“That’s true..”

“Well that’s not much of a God to me.”

“Why? Because by Sesame Street standards he doesn’t measure up? I swear, sometimes I listen to the left’s sacred beliefs. and all I hear is a child. La-la nursery school beliefs.”

“I don’t know what God’s like. No one does. But he’s not Mr. Roger’s. A God fearing person doesn’t question God’s character. I mean who are we? Us judging him? We are forbidden to give him a name, to make a graven image of him. We are little nothings compared to God. Ants scurrying around.”

“God fearing? What kind of God is one you have to fear?”

“My father would have said, “You’re 15. You’re going to say what God should be like? He was right. He still is and I’m 26. All I know is without him I’m alone, lost. With him I share in his glory. And there is much glory all around us.

On Yellowstone Blvd?

“Everywhere. Every day the sun rises”

יֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִי־א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר Yoe mer, elohainu, Ya chi-or, va yachi or.

 

 

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.
And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”

 

Night and day, sunrise and sunset were among his first miracles. I see his glory every morning when I open my eyes. You never feel that?”

“No…Sometimes in the synagogue, when I hear the choir sing. When I sing “Shma Yisrael. God is one! The proclamation means something to me”

CC takes a deep, deep breath, cherishing the Shma.

“God’s allowing you to experience his presence.”

“But what if it all is a sham. God fearing is what they talk you into?

Dora’s voice raises, “Your world is so pure? Creating these men Gods. John Lennon, Paul McCartny. CC, they are just people. Great they can sing, and create a line or two of terrific lyrics. They’re just people, like you and me. Just as lost. Get rid of God and that’s what you are left with, worshipping celebrities. I’d rather reserve my awe for God.”

CC doesn’t answer but then contritely. “I agree with most of what you are saying.”

Dora wants to pound it home further. “I listen to these leftist leaders. Where are they leading students? Away from Judaism? Away from Christ? To where?”

There is a long pause.

“To equality.”

“Marx’s state of grace.”

“You don’t think that is important?”

“Equal opportunity? Absolutely but–“

“You should teach at my school. Some students would listen.”

“I don’t think anyone would listen.”

CC knows Dora’s right. The school used to encourage students to practice their religion.

“When I was a freshman we had these convocations. They began with a prayer. Everyone was respectful.”

“Do they still have them?

“They’ve dropped them, along with having to wear a jacket and tie for dinner.”

“How come?”

“Students were complaining.”

“You mean the college wanted to be hip.”

“I think they recognized that they were old fogeyish.”

“How did they get them to agree, by occupying their offices?”

“Colleges aren’t God fearing. They’re student fearing.” Dora adds.

CC says nothing

“CC, what I like about you is that you are a student, still trying to figure things out. Some of these activists, with their don’t trust anyone over 30. They really think they have all the answers.”

“You don’t think they see a lot of what’s wrong?”

“But that fools them into thinking what they have in mind is better. They’re going to make a perfect world. They are so sure. CC the answer is Judaism….You were Bat Mitzvahed right?

“Yeah..”

“You are no longer a child. You are held accountable. Like an adult. .. By God!”

Dora gives her a moment to think it over, then continues:

“Adultery doesn’t have a question mark next to it. It doesn’t require a complicated interpretation from the Talmud. There is no maybe. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.”

“There’s no wiggle room in your world, is there?… About anything?”

“There is. I have questions about plenty of things but not about the Ten Commandments.”

“So to you I am just a sinner.”

“No. You’re still my family! We’ll be together all our lives. But you’re grasping at straws. I know everyone wants to have someone but…” Her voice raises like a rabbi delivering a sermon from a podium. “You have no reason to be desperate.”

Her voice reverberates, as if Dora wants to be heard in the heavens above, and below, seared into the heart of every believer:

“You’re having an affair with a married man, a father of a young child!”

CC remains absolutely silent, more frozen by indecision then feeling contrite.

Jeremy sticks his head in the door.

She covers the mouthpiece of the phone then whispers loud enough for him to hear.        “My sister-in-law.” CC waves for him to go away.

Dora continues “I know that sounds judgmental but you know what? It is. That’s how it should be. I don’t know how this whole thing started about not being judgmental. It began with therapists. Now it’s everyone. Tolerance. Understanding. Accepting anything and everything you do. Doing your own thing has become the sacred commandment of our times.” Like an orator, she waits for the rhythm to carry her forward.   “Says who?”

Then silence.

From the look on her face it appears CC is being won over.

Unable to be silenced, not confident that she has made her point, Dora continues to press, “It’s a crazy perspective. Not being judgmental? It’s not a Jewish perspective. What else is there? How else can we evaluate what has happened that day? What we are doing. What we are allowed to do. Even if the debate is not on a grand stage, not on an op ed page, not public at all, if it only occurs in the bedroom at night between husband and wife, as they evaluate their own and everyone else’s behavior. Even if it occurs in your own mind, trying to convince yourself that you are not the judging type. You can’t avoid it. What’s the point of trying to rise above your conscience? CC I love you, but you are lost.”

CC remains quiet.

“Are you there?”

“I’m listening.”

“You know Jay was exactly the same.”

“Why the same?”

“Because he had no connection to God. He was observant but things he did had no meaning.”

“Jay always obeyed the rules.”

“I know. But he had begun to feel he was weird for doing that. That is so strange. He doesn’t have to apologize for being the way he is… God has given him a reason why he should not break free.” Dora hesitates…“I probably sound like a Bible thumper.

CC doesn’t answer immediately but then:

“No I know it’s coming from a good place.”

“It is. It’s what I believe… Deeply. …   CC when we first met, we promised that we would tell each other what we really thought. You told me about this because you wanted to know what I thought– didn’t you? If I was okay with it, then it wasn’t so bad.”

CC answers “I didn’t think about it but—“

“I love you CC. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so hard. But it is bad. Sin is sin. God doesn’t like when we do bad things… Wait. The second half is starting.”

Dora makes the sound of a loud kiss. “I love you. Stay away from Jeremy. He’s poison. God wants more from you.”

With an apologetic voice: “Jeremy is in the other room..”

“You don’t need my permission. If you break up with him it won’t be for me. It’s what God expects.”

““I’ll think about it. Just promise me you’ll say nothing to Jay. Or Mom and Dad.”

“I said I wouldn’t.”

Again she wonders why she is asking this. They already know.

Dora hangs up and goes back to the TV. The Jets come running on to the field.

In the stadium, the Jets return to the playing field to the sound of a huge roar from their fans, Jay and Ira slap hands. Jay moves his pants up and down, comically, flashing his socks. They bump asses. Then they slap hands again.

Hearing that CC is off the phone, Jeremy reenters the bedroom.

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