Rabbi Goodman agreed to meet with me, but our meeting location made me a little nervous. I’d hoped for a more casual setting like Starbucks—neutral territory where my questions would not be considered blasphemous or even challenging. In the end, I agreed to meet in his office at the synagogue—our congregational building.
It was unusual to see the synagogue so empty and dark, save the dim lighting from the windows. I paused before the holiest place of the synagogue, the Aron Kodesh—the Holy Ark. It was here that the Torah scrolls were kept and opened only for special prayers or for reading the Torah during Shabbat services and the holy days. The Aron Kodesh was intentionally placed on the eastern wall of our synagogue so that every time we prayed we faced the holy city of Jerusalem. I paused and briefly prayed that I would find what I was searching for during my talk with Rabbi Goodman.
Prayer had become increasingly important to me lately. I remembered as a boy my grandmother, Bubbie Gershom, took me to her synagogue prayer services. All of the people in Grandma’s synagogue swayed back and forth, a new phenomenon for me. When I asked her why they did that, she said, “Why, David, think of yourself as the flame of a candle, flickering back and forth as your soul reaches upward to reach God with your prayers.”
It was a nice picture. But we didn’t sway back and forth at my parents’ synagogue. For some reason, I never really thought about that until now. Was our candle extinguished? Of course we were Conservative, not Orthodox. There are three main types of Judaism. We have Orthodox, which is very religious, where your entire day, week, month, and year revolves around Jewish tradition. Conservative respects the traditions, but expresses itself primarily inside the synagogue, not at work or in the supermarket. And there is the Reform, where Jewish tradition is interpreted in the most liberal, progressive ways—even to the inclusion of gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors. From a religious or traditional point of view, I was very content as a Conservative Jew. However, from a God point of view—I was lost.
I made my way around the bimah, the podium in the center of the sanctuary, through the side door to the rabbi’s office and knocked.
Rabbi Goodman extended his hand and greeted me warmly. “Please, David, take a seat.”
I recalled the softball games when Rabbi Goodman showed up in his jeans and sneakers to cheer for me and my Little League team. He was tall and thin, with dark hair and beard, and he wasn’t shy on the sidelines!
Unlike many Orthodox Jews, his beard was groomed, but I could see it had grayed some in the last few years and he sported a pair of wire rimmed glasses that sometimes slid down his nose as he read the Torah or read his sermons. Today, as men, we greeted one another in dress shirts and ties. As a journalist, I rarely wear a tie, but I had a event later that day. He was an old family friend, a good man. That is why it took some time for me to work up the nerve to request this meeting.
He motioned to a black wingback leather chair and pulled up a matching chair and sat across from me.
Nervous, I cleared my throat a little. “Rabbi, thanks for meeting with me. I was hoping you could shed some light on a few questions that I have. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about religion. Well, about God.”
“I have noticed that you started attending the Ma’ariv prayer services. That was unexpected, but certainly welcomed,” Rabbi Goodman responded. He crossed his long legs, folded his hands, and smiled warmly.
I didn’t mention it, but I chose the third prayer service at dusk simply because it worked well with my schedule. I was able to leave work and come to prayer before heading home to see Lisa and the girls. But it was a new effort, because something inside me somehow needed to connect further with God.
“For some time now I have been seeking to find deeper meaning in life. Yes, I have a great life. I love my family, my career is moving in the right direction. But a nagging thought has persisted for many months now—is there is more?”
“Okay…” The rabbi was listening.
“I have always believed in God—or at least that there is a God, but I never felt the need to go any deeper. But what if He has put us here for a purpose? What if I have some responsibility toward Him that I am not aware of? How can I just go on living life without seeking that out?”
“That is some seriously deep thinking, David. And good thinking!” responded the rabbi.
I relaxed a little and stretched my legs out in front of me. “Well, of course I began my search or investigation in the synagogue—in Judaism. Like you said, you have seen me at the evening prayer services. And sometimes I even come to the Shachrit services—but with two kids I don’t like to leave the house that early. I have to be honest here. I haven’t just been looking in Judaism.”
I paused to see his reaction.
“O…kay,” he said, eliciting emotions of curiosity, concern, and maybe a little confusion. “So, where have you been searching?”
“I started investigating some of the Eastern religions. I read a few books, but they all seem a bit too mystical. To be honest, I began to read the New Covenant.”
Rabbi Goodman sat straight up. His hands gripped the arm rests. “Why would you do that? That is a dangerous book, David.”
“Well, that is what I thought, but—”
“There is no but David. The people who follow that book are same people who have persecuted us for two thousand years. They have killed us in their Crusades and threw us out of Spain during the Inquisitions.”
Well, this is not going according to plan.
“Are you willing to throw your life away—your heritage—your family? And to join the people who hate us? My God, David, your grandfather and his sisters survived the Holocaust. And you would consider joining his oppressors? Your grandfather would turn over in his grave.”
I looked down at my shoes. I never saw my rabbi so upset. Deep inside, I knew I couldn’t press the rabbi further.
“David I can appreciate your desire to find a deeper meaning in life, but you won’t find a deeper meaning by becoming a traitor to your heritage, your religion, your family, and the memory of your grandfather and the six million that died before him!”
“Well, I was just investigating, but now that you put it that way—”
“David, your parents would be humiliated,” he interrupted. “Are you willing to put them through that?”
“Well no, of course not. I guess I didn’t think it through.”
Rabbi Goodman stood to his feet. “I’d say not. Why don’t you come to the Shabbat services next week? You know that it is said that when the congregation takes out the Scroll of the Torah to read it—”
“—Heaven’s Gates of mercy are opened,” I finished for him. Obviously, the rabbi thought I needed God’s mercy after this line of questioning.
As I drove home, I couldn’t get one word out of my mind. Traitor. I shuddered. The last thing I wanted to do was betray my family heritage. Hopefully the rabbi wouldn’t mention our conversation to my dad.
If you are still reading this testimony, then clearly you know where this search led me. An angel. An explanation. An experience. Only to lead to a terrifying accident, when my father suffered a stroke while driving to work the very morning of my visitation. The entire Jewish community was grieving over what appeared to be the end of Harvey Lebowitz. However, my journey had only just begun. Can I continue?
I hate hospitals. The smell of death just hangs in the air.
I touched my father’s hand—the one without IVs plugged into it—and pictures flashed before me. The day he took the training wheels off my bicycle; his strong arms wrapped around me as he taught me to swing a bat; the manly slap on my shoulder after my bar mitzvah.
Instinctively, I checked the screen again, my only assurance that life remained. It was already day five and hope was fading—I was fading.
A few days earlier, on what had been the most amazing day of my life, I came home to find out that my father had just had a terrible car accident. In a bizarre turn of events, hospital tests later proved that he had actually suffered a massive stroke while he was driving. He survived the crash, but now his brain function was affected by the stroke.
I rehearsed the doctor’s words again in my mind, and tried to force the information into my frontal lobe. “Simply put, a stroke is the loss of blood supply to the brain resulting in a lack of brain function. The longer the loss of blood supply, the more damage there is. Without flowing blood, the brain will cease to function.
My skin crawled. I sat beside the man I loved most in the world in a sterilized house of death. Come to think of it, that wasn’t a bad title for an editorial piece—“Sterilized House of Death.” On a better day, I’d have tapped that title into my cell phone to use later on. But really, how could a place so clean feel so dirty? Maybe I felt so strongly because this wasn’t my first scary experience at St. Luke’s Hospital.
St. Luke’s…now that is funny. I wonder how they would react if I told them that on Sunday, just five days ago, I actually had an extensive conversation with the hospital’s namesake—Luke! I am sure they would lock me up on that special floor for people who see angels, demons, and dead prophets.
At least they’d renovated the place. It was a far cry from the place where Bubbie Gershom, my mother’s grandmother, had breathed her last breath 25 years ago. That place was cold and gray and felt like medicine to a four-year-old. The rooms were far more inviting now. Bright colors and murals graced the walls along with black-and-white framed pictures of very happy people from every background. But as they say, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig! No matter how friendly they were, no matter how much money they spent to make the place more comfortable—someone was still dying here, all the time. I could feel it in the air.
I prayed to God that the next victim would not be Harvey Lebowitz. And yet, outside of a miracle the doctors were not hopeful.
And to think, I was terrified to tell him the news…that his son was now a follower of Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. Looking at the comatose, eerily still man beneath the white sheets, the man I respected most in this world, I realized that fearing his reaction to my new faith was the least of my concerns now. In all likelihood, I had lost my father, my mentor, and my best friend. I would never be able to share my story with him—or anything else for that matter.
I smelled the coffee across the hall. Time to stretch my legs.
I held the foam cup under the dispenser, suddenly agitated. “The whole world is going through a coffee revolution and the best this hospital can provide is that stupid machine spitting out colored water,” I barked to no one in particular.
“Well, it’s a good thing I am here then,” said my wife Lisa. She breezed through the doorway, bringing her customary warmth into this cold establishment. Relief washed over me. What would I do without her? I kissed her lightly on the lips and led her back across the hall to my father’s room, the coffee forgotten.
I couldn’t have endured this without her. There was no doubt that this was as hard on her as it was on all of us. Her own father and mother split up when she was just fourteen. Her father moved to Colorado a few years later, and while they have stayed in touch, it is hardly a warm and fuzzy father/daughter relationship. From the time we were engaged, she adopted my father as her own. He really had no say in the matter. By the time we said our nuptials at Temple Beth Israel he wasn’t sure on which side of the chupah he should stand—the father of the groom or the father of the bride. She had a way of bringing out a side of him that neither I nor my sister was able to, or had ever even thought about. We would often joke at family dinners that he loved her more than his actual children.
Despite their close relationship, Lisa instinctively knew the role she should play in this present situation. There would be time later for processing all this. Her job now was cheerleader, coffee-girl, carpooler, and listener. She was really good at the listening part. She did whatever was needed so that we wouldn’t have to think about it.
She put her large purse on the windowsill and held up a paper bag. “I brought you a latte from Starbucks,” she announced. “Three shots for my man.”
“How do you do that?”
She looked at me quizzically.
“You know, read my mind?”
She smiled and pulled the coffee from the bag. Normally I prefer straight espresso. But stuck in that hospital room, I needed something that would last longer.
“Here,” she said, and offered the latte. I reached for the coffee but found myself embracing her instead.
“I’m not ready to lose him,” I whispered into her hair. I choked back a sob and, once again, burst into tears. I couldn’t lose my father. Not now—not after everything I had just been through. I so badly needed at least one more face-to-face communication. How could it be God’s plan to reveal the truth to me, only to take my father the very same day? In some ways that gave me hope. God must have a plan—the timing couldn’t be coincidental.
My display of emotion appeared to everyone as the emotional reaction of a loving son grieving over the potential loss of his father. But it was more than that. I had found the truth. I had met God and I wanted my dad to know it!
“Are you okay?” Lisa asked. “I know this is difficult—you and your dad are so close. But it just seems like there is more going on. Is there something you want to tell me?”
Is there something I want to tell you!? Sure, last week, I was transported, translated, teleported, or something akin to “Scotty, beam me up” or “back” to the first century where a guy—no, an angel—introduced me to Peter, Paul, and Mary—no, not the band—along with John the Baptist, all of whom, it turns out, are Jews named Simon, Jacob, Miriam, and Yochanan. The latter is apparently a Jewish prophet, and not a member of First Baptist. Oh, and then I actually witnessed the death of Jesus, whose real name is Yeshua, before becoming a participant in a cosmic battle between angels and demons over my soul. How’s that for having more going on? Then, I found myself being sucked back and forth between heaven and earth until I awoke from what seemed to have been one crazy dream—that is, until the angel sent me an email confirming everything that had happened. Yep, that’s right, the angel sent me an email.
Then, when I pulled up to the house—a totally different person, a “new” man filled with peace and destiny—you come screaming out of the house telling me that my father is being rushed to the hospital…
“Ah, no, everything is okay—I mean, given the circumstances. This has just been really hard on me.”
There was no way I was ready to confide in her or anyone else for that matter—at least not yet. We were already in a hospital. How long would it take before they locked me up in padded room and fitted me with a straight jacket?
“Okay. I’m just worried about you.”
“I’ll be fine. Just please take care of Mom and my sister. They need you right now. It is too much for me to process all this and provide the support they need as well. They need someone strong and optimistic and I’m feeling neither at the moment.”
“I am heading to your parents’ house now. I’m sure your mother’s up already and will want to come in to the hospital. I just wanted to check in on you first. It’s on the way.”
My mother was always the strong one in the family. It came naturally to the daughter of a successful lawyer and one who was active in the Philadelphia Jewish community. She was the past president of the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia. Both of my mother’s parents were first generation Americans. My dad’s father came over from Poland after the Holocaust where he met his wife. Her parents came over from Eastern Europe just before the turn of the century. Mom’s grandparents on her dad’s side worked tirelessly in the New York garment business, literally making and selling their own line of clothes, saving every penny so their sons could go to school. By the time my grandfather, her father, graduated, his father was the owner of a thriving factory with 150 employees and no longer needed to save every penny.
His brother, her uncle, took over the business and turned it into a booming retail success called Goldbergs, even though that wasn’t their last name. At the time, Jewish-owned department stores like Altmans, Gimbels, Kaufmanns, Lazaruses, and Strausses were doing exceptionally well. And “Smith,” the name my great-grandfather Poldansky had taken upon entering these United States, just didn’t sound very Jewish. Who needs to know we’re Jewish? he’d thought at the time. Years later, however, they realized that having a Jewish name in retail—not to mention law and medicine—was actually helpful and “Goldberg” was chosen.
With her uncle as CEO and her father handling the legal side of things, Goldberg’s kept the Smiths quite comfortable for many years. Eventually they sold the store for a ton of money and watched the new owners run it into the ground. My great uncle Morton retired young and wealthy, while my grandfather moved his family to Philadelphia to join with some friends in starting up Schwartz, Steinberg, and Smith Law Offices. When his daughter brought home Harvey Lebowitz, a first-year law student at NYU, he couldn’t have been more pleased. Twenty-something years later, Schwartz, Steinberg, Smith, Walberg, and Lebowitz was well known to anyone in Philadelphia—particularly to those who watch Jeopardy at 7:00 p.m. on WPVI.
As a teenager, I loved and hated it, depending on where I was and who was watching when people would walk up to my dad and say, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from those lawyer commercials?” And then they would always add, “Your case is only as good as your lawyer.” Dad was hard to miss, really. In his late fifties, he was still quite good looking and he always carried himself as if he owned Wall Street. His short, curly hair had only grayed at the temples and he still had a full head of hair. After shooting another commercial the cameraman always told him, “The camera loves you, Harvey.” Of course, Dad always passed off those comments with a laugh and a joke about his growing midsection, blaming Mom’s good cooking.
Despite Mom’s inherent strength, Dad’s presence boosted her confidence even more. I don’t think even she understood how dependent upon on him she was—not until now anyway. From the outside she was loud, he was quiet. She was opinionated, he went with the flow. She was the life of the party, he preferred not to be at the party. But in truth, he was her strength and I could see in her demeanor that losing him would take its toll. Before, nothing would shake her—but that was because nothing shook him. Without him there, she was already shaken. Her short plump frame looked stooped and tired these days. The dark circles under her eyes were telltale signs of her personal anguish.
Despite his quiet exterior, Harvey Lebowitz had a keen sense of humor, which evidenced itself in three areas of his life. When he was making those embarrassing commercials, when he was trying a case—he had the ability to use humor and wit to make the opposing counsel or a clearly-lying witness look foolish—and when he was in small gatherings like watching a football game or around a family dinner.
And every now and then, the introvert would surprise us all. Once while walking down the streets of Manhattan after dinner, an annoying Times Square street-preacher kept yelling, “The King is alive! The King is alive!” Without batting an eye, my father ran up to him in front of several dozen onlookers yelling, “I knew it, I knew it, Elvis is alive!” The very recollection of it still brings a smile to my face, even though I now know that the King is indeed alive—and He’s not from Memphis.
Later that afternoon, I sat with Lisa at a restaurant that had clearly been built to cater to those who couldn’t stomach eating inside the hospital cafeteria. While picking through a grilled chicken salad, I asked, “How are you holding up?”
“Reasonably well under the circumstances.” Then she looked up as if there was a “to do” list hovering above her. “Your mom and sister are inside. I will need to pick up your sister’s kids from school in about an hour and get them situated. And then I need to figure how everyone is going to get fed tonight.”
“Who’s watching the girls?”
“Mindy will take them home from school. They can stay with her girls until this evening.”
Mindy was Lisa’s best friend. She was the first to greet us when we moved into Stonycreek. From the beginning, the two of them hit it off. Fortunately, I also get along well with her husband, Michael. In most of our other friendships it has been rare that both of us have “connected” with both members of another couple. Usually one of us would have to tolerate the spouse while the other two hit it off. One couple, in particular, I now simply refuse to spend time with. Lisa and I went out with Jill and Frank only once. Lisa met Jill at the gym and the two of them just assumed their husbands would hit it off just as well as they did. Not so. By the end of that first evening, I swore I would never go out with them again. For three hours Frank talked on and on to me about his work and how interesting it was. At the end of the three hours, I still couldn’t have told you what in the world he did for a living!
Michael, however, is different. We both work in journalism—he’s a producer for Channel 12 News, while I am a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. We are also both avid Eagles fans and take turns regarding whose house we would watch the game at during football season. He is even someone I can talk to about personal problems—marriage, work, etc. After my father was rushed to the hospital they made it clear they were there for us. Anything we needed, they said, just call. Of course others said that as well, but with Mindy and Michael, I wouldn’t feel guilty taking them up on the offer. They meant it.
“When will you be back?” I asked Lisa.
“How are you doing with all this? Are you exhausted?”
“The truth is,” she admitted, “I would probably be a complete mess if not for staying busy, so this really is the best thing for me. I don’t know how I would react if I stopped running. Don’t worry about me. Let’s take care of your family. That’s what’s most important right now.”
“I should probably go back over there—check in on everyone.”
“Ask them to give you a doggy bag. You are going to want to finish that salad in about ninety minutes, if I know you.”
And she did. That’s how my metabolism works—fast. I tend to need regular sustenance.
“Fine. You go on. I’ll get this wrapped up and then head back to the room.”
A short kiss, embrace, and two-second gaze into one another’s eyes, as if to say, “Let’s get through this together,” and she was off.
I walked across the street, doggy bag in hand, feeling a little guilty. I had to tell her. We had worked hard on our marriage. We read books, attended one or two seminars, and even met with a counselor for 10 weeks before getting married. We didn’t know any other couples who tried harder to stay together, but after watching not only her own parents’ divorce but close to half of the parents of our childhood friends, not to mention more than a few young couples we knew, Lisa was determined to do it right. And we had no clue what right was. Before we got married she would say, “Please promise me you won’t do to our children what my father did to me.”
Because my parents are together, I really couldn’t relate to her concern. Of course I would be there. “Till death do us part,” right? Well, that was before we got married. We were in love! However, after we married and she moved into my downtown loft, it was amazing to discover how many little things would annoy each of us. The toilet seat was left up…the toothpaste cap wasn’t put back…Why do you always…and Can’t you ever…. And without getting too descriptive, guys are simply not used to the complexities of waxing, plucking, and shaving. I had no idea how much was involved in getting the female of the species ready for public presentation. For me, getting ready for bed meant brushing my teeth and putting on pajamas. For Lisa, it is a 20-minute ritual of applying creams and cleansers. “Living together” was clearly different from “dating.”
Fortunately, those 10 weeks of premarital classes had prepared us for many of these adjustments. Sometimes we would just laugh as if to say, “Yep, they told us this would happen.”
Over the years our relationship had grown from a euphoric puppy love into a romantic friendship. Once our girls came, Emma and Sofia, it evolved even further into a romantic partnership. Carpools, soccer games, piano lessons—it felt like we were in a never-ending relay race. There was nothing I enjoyed more than Saturday at the park with Emma and Sofia. After a round on the tire swing, we’d toss a Frisbee or shoot hoops.
And that’s what we signed up for. We’re a happy little family, and Lisa and have I always maintained strict transparency with one another, even in the little things. When an old fling contacted her on Facebook announcing his divorce, she didn’t hesitate to show me. We unfriended and blocked him together. And now, here I was not being open with Lisa about the most amazing thing in my life.
For good reason, mind you. She is not going to believe me—at least not at first.
As I entered Dad’s hospital room, I was surprised to see Rabbi Goodman there with my mom and sister. This is the same rabbi who had only weeks before verbally assaulted me when I merely asked a few questions about the possibility of Yeshua being the Messiah. In fact, I recall him actually saying my grandfather would roll over in his grave to hear me speak that name and that such disloyalty would rip my family apart. I had left his office feeling like I’d just confessed to him that I looked at child pornography. The shame was tangible. It wasn’t based on theology or a study of Scriptures, but on the actions of Christians against Jews. His hypothesis was simple: Jesus could not be the Messiah because of how those who claimed to follow Him treated the Jewish people. At the time, the rabbi made sense. But that was before the angel.
That had been a few weeks ago, and this was the first time I had seen him in a social setting since. Strangely, while I was struggling to tell Lisa about my time-traveling adventure, I couldn’t wait to tell the rabbi of my angelic journey. However, given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be today.
“Daaa-vid!” he such with hushed emotion, “How are you, son?” He put both of his hands on my biceps and looked at me with genuine empathy. I had to let go of my little grudge. If not for Ariel, my eyes would not have been opened. Rabbi Goodman had not had that benefit. Who was I to judge? Plus, Rabbi Goodman was a good friend of my father. Dad’s firm handled all the legal work for the synagogue, from real estate to law suits. He genuinely cared for Dad.
“I’m hanging in there, like all of us—hoping for the best.”
“I was just on my way out. David, I just told your mother if you need anything, anything, don’t hesitate to call. Okay?”
He turned to my mother and gave her hug reiterating the same sentiments to her and then to my sister. One last reassuring glance at me and he was on his way.
“Any news?” I asked.
“The doctors plan to run some tests on him this afternoon,” my sister Hope responded. “They want to check his brain function.” Hope is two years my junior and we are close. She is brilliant; a graduate of Brown University whose motto, interestingly enough, is In Deo Speramos—“In God we trust.” If that was ever true in my life, it was now. It was becoming clearer with each passing day that our only hope was God. I was always Hope’s protector growing up, and she adored me for that. That is why I’d assured her that Dad’s brain activity would be fine, despite knowing you don’t suffer a stroke like this and come out fine, at least not without a miracle. I couldn’t bring myself to verbalize the truth we all knew.
At the very least, Dad will spend the rest of his years not in a courtroom, but in a wheelchair. If he is able to speak at all, it will be barely intelligible due to the paralysis in his face or the lack of oxygen to his brain during the stroke—or both. Or worse still, he’ll be stuck in this coma until we pull the plug.
That was the truth, and two Ivy League educated adults knew it. But we would not talk about it. No, not yet, maybe in a week, maybe in a month, but not now. Now, we would talk about Harvey Lebowitz returning to his old self, and quickly.
“If I know Dad, he’ll be complaining about the food here and cracking jokes with the nurses any day now,” I tried to sound sincere and amusing at the same time.
“I hope so.” Hope smiled weakly at me, tears in her eyes.
Lisa returned around 7:30 that evening, just as she’d said. Mom and Hope thanked her. It seemed that tears, once again, were inevitable. My active, defense-lawyer dad lay still. Eyes closed, hands folded, and most of all, speechless. Harvey Lebowitz was never speechless! Lisa and I stood back and looked on, our arms around each other. It was surreal to make conversations around him, but not with him. He was in the room but not really with us. Just before she left, Mom held Dad’s hand, tears dripping off her nose until Hope handed her a tissue. I wiped back my own tears.
Hope finally convinced Mom to go home with her, where they would both spend the night. Her husband Mark was at her home with their children. Lisa would most likely stay with them as well, finding a friend to stay with the girls.
I cleared my throat. I had to get out of this monsoon of sadness.
“Let’s get some food,” I said to Lisa. As Lisa grabbed her purse, I tapped Dad’s foot, covered by a white hospital blanket. “Harvey, don’t leave before we get back—you hear me?” Sometimes a little humor about your comatose dad is just what you need to lift your spirits. Heck, if he could hear, I know he would laugh, even if annoyed that I called him by his first name. I would do that sometimes to irk him.
Hand in hand, we walked back to the café. The staff knew us by now. One of Lisa’s great qualities is that she will tell her life story to anyone willing to listen.
Managing this restaurant was different. Their steady clientele were the friends and family of children with cancer, brothers with brain tumors, and fathers suffering strokes. You had to be both tough and warm to work here. Max, the manager, certainly fit the tough image. He was built like a fullback, short and stocky. His biceps stretched out the sleeves of his red polo shirt, but his heart was bigger than his body.
“Hey David, how is your dad doing?” asked Max.
“No real change, Max, but thanks for asking.” Please stop asking, I thought.
We sat down at a booth. A teenager wiped the table top with a wipey, leaving it clean but wet. “When did they start using wipeys to clean tables? It makes me feel that I am eating off a babies tukhus.”
“Yes, but a clean tukhus,” Lisa responded. She quickly used her napkin to dry the table, so I grabbed her a new napkin off the table behind me.
Lisa has a great wit. It’s one of things that I find so endearing about her, and one of the things that caused me to fall in love with her. When I met her in college she was cute, funny, and could handle pressure. And it was at that moment, in the cafe next to the hospital, looking at the beautiful mother of my children, that I decided I had to tell her. We were one—a team. I couldn’t hide this from her anymore. Of course it was going to sound crazy—but if I couldn’t tell her, I would never tell anybody.
Here goes nothing.
“You asked me earlier if there was something bothering me.”
“Yeah, you said it was just the issue with your dad.”
“I did say that, didn’t I? Well, I kind of lied. There is, actually, something that I very much want to tell you—in fact, I couldn’t wait to tell you and was on my way home to tell you, and then this happened…with my dad.”
“So tell me! What is so exciting—if it is good news, why are you so nervous?”
No going back now. “Well, there’s another reason I didn’t tell you. It’s, ah, kind of hard to believe. Almost impossible.”
“Are you pregnant?”
There’s that wit.
“Very funny.” She had the most adorable smile on her face.
“Seriously, what in the world are you talking about—impossible?”
“Remember five days ago when you came running out of the house hysterical, in tears?”
“Of course, your father had suffered a stroke and you weren’t answering your phone.”
“Right. Did you notice something different about me?”
“What are you talking about, David?”
“Just think for a minute. Close your eyes and think back—was there something strange?”
Lisa closed her eyes in mock concentration. Suddenly, she opened her eyes. “Yes! You had been crying!”
“Other than during a movie, when have you ever known me to cry?”
“Well, you and your father are close…”
“But I hadn’t found out about Dad, yet—I hadn’t answered my phone, remember?”
“You are starting to sound like a lawyer!”
“Well, why shouldn’t the son of Harvey Lebowitz sound like a skilled lawyer?”
“I didn’t say skilled,” Lisa smirked. “Okay, Denny Crane, why were you crying?” Denny Crane was one of my favorite television characters—a lawyer from the formerly popular show, Boston Legal.
“That morning I went to Starbucks to work on my column. You know that for the past several months I have been seeking to find out if there is more to life than meets the eye. Is there a God? And if so, what does He want from me?”
“I know, we’ve talked about this. I’ve seen the books even if I haven’t read them.”
“Well, I had a something of a breakthrough that morning.”
“Okay, but before I tell you what happened, let me say something.” She nodded. “Every Passover we read through the Haggadah and recite the Passover story. We talk about the ten plagues, sticking our finger in our wine glass, making drop of wine on our plate for each plague. We revisit how Moses led the Children of Israel through the Red Sea as God parted the waters. We go through this story every year as if we believe it. But do we? Do you?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really given it much thought. The history confirms we existed and were enslaved in Egypt. Were there plagues and miracles? I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Okay, but if it did happen, then the God of the Bible is real; and all the other stories are real too—Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, the three Hebrew kids walking in fire, Noah and the flood. And if all that really happened, then supernatural things could still happen, right?”
“I suppose.” She looked really puzzled now.
“What if I told you an angel appeared to me.”
“Did an angel appear to you?”
“No, I am not.” Suddenly, I felt an energy I had not known before, an authority—an intensity. “I really did see an angel. And not only that, he took me back in time two thousand years. I talked to characters from the Bible. I—”
“David!” she interrupted. “Stop. You’re scaring me.”
Okay, calm down David. Too much too soon. “Listen,” I said, more gently. “I was sitting in the Starbucks reading the newspaper when suddenly everything became white—bright, crazy white. The whitest white I had ever seen.”
Lisa was looking at me now as if she was looking at someone she didn’t know, but I was in too deep. There was no going back. And this energy I was feeling was amazing!
“Then an angel named Ariel appeared.”
“He had a name?” Lisa questioned, as she looked at me incredulously.
“Yes, he did—you have a name, I have a name; why can’t he have a name?
“Fine, he has name. Continue. Please.”
“He told me that God Himself had been aware of my search and that God had a mission for me. He took my hand, and next thing I knew we were flying.”
Maybe I should’ve left that out for now.
“Before I knew it, we were in the Old City of Jerusalem, two thousand years ago.”
“David, you sound like a religious freak!”
“Well, that’s just it. He spent the next—actually, I have no idea how long it was. In earthly time it was only a half hour—”
“I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. He taught me about Yeshua—Jesus. He really is the Messiah.”
“David, we’re Jews. We don’t believe in Jesus! What in the world has happened to you?”
“I have found the truth; I’m a new man.”
“Well new-man, you are going to have to find a new wife and new home if you don’t stop talking like a crazy man!”
I knew she didn’t mean that. I also knew she was scared, and I couldn’t blame her. I could’ve told her Scrooge’s story and it would have been easier to believe. And then it hit me. I had proof.
“I can prove it!”
“You can prove that you went back in time, flying with an angel—I’m sorry, with Ariel—who told you to leave your people and your heritage and believe in Jesus.”
“How much do we know about what Zayde1 Tuvia, or his sisters, suffered in the Holocaust?”
“What are you talking about David?”
“Just answer the question. Please?”
“The lawyer is back,” she quipped. “Very little. He never talked about it.”
“And neither did my great aunts. Even Dad doesn’t know to what extent they suffered.”
“Okay, so, what does that prove?”
“What if I told you that they had a brother named Chaim. A Nazi guard shot him when they arrived at a concentration camp. His sisters were used as sex slaves by the Nazis. Both of his parents died in the camp, while Zayde was transferred to Auschwitz. They had come from Poland, from Warsaw. His father, my great-grandfather, was a university professor before the war. They were forced into the ghetto and then transported to the concentration camps. When the war was over he had no idea if his sisters were even alive.
“I don’t know how or when they were reunited, but you know there is no way I could know any of this.”
I remember how angry I was that the angel forced me to watch the story of my grandfather. It was gut wrenching. But now, I was so grateful for this information; I could prove my experience was real.
“Your angel told you all this?”
“No, Zayde told me. Well, a teenage version of him did, right after his liberation. It was a movie—I mean—”
“You talked to your dead grandfather when he was a teen?”
“No, he talked to me,” I answered, sounding less and less convincing by the second. “Um, Ariel—the angel—showed me a movie where my grandfather told his story.”
So much for proof. I was sounding more and more like a nutcase by the minute.
“David, let’s suppose all this is true. Who is going to corroborate it? Your grandfather is dead! His oldest sister is dead! His younger sister is eighty-five in a nursing home and isn’t very talkative.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I can talk to her.”
“David, she is an old lady, not well, not all there, and you are going to dredge up memories of the most horrific period of her life—of being a sex slave for the Nazis?! Stories of rape and abuse, memories she hasn’t been willing to share for nearly seventy years! Really? Do you want to kill her?”
This was not going well.
“Listen, David, I’m exhausted; you’re exhausted. We can talk about this later. To tell you the truth, I am so tired I don’t know what to think. I love you, but you’re sounding really crazy. At least for now, please let’s keep this just between us?”
“Fine. Let’s talk tomorrow. I was going to wear a sandwich board that says, The End is Near and go down to Independence Hall, but I think I can keep this to myself until tomorrow,” I joked. Not a good time.
And then, the love of my life got up and walked out of the restaurant without a word—no goodbye, no kiss, no hug, nothing. Strangely, I wasn’t worried. I figured if God could send an angel to visit me and show me things I never imagined possible, then He could certainly work on my wife. I would have to be patient and think of a way to prove my grandfather’s story. Maybe he did tell someone or maybe I could find a survivor who knew him during the war. There had to be way.
I looked up and said under my breath, “Or, you could just send an angel to her on her way home. That would save me a lot of time and tsurus.”