Thursday, January 12, 2006

(Bo) Teach Your Children Well

I recently went bowling and noticed the guy in the next lane was throwing an amazing game. I checked the overhead score board and noticed he had thrown strikes in his first five frames. He threw another one in the 6th, but as he approached the 7th frame I noticed a teenybopper at his adjacent lane wearing low cut jeans bending over to get her ball displaying her teeny little red thong. Everybody’s eyes were popping out of their heads over this spectacle, apparently including the bowler, who seemed to be thrown off his game and promptly tossed a 9 on his next throw. Ultimately he bowled a 245. At the end of his game, he didn’t seem too thrilled, and I over heard him tell his bowling cohorts how unfortunate it was that his recently departed “Uncle Mickey” wasn’t with us anymore to share the moment with him.

That brings to mind a recent Larry King Weekend episode. Larry had 3 psychics hashing it out against 2 doubters… And what an interesting line-up it was. It was James Van Praagh, Char Margolis and some old lady named Sylvia Brown against Rabbi Shmuely Boteach and some college professor I had never heard of who seemed to have it in for the old lady psychic after he quoted a string of appearances she had made on Montel Williams Show that even her own manager probably wouldn’t remember.

Margolis seemed sweet enough… I really am not too familiar with her.. But she looks to be somewhat attractive for her age, and she must have been a red thong wearing hottie in her heyday. I wonder if she is related to Cindy Margoilis.

Although the older lady and the professor seemed to have some sparkling dissensions.. the highlight for me was Rabbi Boteach vs. Van Praagh. In one corner was Boteach an Orthodox rabbi who hit big success in the late 90s with his book “Kosher Sex”. He has since written several more books, none of which I have read, including a new one that he was more than happy to hype during his Larry King appearance. Boteach is also incredibly clever and a skilled debater. I recall several years back he did another King show about Christians who try to convert Jews. Boteach brought his adversary to a stunned silence when he used Talmudic logic about the concept of accepting Jesus and going to Heaven. “So”, the Rabbi said.. “a little Jewish girl is gassed to death in Auschwitz by a Nazi who becomes a born again Christian before his death…… does that mean that the little girl goes to Hell while the guard goes to Heaven?”

I actually met Rabbi Boteach a few days after that. They were hosting a singles event which consisted of a forum at the Lincoln Square Synagogue with Boteach facing off against those two yentas who wrote “The Rules” book. It was basically a battle of wits against an unarmed opponent as Boteach ran circles around them. Afterwards. Boteach while still doing his publicity for “Kosher Sex” was autographing copies of his book. All of the participants were asking him about the book, dating advice, etc. However, I went up to him and told him how much I liked his Larry King appearance…. He stopped signing for a minute and thanked me for my comments, relieved that he had a break from the “Kosher Sex” questions, yet not quite realizing that I hadn’t sprung out any shekels for his book.

Then you have Van Praagh who I have never met…. although maybe some of my dead relatives have. Van Praagh’s shtick is very similar to John Edward’s…. although I think Van Praagh is slicker and also bears an uncanny resemblance to Rip Taylor. I half expected Van Praagh to interrupt his debate with Boteach by ripping up some paper… and dance on Larry’s desk while throwing confetti into Char Margolis’ cleavage. Speaking of cleavage, he also is the inspiration for that awful Jennifer Love Hewitt show “The Ghost Whisperer”

That brings me to the point of today‘s column…. Obviously Van Praagh is a fraud, but if he gives mourners a crutch with this silliness that he can speak to their dead relatives and he makes them feel better.. is he really harming anybody if he isn’t charging them a lot of money?.

It's very interesting how seriously the ultra-orthodox take the thoughts of dead souls. Boteach came to the show armed and ready for battle... He jumped right in on Van Praagh, knowing how he gets people's dead relatives to send messages that deal with mundane things like.. "Hey Aunt Mary likes that you go to her beautician"... or "Uncle Henry is happy you taught his great grandson how to swing a baseball bat". Boteach feels the content of these conversations should go much deeper. And he came out swinging.. questioning Van Praagh (and the others) why nobody had channeled the victims who were killed on 9-11 so the all-seeing dead can tell Van Praagh where Osama bin Laden is hiding. I like his point.. it seems more important than the color of the new sweater Aunt Mildred's great granddaughter bought on sale at Macy's that happened to match her zinnia plant that she used to have at her condo in Florida.

Boteach is not the only one. The ultra orthodox have a very different viewpoint on the "seriousness of the souls in the afterlife". They also have a very different opinion about having their sons bris's performed by a mohel using his mouth to drain blood. This bizarre practice which apparently has been going on for generations attracted media attention when a herpes infested mohel in NY passed his disease on two babies... one of whom died from the disease.

Im not too concerned with the mohel's extra cirricular activities that caused him to get the disease... that’s his business. But, I am very happy the state of NY has stepped in to keep an eye on, and maybe ban this bizarre practice. The ultra's have stepped in, and in a half page editorial in their English language newspaper of record said the use of this practice is non-negotiable. I don't quite think they are in the driver's seat on this issue to take a Scut Farkus bully like attitude.. (I'll be using Christmas Story analogies through February). And.. this lengthy editorial actually says in the beginning..."not every detail that appears elsewhere will appear [in this editorial} ". That’s an understatement…they throw out a bunch of stuff, but leave out the fact that this particular mohel had herpes, and even speculate that the baby’s death was due to a rash he had before his bris. As if the baby was in the nursery hitting on other infants and passing out a disease! The fact is a mohel with herpes should not be allowed to put his mouth on a baby's shmeckle!! And, if the parents refuse to protect these innocent babies from this bizarre practice... DYFS and/or the state should absolutely get involved!!

But getting back to Boteach and his ideas about the souls of dead people... For some odd reason, I once got into a lengthy debate with an ultra Orthodox chusid about whether my mother watches "Days of Our Lives" in Heaven. It was her favorite show, and to me it's a no-brainer. "No, no" he insisted..."the souls of the dead have more important things to do than watch TV ". "How do you know that?" I asked..."Oh, the rabbis say so" he insisted.... I know he meant well...but don't dead people watch over the living?.... And if so... How do you know that my mom isn't watching over another Days of our Lives fan while she watches NBC every afternoon at 1pm.

In reality, nobody knows what goes on up there in Heaven... neither myself, Rabbi Boteach, nor James van Praagh. He (or maybe Char Margolis) did a live reading on that Larry King show from a caller... During the call they channeled a dearly departed relative who told the caller how much they liked the way the house was re-arranged. Boteach who was fit to be tied, patiently waited for the red light of his camera to go on.... at which point he bellowed..."You mean of all the things in the world this dead relative could comment on..... she had to say how much she liked the remodeling job in the house??"

When push comes to shove, I disagree with both of them. Boteach may be a bit sheltered about the amount of emotional support some people need from Van Praagh. Boteach is well aware of the mourning laws of Judaism, which I feel are brilliant. A "mourner" has to follow certain laws in the first day, week, month, and year after the death of a loved one. During seven days of shiva, a mourner has a whirlwind tour of visitors coming and going from the home...The saying of kaddish with a group of ten people is ingenious.. the mourner starts to form a group of regular friends who they see every day and it’s very consoling.. I met a lot of terrific people when I said Kaddish in 1985, and again in 2001-02, and it was very nice to see them at services every day. . I also met my wife at Saturday morning services while I was saying Kaddish.

But mourning laws while restrictive, also become non-restrictive... and after you pass the point of the week... the rules tell you its time to move on.. and not sit shiva.. and after the year... its time to not say kaddish..... and you watch the other mourners who say Kaddish and you think to yourself...."Look at those people… They’re mourners,.... Yet now, I'm not one of them".....because that's Judaism's way of saying.. its time to move on...

In reality it is too bad other religions don‘t observe the rules of mourning. I feel bad for people who come back to work too soon after a death and try to get on with their lives. They need that kind of an organized program to deal with their grief... and unfortunately, many don't know how to deal with that type of a loss. Those are the people who fill the audience for Van Praagh's show. And as long as he doesn't charge them a lot of money....(although all of these psychics are fabulously rich), I don't see the harm if he tells these people that Uncle Mickey is happy that you bowled a 245 in the Thursday night league. Sometimes, it helps.... and after a period of time passes,.... the mourner starts to feel better about the void in his heart, and comes to the realization that neither Mickey nor James Van Praagh could care less about his 245 bowling score.


Neil said...

I heard about this mohel, and I wasn't sure this wasn't a hoax. Glad that it's being investigated by NY state.

Nate said...

It's no hoax; and I had never heard about it until the story hit the news.

I just shudder to think what the "mouthy mohel" job interview/training program must be like....

Anonymous said...

Are you sure it was the bowling score that guy wanted Uncle Mickey to see? Or the teenybopper with the thong?