Friday, April 11, 2008

Proselytizing to the Hasidim

Walking down Court Street today, I was approached by one of those Jewish youths whom the Orthodox families dispatch to advertise the Old Testament. He asked me if I was Jewish, and I said yes. Then he emitted a garble of noises, apparently asking me if I wanted to partake in some Jewish ritual. “I don’t know what you are saying to me,” I told him. “That’s how not Jewish I am.”

“It’s all right,” he said. “It’s a prayer.”

I said no thanks and started walking away, but then I turned back and said, “You should come over to my team, the atheists. It’s great!” This seemed to pique the Hasid’s interest, and he started following me.

“Don’t you get tired of living in a depressing world?” he asked me.

“Hell yes!” I said. “But my depression is clinical, not existential.”

We spent about two minutes debating inanely (“How do you know anything in the Bible happened?” “Well how do you know the French Revolution happened??”…), and then the Hasid again kindly asked me to pray with him. “It would be a mitzvah,” he said, taking out some sort of red-and-black cube that had two leather straps attached to it.

“Oh, why not,” I said. I guess I felt somewhat hypocritical taking some sort of principled stand against something about as consequential as voodoo, and I see little harm in playing along with a nice deluded Jewish boy (has this piece become vitriolic already?), so I let him put the little cube on my head and say his prayer. “Baruch atah Adonai,” he began, and I started reciting along with him, for camaraderie’s sake. I, of course, only know the version my dad used to say while lighting a menorah, which meant that things went smoothly enough until I enthusiastically proclaimed “shel Hanukkah!” He went on saying things, but I had to put an end to it, as there is only so long I can bring myself to stand in the middle of Court Street performing Orthodox Jewish rituals.

He thanked me for humoring him (not his words), and we briefly went back to arguing. A friend of his, another kippah kid, overheard us and came over, before evidently concluding that I was a waste of their time (which I felt displayed a surprising level of defeatism for a Jewish proselytizer). My Hasid asked again if I would like to pray, and I told him, somewhat callously, that the first time was silly enough, thank you.

“Good shabbos,” his realistic friend said to me, pulling my Hasid away.

“Good shabbos to you too,” I said, before adding, “And atheism is great—the truth will set you free!”

I’m thinking of setting up shop in Crown Heights.

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