Location: United States

Monday, January 22, 2018

When I was growing up I heard Yiddish everywhere.

When I was growing up I heard Yiddish everywhere.

It was in the air, in the water and especially in the food.

I grew up in New York City. My first few years were in Mid-town Manhattan but my earliest memories come from the Bronx where my family lived in what were called the projects.

The projects were very large housing complexes meant for people of modest means.

They were actually very nice having recently been constructed after World War II. Though I went to a local school, PS 109, which was within walking distance. My father used to walk me and my sister to school each day since he was unemployed for several years. My mother worked as a secretary. My father was a CPA and also had an MBA. However, in those days most of the accounting firms in NYC would not hire Jews. So he only had work during the tax seasons when they were so swamped with work they would hire Jews. Then, after the season, they would let them go. At one point he got a job with a small Jewish firm. Their clients were all Jewish firms who gave their business to such firms to help them along. If you go back and look in the NY Times, Herald Tribune and other local papers you will see that the want ads specify - White, male, Christian only. That was the way it was then. Late, things changed, of course.

So I grew up in this environment.

Everything was Jewish. My parents never socialized with non-Jews. I personally knew no non-Jews until I was nine years old when we moved to northern New Jersey. However, as a young child I never thought about these things. I assumed that everyone was like us. We wanted to be with people who were like us because otherwise things could get a bit uncomfortable.

And then there was the language.

We were descended from European Jews who had left their homes for a better life. Like most immigrants they retained many cultural ties with their homes. One of them was language.

The European Jews from whom I come spoke Yiddish as their language. This language developed when the Jews came to Europe from other places. Originally, they had lived in the land of Israel for many years. This is our ancestral home. They had been driven out of Israel in 70 AD by the Romans. They settled in Babylonia, present day Iraq. After being expelled from Babylonia they came to Europe. It was here that Yiddish gradually developed so that they could communicate with each other. There are manuscripts in Yiddish that date back over a thousand years so we know it was widely spoken.

Yiddish is a Germanic language like Dutch, Swedish and Danish. Probably about 70% of it has Germanic roots from the middle ages. The rest is rooted in Hebrew and Slavic languages. It is written in Hebrew characters from right to left.

Though my family spoke English our English was filled with Yiddish words. I didn't know that these words were Yiddish. I just knew that this is the way we spoke and communicated. So I grew up with this language as a de facto way of experiencing the world. My parents were the children of immigrants who had come from Poland and Latvia. The parents spoke Yiddish as home though they also learned English. So my parents both speak fluent Yiddish. They would use it exclusively when they didn't want the children to understand them. Later on I made it a point of learning Yiddish quite well but this was when I was in my teens. At that point they spoke Yiddish less and less compared to when we lived in NYC.

What resulted from this is that I still think in Yiddish words for certain things. Many people who are not Jewish but grew up in NYC amongst people like us acquired this familiarity with these words, too. It was just a part of life. Words like schlemiel, drek, nebekh, davven, farkakte, meshugene, goyish, shikse, sheygetz, and thousands of others were just how we communicated. They were a lot more expressive than their English equivalents which still sound rather weird to me.

Consequently, Yiddish mixed with English became our language.

Later on, in 1969 when I went to Jerusalem and spent two years studying in an ultra-orthodox Jewish school ( a yeshivah) this dual language experience became even more pronounced. The school had been transported from Brooklyn and was housed in an orphan asylum until it could find a home. I lived in that building, which had been built when Israel had been part of the Ottoman Empire. It was an enormous, dank, dingy, cold structure. Everything was stone; the floors, walls, ceilings. The tables and chairs were wooden and of very poor quality. The place was old. The walls were painted an institutional green.

Our yeshivah had one large room where all the students sat in folding chairs and studied the Torah. Our texts were in Biblical and medieval Hebrew as well as Aramaic. No one taught me these languages; I was just expected to learn them on my own in order to study and learn the materials. I had a dictionary; that was it.

Many of the classes were conducted in Yiddish. No one had ever studied this language. They just knew it from growing up in an exclusively Yiddish environment, an environment which was much more Yiddish-dominated than mine had been. I doubt that my parents, who stopped speaking this language as their only tongue when they were about 6 or 7 years old, would have understood many of my lessons. Well, I certainly didn't. However, there I was, sitting in a class and unable to understand most of what was being said. When the teacher would call on me and I had no idea what he was saying, he would simply go to the next student. This went on for two years. I was never excused from the classes. I had to attend.

So in this situation the students, who were all Americans, conversed in English. However, the language that we used we called yeshivish. It was about 70% English and the rest Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic expressions from the Babylonian Talmud ( the major text studied in the yeshiva).

Consequently, I became totally fluent in yeshivish and still use it today when conversing with people from that background of whom there are quite a few in the Jewish world.

(to be continued)

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Torah, Judaism and Homosexuality. Let the Truth be known.

Today I wrote a review on a book, Judaism and homosexuality: an authentic orthodox approach. My review, which I had thought quite a lot about before posting ( I have thought about this matter for the last 48+ years of my life) was accepted on Amazon.com. However, Amazon. uk rejected it and then wrote that I would never again be allowed to review this title.

What i am writing here is the tip of the iceberg for me. It comes from the heart. It is the result of 68 years of living as a gay, Jewish man who loves G-d and loves life. Though I have been the recipient of so much hostility from other Jews for whom I am, I have never lost my faith in G-d, who created me as I am, in His ( Her - She has no gender - more on that in future posts) image nor in the goodness of humanity. After all is said and done, I still believe that people are inherently good. As a physician I daily work to let my patients know that I love them and that I will do all in my power to help them.

Here is my review:

It is hard to know where to even begin such a review.

I am a physician and yeshiva graduate. I continue to learn Torah daily. I am also in a committed gay relationship with another man that began in 1985. I founded the third gay and lesbian synagogue in the US in 1976 in Chicago after the local shuls refused to allow people like me to even davven with them if we were open about who we were. At the time every single synagogue in Chicago refused to even allow us to rent space to pray. Finally, we ended up having to pray in a non-Jewish setting. When as an intern in South Bend, IN. I walked into the only orthodox shul to pray the rabbi told me that he was so happy to have a yeshiva grad there, not to mention a doctor. Then he asked me if I were married. I told him the truth. He then told me to leave and never return.

The author of this study is a sincere and literate man. He seems to truly care about the welfare of gay people but he also appears to me to be in major denial when it comes to us and our world.

It is only within the last 100 years that homosexuals have reached out to ally themselves with others like them in order to improve our lot in life. We are different and G-d created us as we are. There is absolutely nothing wrong with us per se as some might want to believe. The Torah does not condemn people for who they are. Rather it tells us that G-d wants a relationship with us, an intimate one, that brings out the best in us. And since He created us in His Image, there is nothing at all wrong with us including our same-sex attraction.

Our attractions are totally normal. In fact, if we, as homosexuals were attracted to the opposite sex then we would be abnormal for the way He created us. I know that many find this hard to related to but it is nonetheless so. Until heterosexuals realize this, they are really missing the point here.

The rabbis who are cited so well in this work never had any understanding of gays and lesbians as people. We were and in the mind of this author are solely defined by what we do in bed.  Would heterosexuals like to be so defined in so narrow a way? I think not. Why not realize that in this way we are no different.

The verses in Genesis where the idea of sodomy or anal intercourse is first found and  upon which much of this book revolves need to be reexamined closely. We are shown angels in the guise of men who are offered shelter. A crowd of men demands to have sex with them. Lot offers his daughters which they refuse. They want to rape the men.  The  crowd is not made up of same-sex attracted men; they are all straight men who want to rape other men. What is so hard to understand here? We are not dealing with gay men. And yet the rabbis,  later on in Leviticus where men laying with men in the manner of women is prohibited, in their ignorance, assume that this must refer only to gay men since they allow it for heterosexuals.

Lesbians are nowhere mentioned in Torah. Yet the author draws the erroneous conclusion that the Torah also prohibits sex between them. In addition, he believes that sex between same sex couples of any kind is prohibited. The same rabbis who denounce men for having anal intercourse with other men in a consensual relationship, permit it for heterosexuals. Thus, they tip their hand to let us know that procreation is not an issue here.

All of this is not only faulty reasoning but downright ignorant.

The Torah not only does not condemn gay men and lesbians, since it was never referring to them in the first place in Genesis ( it was referring to same sex rape), but doesn't condemn people for who they are per se.

The author tries to represent himself as reasonable and fair minded. He is neither in his conclusions which only serve to support the continuing hate and denigration of people like me in the orthodox community.

Long before Torah was given at Sinai Hashem created gay men and lesbians. We are a fact of life which no rabbinical decrees can eliminate. Homosexual sex and love/ attraction is found in every single species in the animal kingdom. We are a fact of life.

People, do not be sheep. Educate yourselves about the world. About life. Read, study the Torah. Know that it is Truth,  but that many of those ignorant people who claim to let us know what it says are themselves unbearably ignorant. In their arrogance, they assume that they understand things which they have never studied and inquired into.

Would you want to base your life on such faulty and obviously ignorant advice?

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Work of Byron Katie

Around 2000 I came across the work ( or as she terms it The Work) of Byron Katie.
Byron Katie is a woman who went through a transformative process in which she woke up from the state of sleep which characterizes the lives of most people.

She ceased to be run by her underlying, negative thought patterns. They just disappeared. She had no previous interest in such matters and at the time of this experience was living in the attic of a treatment facility for people with psychiatric issues. She was so paranoid that she used to sleep with a loaded gun under her pillow and even felt threatened by the postman who delivered her mail. She recently mentioned that she thought of killing him since she was afraid of him slipping the mail via the slot in the door to receive the post.

So not exactly the most balanced person around.

One day, laying on the cement floor of the room in which she slept, she awoke to find a cockroach crawling over one of her toes. She slept on the floor since she didn't feel worthy of sleeping in the bed that was in the room.

She got up and went to the mirror. The face she saw in the mirror was not recognizable to her. She had somehow undergone such a major psychological transformation that she was now able to see things as they actually are without the limiting effects of negative thinking.

That day she was discharged and sent home. The psychiatrists agreed that she no longer would benefit from their program though they had no explanation for the transformation that had occurred.

Some people call it Grace.

She went back to Barstow, California,  which she describes as very isolated, surrounded by large tracts of barren space, desert. The home of an air force base and, according to her, buffeted by winds that drove many people away.

When she returned home she would just sit in the rural areas, amidst the winds, silently appreciating life as it presented itself.

People noticed the enormous change and began to request her to help them with their own issues.

She just didn't know what to do since she had not done anything special to make this all happen in the first place.

Gradually, she figured out that by questioning stressful beliefs in a specific way, many people could start to defuse their situations and find peace, the peace that is who we are and who we always have been.

She began to privately teach this. Then the meetings became too big so she began to have seminars to teach others in various locations. In the early 2000's I went to several of these in the Washington, DC, West Virginia area. They were life changing and after many years of not doing The Work, I recently returned to it.

The key to doing it is to write it down. There is a major temptation to do it orally but this will simply not get the results that you get if you write all of it down.

On her website, www.thework.com , there is a menu option for resources. Click it and you will find downloadable materials, many of which have been translated into other languages, to do the Work.

My suggestion for those interested in pursuing this is to get her first book, Loving what is, and study it. It really gives all the instruction you need to get started.

Youtube also has some videos of her doing the work with others. Two of my favorites are:



I urge my patients to do this work and have helped some of them during visits to get started.

If done correctly, it can really transform you life for the better.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

BM leads to expansion of Jewish experience.

The Library of Congress cataloging system uses the letter B to label books on religion.

Most of the letter combinations in the system are devoted to Christianity which reflects the worldview of those who created this classification. It is, after all, the classification system for the US Congressional Library.

Though it may be a coincidence, something I usually don't believe in, BM ( which in my family stands for a bowel movement or shit) is the label used for anything relating to Jewish spirituality.

I have always found this funny.

After all, Judaism is the only religion I know of that has, among its many, many blessings ( we have blessings for when you see a rainbow, when you see the new moon, when you have sex, etc.) a special blessing for when you perform number two, or, in common parlance move your bowels.

If you are constipated and want to desperately move your bowels it surely must be a tremendous relief to finally do so.

So why not thank God?

Anyway, I was browsing in the late 60's in the open stacks of the University of Wisconsin Library, Madison, WI, when I found the BM section.

I was amazed that there were hundreds and hundreds of books, most in English since at the time I could not read Hebrew or Yiddish, that pertained to various aspects of Jewish worship of the Divine.

I thought that I knew something about being Jewish and about the religion. After all, I had been bar mitzvahed at age 13 and then, thinking that I could pass judgment on something I was totally ignorant of, condemned the whole business as not worthy of my attention nor energy.

What particularly fascinated me were the many books pertaining to hasidism and kabbala or Jewish mysticism. Hasidism, by the way, comes out of the mystical tradition in Judaism.

I found one book, Nine gates to the Chassidic mysteries, by Jiri Langer, ( 1961, translated by Stephen Jolly) to be particularly revealing. This is the diary of a secular Czech Jew who left cosmopolitan Prague before World War Two and joined a Hasidic community and basically adopted this as his spiritual path.

Because Jiri Langer was such a sophisticated and beautiful human being as well as a good writer, I read the book and drank deep from its waters.

I still have this volume in my library and treasure it.

It inspired me to investigate contemporary orthodox Judaism, particularly the Hasidic version.

There are many different Hasidic communities each with its own tradition, teachings and leaders.

The most open to outsiders was and remains that of Chabad or the Lubavitcher community. Their leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, who escaped the Holocaust and replanted the community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY,  died not too long ago. No one has filled his shoes since.

Around 1968 or so I reached out to Chabad and was invited by a family to spend the Jewish sabbath, shabbos, with them in Crown Heights. I saw the Rebbe and was totally shaken by what I felt and witnessed.

These were people who totally were devoted to a living path of Jewish mysticism that I could relate to.

I didn't become a Lubavitcher Hasid but I did learn a lot from them and began to observe many of the traditional Jewish laws of living.

While in Madison I met a very strange and enigmatic man who was a disciple of a tiny but very
powerful community in Jerusalem, those who followed the teachings of Rabbi Aaron ( Ahrele) Roth, or the Rov Ahrele Hasidim. Later, when I lived in Israel, I met these people first hand.

The man whom I met in Madison, WI. however, was a true mystic. He lived on a level that I had never encountered. Everything for him was holy and filled with the power of the Divine. I wanted to learn from him but did not know how.

There is one book in English that specifically presents some of these teachings. Ahron's Heart, the prayers, teachings and letters of Ahrele Roth, a Hasidic reformer. It is translated from Yiddish and Hebrew by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Yair Hillel Goelman. R. Zalman became a very good friend. Not too long ago he died but his spirit is still very much alive in the vast amount of teachings and teachers he left behind.

R. Zalman originally was a Lubavitcher and was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe along with another famous teacher and singer, R. Shlomo Carlebach, as an outreach to secular Jews. They both inspired and brought many non-orthodox Jews to lead a more orthodox-inspired approach to Jewish life.

(to be continued)

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

New blog location for Dr. Harold Goodman and a case of anosmia/ loss of smell successfully treated

For several years I have wanted to have a site devoted to my thoughts about healing and my practice of how I help people.

Finally, I created a website http://drharoldgoodman.com/

There is also a blog which I am posting to which has to do with related matters, thoughts, patient cases which I think others might find of interest.

For example, recently I had a patient who had a major head injury or concussion. He was knocked unconscious by a bicyclist who struck him. When he came to my office he was having horrible headaches, terrible sleep, cognitive issues, and total loss of smell or anosmia.

According to the three neurosurgeons he saw, he would have to forever live without ever again being able to smell anything.

At the time of this writing, as described in my blog post, he has regained much of his smell. I used osteopathic diagnosis with my hands to identify the cause of the anosmia and then treated him. In just a few treatments he has no more headaches, sleeps soundly ( or as well as one can with a little daughter to keep him awake ), is able to perform his work which requires high level cognitive abilities, and most interestingly, is now smelling more and more subtle odors. Each visit he reports more and more improvement.

However, very few people know that such treatment can achieve these results. So that is why I wrote the post on my blog.

I invite you to visit and read these posts.http://drharoldgoodman.com/blog/

If there is anything you want me to write about, drop me an e mail on the form provided on the site. You will find the link on the home page. It is on the right. Just click, Have a question?

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

The rejected review.

I have been posting book reviews on Amazon.com for over ten years and, until today, have never had one be rejected.

After the review was rejected I resubmitted it cutting out the references to the CD collection which Amazon suggests I include to provide credibility. Instead I mentioned that I am the author of a CD course to teach spoken Mandarin Chinese as well someone who has been involved in language pedagogy for many years.

They just notified me that they will not permit my second review to be posted as well.

I am outraged but there is no recourse to either protest or even find out why every review on this book is being rejected. Maybe if I gave it five stars and said it was great they would publish it.

They do not specify which of the guidelines was violated. As you will note, I am not using obscenity or other inappropriate language.

The volume reviewed is: Second language acquisition abroad. The LDS missionary experience. The author of this anthology is Lynne Hansen, a professor at a Mormon college on Hawaii, Brigham Young University.

Incidentally, Amazon is asking $135 for this volume which I believe is a total rip off. I obtained it via the Library of Congress since no other institution in the area owns it.

Since it was rejected for violating their guidelines I will reproduce it here.

Here is the review. I gave the book two out of five stars for reasons explained in the review.

Little on acquistion, lots on attrition., September 2, 2012
By Harold Goodman (Silver Spring, Maryland 20910)
This review is from: Second Language Acquisition Abroad: The LDS Missionary Experience (Studies in Bilingualism) (Hardcover)
I am the author of:
Speak Mandarin Chinese For Beginners The Michel Thomas Method (8-CD Beginner's Program) (Michel Thomas Series)
Total Mandarin Chinese with the Michel Thomas Method
Michel Thomas Method Speak Mandarin Chinese Advanced (Michel Thomas Series)

I approached this volume expecting, as the title advertises, to learn about second language acquisition among Mormon missionaries.

Unfortunately, that is not its focus. Out of eleven chapters by various authors, barely two or slightly more than 40 pages out of a total of 268, share the Mormon approach to learning languages and one of these is largely data from testing of returned missionaries.

From what is presented in these chapters one would be hard pressed to replicate the training experience. In fact, it would be impossible to do so.

Two other chapters speak of motivation and how single words are learned. The entire rest of the book deals with attrition of language proficiency which is not what the title suggests.

In addition, the bulk of language preparation for missions abroad is done in the US and not, as the title specifies, abroad.

I was very excited to read the two bibliographies at the end of the book. They were entitled comprehensive bibliographies of mission language references, both annotated and unannotated.

Again, we are presented with something that is quite different than advertised.

I have been collecting missionary language training materials for several years and have before me a few used in the LDS language training efforts. None of these practical training materials are to be found in the bibliographies.

Rather, these bibliographies deal solely with academic studies on language acquisition and attrition among the Mormons which is not what the titles of these parts of the book would suggest.

You will not learn much of anything in particular about how Mormon missionaries are actually trained in languages before and during their times in missions from this book.

However, if you want an academic study complete with graphs, statistical tables, mind numbing data and other research matters far removed from practical pedagogy and training then you have found your book.

I was very disappointed in this book and would not recommend it to someone who wants to learn how Mormon missionaries are actually trained.

That is a book that remains to be written.

How do thousands of young people learn foreign languages and then actually go to missions where they are expected to use them daily? That is my question. It is not at all answered by this book which is a shame.

I would love to read such a book when it is finally published.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

My journey as a Jew. A comment, a mish mash, a start.

One of our readers, Julian, has asked ( comment, 19 July, 2012;  http://www.learnetarium.com/2011/09/learn-foreign-languages-by-having-fun_21.html) about the different attitudes of secular and orthodox Jews.

He specifically wonders, "Are these tensions similar (not identical) with the feelings of the Maccabees and the Hellenised Jews back in antiquity? "

This is a good and insightful question which I would like to address.

The parallels between the ancient Jewish society of those Jews influenced by Greek or Hellenic culture and those who wished to pursue a more traditional Jewish culture and life with what is going on today are often similar.

Jewish writings like the Babylonian Talmud, a massive compendium of discussions which took place between the years 200 - 500 CE, often mention the Hellenists and their contributions. However, what I find interesting is that those who were greatly influenced by Greek culture in this way never quite established an ongoing Jewish life, one which continued to develop over the following centuries.

There is something very unique and touching about the traditional Jewish ways. Much of it, from my personal experience, is not too helpful and I don't find it very nourishing but that is just a portion of it.

For the most part, I believe that we have a lot to learn from this tradition.

Part of the problem, for me, is that the messengers as they are today often are part of communities that appear opposed to secular education and have an almost antagonistic relationship to what is viewed as secular life and study. Orthodox Jews and especially the so-called ultra-orthodox ( Haredim, Hasidim, +) exemplify this.

In their worlds you cannot just pick and choose. You must accept the entire package, along with their politics and authority figures, or risk not being accepted in the community.

In Israel there is quite a bit of resentment between the secular and orthodox communities. There is also a lot of ignorance found on both sides as to who the others are.

Much of this ignorance is based on beliefs regarding the lack of sincerity and learning of the other. The orthodox believe that anyone who doesn't learn Torah ( ie: to sit and study the Talmud, which is really what is meant by learning Torah for them) is not a true Jew. They believe that God commanded them to sit and learn Torah. If you don't do this then you are not a real Jew in their eyes.

The secular population often views this preoccupation with Torah study as a total waste of time. For them, the studies of these ancient texts are irrelevant to a modern life. They also look at the ultra-orthodox and see people dressed like Polish noblemen from the 18th century, speaking Yiddish, a language of Eastern Europe, obsessed with rituals and religious duties, who usually refuse to serve in the IDF ( Israel Defense Force) and otherwise don't help to foster the country, and conclude that they are a blight on the nation and the Jewish people. Those who speak Yiddish are Ashkenazi Jews, descendants of European Jews. The other orthodox community is made up of Sefardi Jews, descendants of Mediterranean Jews ( Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Italy, North Africa and the Middle East). They, too, have their ultra-orthodox segment.

The orthodox often look at the secular world and see them as frivolous, without any sustaining vision, grossly ignorant of Jewish traditional culture and hostile to the religion. The secular community is often seen as failures who do not represent the true face of the Jewish people.

I grew up in a home where Jewish culture was honored alongside secular, Western studies. In America there are several denominations of Judaism. From  left to right we might list them as: Humanistic Judaism ( these people are atheists and agnostics who want a Jewish life), Jewish Renewal ( those who are inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Zalman Schachter, a former teacher and friend of mine), Reconstructionist Judaism ( those who are inspired by the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan [1881–1983] . This movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization.), Reform Judaism, the largest American group, Conservative ( another very large group which developed like Reform in the 19th century and split from the orthodox), as well as a vast spectrum comprising orthodox or traditional Judaism which ranges from Modern Orthodox all the way to the haredim and hasidim, the most ultra or the ultra orthodox, the ones with the long beards, black coats and hats, and the most rigid observance.

My family was Conservative. I was sent by my parents to a Conservative Jewish school which met twice a week outside of my public school studies. Honestly, I didn't find it terribly inspiring in part because I just wasn't interested in such things and also it seemed irrelevant to my personal needs. For me, God was a concept, not a reality. Religion was something others were devoted to but it wasn't real for me. I went because my parents insisted that I do so and that it would make my grandparents happy. They had come to America because it was hard for them to live in Europe as Jews,  I loved my grandparents and if my doing all this stuff would make them happy then I would do it, no questions asked.

Around the time of my bar mitzvah, when I turned 13, I told me father that I didn't believe in any of this, that I was an internationalist, a citizen of the world. He repeated that it would make my grandparents happy so I just did it.

I read a portion of the Torah in Hebrew. When I did so I didn't understand what I was reading. After I  finished I was happy to return to my other life;  riding my bicycle, reading books and studying stuff of personal interest like history, political and economic philosophy, biographies, and so on.

However, when I graduated high school and  moved to Wisconsin to attend the university in Madison, I quickly realized that I was different than the non-Jewish students. On Friday evenings many of them would party, get drunk and get laid. Many of them loved rock music, smoking cigarettes and taking drugs. All of this was foreign to me. For me, Friday was the beginning of the weekend, a time to be with family, relax, and wind down from the workday time. At the time I never understood that this was the Sabbath, one of the major Jewish contributions to the world.

No one in my family drank alcohol except for religious purposes when we would say a prayer and make a blessing over wine usually on the Sabbath or holidays. I had never tasted beer  I had no desire to drink. My father smoked a pipe and no one smoked cigarettes. We never ate any products from a pig or shell fish. Once my brother brought home some bacon and fried it in one of my mother's pans. My father took the pan, the bacon and my brother, opened the door of our home and threw all of them out onto the lawn. He told my brother to never, ever bring such things into our home again.

The conversations of my fellow university students often revolved around women, popular culture, sports, and other things which held little interest for me. They rarely spoke about intellectual matters or their studies with any passion.

Many of them were very nice but I just didn't feel any connection that made me want to hang out with them.

For me, life was big, with unending possibilities. To spend it chasing women, on drinking binges, watching football matches and getting stoned, seemed a colossal waste of time.

At that point I began to wander through the stacks of books at the university library. I noticed that most of the  students who seemed to have similar inclinations and  interests to mine were all Jews. Many, like me, hailed from the New York City area. I recall a grad student, Roy, whom I idolized because he was majoring in Russian culture and history. I had never met such a person. He seemed so fascinating, so cultured, so smart. I wanted to be like Roy. I would stand in front of the university library, along with other students and listen to him speak. Roy had done something big with his life and I wanted to, as well. I had no idea what I would do but I knew it wouldn't be what most of my fellow students were doing.

Life was so big, so filled with all sorts of interesting ideas, wonderful explorations, exciting people. There was so much to learn and I wanted to absorb it all, now.

As a freshman I was just starting this journey. It excited me that I could make my own life in a way that might actually be fun or at least more fun than high school and other required, boring classes and studies.

One day in the library stacks I discovered the section on Jewish life, religion and culture.

In the Library of Congress classification system, according to which the books were arranged, the identification code was BM. I thought that this was hilarious since in my home this was how we had always referred to shit ( bowel movement).  Somebody seemed to have a great sense of humor at the Library of Congress.

At first I just browsed aimlessly through some of these books.

Then I got to a special sub-section.

What I discovered changed the entire course of my life.

( to be continued)

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