I like to say that I am having a “healing of sight,” for though I do not see the physical world around me, I am seeing better now than I have ever seen before. I would like to share with you why.
I would say it started when I was three, and I am told I would run up to people who visited my parents, asking, “Have you seen G-d lately? Do you know Him? Where can I find Him?”
Everyone in my family always answered, “We don’t believe in G-d. There is no G-d.” No one in my whole family believed in G-d. But I did. They always said, “We’re Jewish. We don’t believe in G-d.”
Thus, I thought Jews did not believe in G-d, so I decided to look elsewhere.
I turned to Christianity. I studied many versions and decided to join a particular church. After the first ten years, I was teaching Sunday School. After 20 years, I began lecturing. After 30 years, they moved me to their headquarters in Boston. And after 40 years I was in the pulpit. Very happy, very content.
It is interesting. You can leave Judaism, but Judaism can never leave you. For example, when December 25th would roll around, I would feel a “tapping.” (It is the only way I can describe it, like “Do not celebrate that one, it is not true.”) It drove my Christian friends crazy that I would not celebrate it. For 40 years, I never celebrated it. At Easter, again, tap, tap, tap… what was that tapping? I was about to find out.
One day, I got a call from my mother’s cousin Faygie, a Lubavitcher Chasid, whom I had never met. Her vision was also in “exile.” It had just happened to her, and she asked, “How do you pour a glass of water? How do you find your clothes? How do you find the kitchen? How do you cook?”
The more we talked, the more I wanted to meet her. But I knew nothing about her religion. So I called Talking Books and asked if they had anything under “Jewish” and “Chasidic.” They found a book called Holy Days: The World of a Chasidic Family. Listening to that book, I discovered a Judaism I never knew. I had so many questions.
When I finally got to meet Faygie, we talked for seven hours. I got home and thought, “Nice lady, weird religion. Archaic. Crazy.” I had gone to Faygie’s on a Saturday afternoon, but what did I know? Next Saturday came, I was vacuuming. I thought, “I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s Shabbos! Wait a minute. I’m going to Church tomorrow!” I tried to continue vacuuming but couldn’t. Tap, tap, tap… it started again. What was that tapping?
As I put the vacuum away the doorbell rang. It was a package from my cousin Faygie. My aunt had recorded the book “Toward a Meaningful Life” by Rabbi Simon Jacobson. Since I had so many questions, she thought maybe I would like a copy. I began listening to the tape and was about to discover what those 40 years of tapping were. The first chapter is all about the Jewish soul.
That’s what the tapping was. My soul did not want me to do anything that would separate me from it. My soul was guiding me, directing me, protecting me all those years. That was the tapping. At that point the tapping changed. Instead of telling me what not to do, it would tell me what to do because Judaism is positive, not negative.
What do you do when you have been away from home for 40 years? I had spent 40 years in a Christian wilderness. But at the end of every wilderness experience is a promised land; and I was about to find mine in Chasidic philosophy.
Within two weeks I had resigned from lecturing. Within three weeks, I was no longer teaching Sunday school. But I wanted to know more, and all I had was that book. I called directory information and asked, “Do you have anything under Lubavitch?” The operator asked, “How do you spell it?” I had no idea. I tried Hebrew University. “Do you know how to get in touch with anyone Lubavitch?” No. I called Hebrew College, which is more local. “Hello, do you know how I can get in touch with anyone Lubavitch?” “No, ma’am. Would you like to speak to our librarian?” I was on the verge of tears when it came to me to call Israeli Bookshop in Brookline. “Do you know how I can get in touch with anyone Lubavitch?”
“Sure! Call the Chabad House!” was the reply.
What a relief! After days of effort, Joanne at the Chabad House gave me the toll-free number for the Tape of the Month Club by Rabbi Manis Friedman. I ordered every tape available. Now I was listening to the book and the tapes and it was getting very hard for me to go to Church. I realized that I was going to have to leave the church and I was terrified. I would wake up in the middle of the night shaking; shaking so badly that the bed would shake as well.
What was going to happen to me?
If I left the church, I would lose every friend I had, bar none, and more than half my income. But you cannot base a spiritual decision on a material fear, and I knew I was going to do it. Listening to the tapes helped calm me down. Before I left the Church, I wanted to give each of the other 30 Jews in that church a copy of Toward a Meaningful Life. After I had given every Jew the book, I walked out of that Church and never went back.
To whom else could I give the book? In my apartment building was only one other Jew, a man with AIDS. His relatives had turned their backs on him and he had given up on Judaism years ago.
I grabbed my book, my cane, my keys, took the elevator downstairs and groped my way down the hall, hoping to find the right apartment. When he opened the door, he said, “What’s that? One of your Christian books?” I said, “No, it is one of yout books.” He responded, “I told you, Judaism doesn’t work for me.”
My reply was, “I said that for 40 years, too. Look, if you went to the Rebbe, he would love you unconditionally. Would you love him enough to see what he has to say to you? It could heal you.” I left the bookwith him. I did not hear from him for about a week. Finally, he called me.
“Schwartz, I’ve finished your book. I don’t agree with all of it. I think I’ll read it again.” A few days later, he went into the AIDS ward of a local hospital. Along with his toothbrush and pajamas, he took the book. When he became too weak to hold up the book, I brought him the book on tape. One night he could not sleep and decided to listen to the tape. It was three o’clock in the morning, so he began listening to the tape on headphones because he did not want to disturb the other patients. Suddenly the man two beds down from him shouted out, “Hey, are you listening to that Schneerson thing again? Take the headphones off! We want to listen, too!” One morning he called me. “Marciale! I think I made my peace with G-d. Thank you for giving me that book.” A few hours later, he passed away.
One of the ways is with those of us who are reading this book. We are lost, but we are not a lost cause. We all want to come home. In the past few years I have discovered that Judaism is more than the eye can see. It is a journey from darkness to light; the light of the Torah.