“My Nephew The Rabbi” or “How A Mezuzah In The Middle Of Nowhere Touched My Heart.”
I have been meaning to write this for sometime. What are the three forbidden topics that you are to never address at the dinner table? Politics, money and religion.
My parents, who I think always placed a real value in politeness; would drum the above into me now and again, especially if I were having dinner or a sleepover at someone’s house.
Of course politics, money and religion were three topics we openly discussed at our own dinner table; but in keeping with the admonishment, I never been especially “out there” about being Jewish.
For as long as I can remember people have always said to me; “for someone with such a Jewish sounding name, you certainly don’t look Jewish.” While I don’t have a nose like Karl Malden, or hair like Mr. Kotter; I never felt it was a real deficiency.
As my profession brought me more of a “public life,” I would occasionally slip in phrases on-air that I thought were sort of “inside” Jewish jokes. Often when reporting on the box office; I would talk about how many shekels a movie made.
I would then get emails or phone calls from viewers with very Jewish sounding names; suggesting that any kind of remarks about money and Jews were simply playing in to the prejudices that so many people already had.
I am still not particularly “out there” in terms of a public display of my religious beliefs; my younger children attend a Jewish day school and I am struck by how much they deeply bond with the stories and the traditions that they are taught on a daily basis.
“Dad, when are we going to Jerusalem?” my 9-year-old daughter will ask; the way most kids would ask when is the next scheduled trip to Disneyland. “Dad, can we keep Kosher?”
A standard joke phrase I will tell anyone who asks; is that I was raised as such a reformed Jew, I am almost Catholic. I had a serious girlfriend in college who was a very devout Catholic; one of 12 children from the same mom and dad. I think her father was pretty appalled at her choice in boyfriends; always referring to me simply as “Rosen,” as if names like “Rubin” and “Rosen” were all jumbled together in the same unappealing stew.
I have never really felt that my religion put me at a professional advantage or disadvantage and if Hollywood is indeed “run by the Jews” I need for someone to make those introductions for me.
I bring all of this up, because this weekend, truly in the middle of nowhere New Mexico; on the outdoor set of the WGN-America series “Manhattan” I was at the TV home of two of the characters; Charlie and Abby Isaacs. Charlie is a very important scientist; who may help to develop and build the first ever atomic bomb; and he is part of the “Manhattan project,”…and, he and his wife are Jewish. So the photo you see at the top of this piece is the Mezuzah that is affixed to the door of their home. Of course “Manhattan” the TV series takes many liberties with the actual history of what happened at Los Alamos; but I get the sense the show is trying to be as steeped in facts as possible. Undoubtedly there were Jewish scientists involved in the real “Manhattan Project,” did they have Mezuzah’s on the doors of their Army-built pre-fab housing, I have no idea. But looking at this Mezuzah really connected with me.
Every house I have ever lived in has had one. Some families are so religious I believe they have Mezuzah’s affixed to every major doorway in their homes. For me, the front door is enough.
When talking with the actors who play these roles, The Isaac’s, I could tell the guy who plays Charlie; actor Ashley Zukerman was very struck by the idea that I noticed the Mezuzah. “You saw that,” he said, clearly pleased.
Several months ago, I wanted to write a piece here that was religious in nature, because my nephew Andy did something extraordinary. He became ordained as a Rabbi. The ceremony at the American Jewish University was incredibly moving. In the program that evening one of the Rabbi’s said of this graduating class;
“Each and Everyone of these scholars have labored long and hard in the vineyard of the Torah, and each of them has struggled equally diligently with the shadows of their own souls. In the process of this sacred wrestling, their greatness and their goodness have brightened, not only themselves, but their world.”
And I thought of those words; as I saw this Mezuzah in the dusty desert of New Mexico. It just seemed like a very bright symbol in a place that was coping with a variety of struggles.
So is one newly discovered Mezuzah or newly minted Rabbi going to change the course of history? I have no idea. I feel much better knowing that both the symbol and the person; which together represent many of the same values are both part of the world.
I promise not to write about politics or money, at least for a little while.