In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2008 / 11 Elul 5768

The skeleton in my closet

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

Confessions of a counterculture rabbi

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | There's a certain kind of discomfort unique to certain kinds of rabbis. Those of us who grew up in secular homes and found our way to Torah observance later in adulthood inevitably did things in our past lives that we would prefer buried and forgotten. And although this may be universal, for the individual whose position demands a public persona of propriety and self-discipline, it can be particularly discomfiting.

One colleague of mine felt compelled to remove a tattoo he had once had inscribed into his flesh in a moment of post-adolescent impetuosity. Many others have worried about past associations coming back to haunt them.

I have my own skeleton in my own closet. And the door of that closet remains open a crack — just enough to ensure that some astute student will occasionally notice it.

I still remember the first time one of them did.

It was about halfway through my first year teaching, which happened to be in Budapest, Hungary. The students knew little English, I had little experience, and the school administration had little concept of general discipline. In short, my first stint in education could hardly be described as an overwhelming success.

I don't remember why I had a mob of ninth grade boys surrounding me at my desk that day. Maybe it was between periods, or maybe I had just given up trying for the afternoon. However, after a brief exchange between two students in Hungarian, the one in front of my desk pointed to the one standing behind me and said, "Rabbi Goldson, he has a question."

I looked at him quizzically. "He has a question?"

The boy looked back sheepishly. "I wouldn't ask this, but he wants me to ask it."

I didn't bother asking why the other boy couldn't ask it himself. "Well, what is it?"

"Did you ever wear an earring?"


The long-healed hole in my left earlobe, although barely visible from the front, apparently remained fairly noticeable from behind. My mind raced. Should I lie? Would they believe me if I did? Would I compromise what little authority I had by telling the truth?

Lies are generally a bad idea, partly because they frequently fail and partly because they accustom the liar to untruthfulness. I also lacked a convincing lie to tell. Consequently, I made my decision in about two seconds.

But I didn't give a straight answer. Instead, I told them a story.

Sometime during my senior year in college, with matriculation lurking on the horizon and no visible means of post-graduate support in sight, I had gradually become aware of my own growing contempt for higher education. Wandering about the quad on Earth Day, the school's annual holistic-hippie fair, my friend Keith and I wandered past a jewelry kiosk. I nudged Keith in the side and pointed to a sign: Ear Piercing — $10.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"I think," Keith replied, with more wisdom than I, "that we'd better get out of here before you talk me into something I'm going to regret."

We got out of there. But we came back.

I wore the earring for the rest of my college career, as I hitchhiked across America, as I backpacked through Europe, and when I first walked through the front door of an American yeshiva in Jerusalem, unsure why I was there or what I would be learning. The only time my rabbis ever mentioned it was when we learned about the nirtzeh — the Jewish slave who chooses to remain in the servitude of his master when offered the opportunity to go free. The Torah commands the judges to take him to a doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl.

"Is that a punishment?" asked one student.

"Not at all," replied the rabbi. "It's meant as a rebuke for not heeding the words of the Torah that are written in the mezuzah upon the doorpost, declaring that G-d wants us to be servants to Him and no other." Then, looking over at me, the rabbi asked: "It doesn't hurt, does it?"

I smiled and shook my head.

Of course, my rabbis were Americans. Israelis were another matter entirely.

As I became slowly convinced of the truth of the Torah, I began gradually accepting its practices. Among the easiest was the commandment to wear tzitzis, the fringed tassels attached to a specially designed undergarment. And you will make for yourselves fringes on the four corners of your garments, commands the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:12). Simple enough. Like most of the young men in yeshiva, I wore my tzitzis hanging out at the sides of my trousers.

Less than a week later, as I stepped into an elevator, a middle-aged secular Israeli gave me a look up and down, then snapped: "Mah zeh — what's this?" He waved his hand from my ear to my belt and, without giving me a moment to reply, he said, "You can have this, or you can have that. But," he declared, "you cannot have both!"

On some level I knew he was right, so I gave a little shrug and stood dumb. "I'm sorry," he concluded, "I have to say what I think." Indeed, after a month in Israel I had gotten used to that.

Another month later, the earring was gone and the tzitzis were still waving at my side.

Back in the Budapest classroom, the boy behind me finally spoke up. "Do you think you made the right choice?" he asked.

"I wouldn't I be here if I didn't," I replied. He gave me a grin and shrugged, reminding me a bit of myself years earlier in that elevator.

Relatively speaking, I wasn't that much older than he when I had my ear pierced, supposing that by doing so I could define myself as a counterculture figure, that I would be cool. Interestingly enough, as the world grows ever more secular, amoral, and individualistic, there is no more striking counterculture symbol than the holy strings with which I declare myself a partner in creation. Wherever I go — even to the four corners of the earth — I have been charged by my Creator with the duty of restoring a world that is "fringed," or unfinished, to a state of perfection.

Now that's cool.

JewishWorldReview.com regularly publishes uplifting articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment by clicking here.

JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis, MO, where he also writes and lectures. Visit him at http://torahideals.wordpress.com .

© 2008, Rabbi Yonason Goldson