Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Probably Offensive Jewish Story

Most people have an irrational fear or two.  When I was young, I was terrified of dogs.  My parents had to shield me away from any form of dog in the world because I would freak the fuck out ALL over them if I saw it.

I grew out of the fear and begged for a puppy for years until I got my dog, George.

But then I developed a new irrational fear.  I have no idea when it occurred, but one day, I was suddenly afraid of domes.  Not anything like, “Hey, look at that botanical center over there”, and I suddenly started screaming, but more of a “hyperventilate every time I walked into an indoor football stadium”.  Think about it as reverse-claustrophobia, and judge me a little less.

A lot of the time when people hear this, they ask, “Well how come you don’t freak out about the sky?  That’s a big dome.”  And I answer, “Because if I was afraid of the sky, I would seem to be afraid of everything and that would be called agoraphobia you ass.”  This is not an acceptable answer, but I do not have a good explanation.

That is the background information needed for my PROBABLY OFFENSIVE JEWISH STORY:

The Probably Offensive Jewish Story
In my sophomore year of high school, I was in the play Diary of Anne Frank.  I played Mr. Kraler, the non-Jewish man (my nose is huge, so this took all my acting talent) who helped the Franks and the other families no one cares about and hid them behind a bookcase in an attic.

Anyway, our director was Mrs. T, and she was really into getting the actors into character.  She was also enthusiastic about getting out of teaching classes.  So she planned a field trip for all the actors to go to a Jewish Synagogue and talk to the Rabbi who happened to be an escapee from Auschwitz himself.  He is an amazing man, and I have nothing but respect for him, but I do not remember his name so I will call him Mr. Kabalahstein.

We drove to the synagogue, and it was this huge beautiful building.  I was Catholic at the time and I remember feeling saddened by the structure.  I remember stupidly thinking something along the lines of, “Why can’t they just believe in the Jesus-magic that I do?”

They herded us into the building and introduced us to Mr. Kabalahstein.  He was a portly old man with a gray beard and a kind smile.  He had a thick Polish accent and joked with us quietly until everyone was present in the room.

Mr. Kabalahstein turned to the group, studying all of our faces.  He pointed to me and asked the group, “Which character is he playing?”  We answered and he joked, “He should be one of the Jewish men, I’d think.”  The group laughed, except for me, because at the time, I didn’t get it.  I never had really noticed how big my nose was until my senior year.  Got the nose joke now, you big Jewish jerk!

Mr. Kabalahstein then started his heroic story, involving an escape from the camp and hiding in a hole in the ground pretending to be dead when Nazis ran by.  Most of us were in tears by the end.

Then he decided it was time to take a tour of the synagogue.  We walked around most of the building and stopped before entering the main temple.  The men needed to put on yarmulkes, which we did.  I said an Our Father first and a small sign of the cross, so god would KNOW that I was not switching sides.

We walked into the temple and it was absolutely stunning.  The walls were a deep blue with gold accents, and the main tiers were held up with marble columns.  And there, right smack dab in the center of the ceiling was an elaborate dome, adorned with golden stars.  I just glanced at it and immediately looked at the ground, but it was too late.  I was standing right underneath the dome.

My feet felt like cement.  I couldn’t move.  I felt shaky.  My throat was constricting.  More importantly, everyone was staring at me.  Mr. Kabalahstein especially.  Maybe he thought I was overcome by the spirit of Judaism.  More likely, he thought I was an epileptic.

Mrs. T finally yanked my arm and dragged me out of the temple.  She turned to me and demanded an answer.  I finally slowed my breathing enough to embarrassingly answer, “I’m terrified of domes.”  This was not what she was expecting and her eyebrows raised so high that they disappeared into her hair.  Then she glared.  “Why did you even go in?!”  I bit back, “Why isn’t there some sort of Dome Warning on the door?!  Anyone could be scared of getting sucked into that thing to live forever alone!  That’s not safe!”  She laughed at me then.

Later, when we went to a restaurant for lunch, she bought me extra cheese for my hamburger and loudly told the group that I was fine, I was just mortally afraid of domes. I horrifyingly had to explain to everyone in the group that I had a stupid goddamn irrational fear, and explained that it created some awkward and embarrassing situations for me, such as trying to explain my irrational fear.

Since, I have been numbed to the dome’s power over me.  Much like the dog-fear, I have a hope that one day I will LOVE domes.  But for now they still make me uncomfortable.  And I can live with that.