Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Black Belt Rabbi?

I asked Jerry Thomson, “When are the team trials?” and he answered, “September 18th and 19th.”  I flipped the pages of my appointment book and said, without any thought process whatsoever, “Hey, you can’t have the trials that weekend, that’s Rosh Hashanah.”
I can’t continue with this story without explaining what my relationship with Judaism was at this point.  And it isn’t so simple to explain.  My parents sent me to Hebrew school at Temple Emunah in Lexington, Massachusetts, a Conservative synagogue. 
I was one of the few children in the large building who actually enjoyed this thrice-weekly experience.  I loved learning Hebrew, hearing Bible stories and singing in the chorus – where they let me sing even though I couldn’t carry a tune. 

Around age 11 I found myself cross-examining my parents as to their religious beliefs.  They had a habit of taking us out for lobster dinners which was prohibited by the Jewish dietary laws we had learned about in Hebrew school.  “If G-d is everywhere, can’t He see what we’re eating here?”

Each, separately, admitted to not actually believing in G-d.  Around this time I was kicked out of the men’s section of my grandfather’s orthodox shul for being female.  My parents’ hypocrisy disappointed me and the sex-segregation enraged me so I quit Hebrew school and resigned from organized religion.  Judaism was old-fashioned, irrelevant and meaningless.

At age 19 I attended a national karate tournament which took place over a weekend.  On Friday afternoon I saw a man wearing a yarmulke walking around the gym after the competition had ended.  And then he was headed toward me.

“I’m having a Kiddush in my hotel room tonight, and you’re welcome to come to it.”  How does he know I’m Jewish?  And who is this guy?    

There were five or six competitors who showed up for the Kiddish.  Alex Sternberg was a black belt in Shotokan karate (I believe he was a 4th dan at the time), a teacher, a coach, a judge – and an orthodox rabbi. 

He made Kiddish with a bottle of wine he’d brought from Brooklyn, New York, where he lived and taught and then served kosher salami with crackers. 

I was stunned.  Alex Sternberg made being Jewish cool.    


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