The Rabbi Buys A Cross

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Book: One Find Day the Rabbi Bought a Cross Author: Harry Kemelman This fictional novel is part of a series of works based around the character of Rabbi David Small. The story takes place in modern times, most likely during the late 1980's when the book was published. Barnard's Crossing (A small Boston suburb) and Jerusalem are the stories two major settings.

The book opens with one of the Rabbi's temple members having a conversation with the president of the temple about a possible trip to Jerusalem. The man seeking the president's assistance is lamenting over the fact that he had a very unceremonial Bar Mitzvah when he was a young man and would like to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and have a "˜real' Bar Mitzvah at the Wall in Jerusalem.

The lamenting member, BB, offers indirectly through the temple president, to fly the Rabbi and his wife to Jerusalem .

The book proceeds down this path where many misunderstandings take place between the Rabbi and his temple members. The Rabbi refuses to go or attend the Bar Mitzvah but does not give a good explanation until well after it has past and feelings have been hurt.

It turns out that the Rabbi's children are off to camp for the summer and his wife has made plans for them to spend time in Jerusalem. This news, of course, does little for the relationship between Rabbi Small and BB. The member is hurt that the Rabbi would refuse his offer, yet make plans to go to Jerusalem for that same time period.

There is a subplot within the trip to Israel storyline. This involves a Harvard professor named Hassa El Dhamouri who is an Arab Druse. Another sympathetic Druse comes to visit him with a plot to smuggle a map of a cache of arms to Jerusalem. He knows that this professor is like-minded and may have connections that can get the map to a friend undetected. El Dhamouri actually talks another professor into carrying out the action.

Introduced are a Jewish mother and father who are not members of the Rabbi's temple.

They proceeded to ask Rabbi Small, along with several other people, to check on their son who is currently residing in Jerusalem. The young man, Jordan Goodman, has become a baal tshuvah (someone who has come back to their Jewish roots in a radical way, much like a Born Again Christian) and is the thread that pulls the story together.

Many coincidences occur in this book. It just so happens that Jordan Goodman was a former student of the professor carrying the map. The Rabbi sits next to a man who owns a home next to the yeshiva that the Goodman boy is attending. The professor is killed and partially buried on the man's grounds, a crime for which the young yeshiva student is blamed. Rabbi Small proposes a few alternatives to the police and the case is solved. While the number of coincidences really did not seem plausible, I enjoyed the story and the way it all came together in the end, it reminded me of a half-hour sitcom! Attached is a list of vocabulary words with which I was unfamiliar with prior to reading the book and their definitions that I decided to research. The parameters for this book report were very broad, so I am choosing to share my reflections not only on the book but on the entire class thus far.

Years ago I took several courses with Phil Cunningham and have come to have a feel for the "˜heart' of Judaism and definitely an appreciation for my Christian roots therein. I have previously read and enjoyed books by Chiam Potok and Elie Weisel. That is why I chose this novel as an alternative. At first I wondered what benefit it would be to me, a theology major, to read a novel of this type. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I gained in reading this book.

There is the obvious increase in vocabulary, but interestingly I learned three very valuable lessons that are not actually concrete textbook learning. Initially it brought to light my own ignorance on the history of Israel after W.W.II, secondly I realized that there were many errors in my own thinking about Jews, and thirdly, I had to reevaluate my preconceptions of the roll a Rabbi plays in the life of the Jewish people.

I will briefly comment on each of the three insights I have gained as a result of reading the book and attending this class. Most history classes I have taken in the past have covered world history only through W.W.II. Reading our text and this novel has given me a new comprehension for how these events of the past are directly influencing our current world problems. The fact that anti-Semitism not only exists, but is alive and well I find to be troubling and somewhat revealing.

The honest thing to say is that previously I have been very naive to anti-Semitism. While I was aware that there were thoughts "˜out there' that are of a prejudice nature, my own reality was that anti-Semitism was something of the past. To me, bigoted people were historical figures and came from an uneducated society. Sadly, the reality is that there are influential forces in our current world that personify those mislead historical figures.

The second, most humbling, revelation that has occurred for me as a result of reading this book is that I have many preconceived ideas and prejudices about Jewish people and Judaism. I pride myself on being a progressive thinker, educated, ecumenical and above bigotry. What I discovered is that these wrong ideas can exist within us, even when we are unaware. I will give you a simple example. My parents taught us through their own hermeneutic of experience. This had colored my concept of the Jews. I was under the misconception that calling someone a Jew was derogatory. To speak of someone and to say that they were "˜Jewish', in my mind, was acceptable. To come out and call someone a "˜Jew' was in some way demeaning. This sounds simplistic, but for me it was very revealing. Some of this may be a result of the way our society views political correctness. I think much of it has to do with the thinking of previous generations and how I recall the word "˜Jew' being said in such a venomous way that I thought it was literally a slang, derogatory term.

The last thing that I discovered was in regards to the roll of the Rabbi in the life of a Jew.

It is a mistake that I have frequently made in my own religion. Somehow we expect more out of our ordained ministers when it comes to morals and spirituality. It was very obvious to me in the book, that the Rabbi was an average guy with strengths and weaknesses. This has mirrored many of the things you have said in class. In Kemelman's novel, the Rabbi does not always behave in the way that I had presumed a Rabbi would act. His interpersonal skills are somewhat flawed.

Prior to reading the book or attending class I had a perception that Rabbis were "˜more spiritual' or somehow "˜holier' than the average laymen. It is important to remember that spirituality varies from person to person and does not depend on someone's title.

I can easily recall how devastating it was to me to discover, as a teenager, the human-ness of my Priest. It is easy to put an ordained minister of any denomination on a pedestal and to expect more from them morally, ethically, and perhaps even socially than we do of other members of our community. Much of this is simple transference of our love for the Divine God onto that of our clergy. We, as a community, believe that our clergy are messengers of God. Much like the Biblical revolutionists belief in the absolute correctness of the sacred scripture without interpretation, many people believe that the clergy are divinely inspired to lead their congregations without error. I would say that there are people all along that belief spectrum. It was a good reminder for me, that we all share in this flawed human condition.

Vocabulary Druse- Religion based in Lebanon, a break away group from Islam.

Mossad-Israeli agency that collects human intelligence.

Haganah-founded in 1920. A militia that is now the Israel defense force.

Shiites-10% of Islam Sunnis-90% of Islam Jewish Radical Intellectuals-the "˜new left' that is Pro-Arab Baal Tshuvah-one who comes back to the faith in a radical way, like a fundamentalist Christian.

Shad chen-matchmaker motze-food blessing