In 1991 my parents, lifelong members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, were taken to Israel with the Union president, a gentleman named Steinberg, on his annual bonds mission. My parents are not Jewish. I imagine Mr. Steinberg had worked through all the Jews and gotten down to the Irish–Italian Catholics on his staff.
At the time, I was attempting to “Pray without ceasing,” an idea I had picked up from Franny Glass, a member of J.D. Salinger’s imitable Glass family, and the main character of the “Franny” half of “Franny and Zooey.” Twelve years prior, I had stopped drinking and started searching for a way to be in a relationship with G–d.
When I heard about their trip, I begged them to bring me a rosary from Jerusalem, which I imagined to be silver with black onyx beads. My aunt, who had been a nun, had a similar rosary that had been worn by 50 years of worship. I imagined if I had one like that, I would be spiritual too. Though it was probably the 50 years of faithful prayer that gave her rosary its beauty, not the materials it was made from.
My parents returned and gave me a box. “Kind of big for a rosary, “ I thought, “but okay.” I opened it to find a gold and silver chanukiah (the eight–branched menorah used for Chanukah.) “Very nice, but why?”
All I could think was, “But I’m not Jewish, nor are you.” That, and “Where is my rosary?” Sure, I’d been infatuated by Jewish things and people for most of those years of searching. But I’d never thought to make it my path.
Less than two years after I was given that gift, and every year since, I’ve been lighting Chanukah candles in that chanukiah, as a Jew. Sharing the light my parents shared with me.
Yisrael Campbell is your average Irish–Italian Catholic kid from Philly. Currently he is a Comic, Sober Alcoholic and Orthodox Jew. www.yisraelcampbell.com