My first visit as a would be worshipper to a synagogue in about 75 years took place last Saturday.
The visit was inspired by a pervasive feeling that I wanted to pray. But I cannot remember ever wanting to pray, having been an atheist since, as a teenager, I decided that participation in group worship in a language which I could barely read or speak was a waste of time. Time that I could spend reading in my room. Or playing basketball in my nearby schoolyard. Or conducting primitive chemistry experiments in the tiny attic of my small Brooklyn house.
“Have you ever wanted to go to a synagogue or any other religious place all this time since then?” my psychologist asked me a few days later. (I’m now seeing a shrink for the first time in my 86 years.)
Of course I have, I told her. I’ve been inside hundreds. But it was not to pray to some “Nobodaddy” (William Blake). I went to countless churches, large and small, and the few surviving synagogues (and mosques) converted to churches throughout France, Spain, Italy, Morocco, England, Belgium, Holland and my native New York City.
I went to experience the awesome interior and exterior architecture. I went for the awesome music. I went to feel the collective solidarity of the congregations everywhere, including, for the past half century, SF, Berkeley and Northern California.
This time I went because day after day I am trying not to die. As I try I see and hear all around me trees and flowers and butterflies and dogs and cats in various stages of their life communicating and working and only attacking for survival and only defending for same. I chose a synagogue out of vestigial loyalty
So why didn’t it work for you last Saturday, my psychologist wondered?
Probably I’m too frustrated by the severe physical accidents/incidents of the past ten years which make it achingly hard to get into and out of a car even for a ten minute trip. Probably the uncomfortable wooden chairs. Probably the unheated room. Certainly because the first words encountered in the thousands of pages in the huge books loaned to the eight people In the room were to be said by men.”Thanks God, for not having made me a woman.”
But, without women, beginning with my mother 86 years ago, down to my wife and 24/7 caregiver today, I wouldn’t last a day.
Women have given me the unparalleled experience of sexual ecstasy. Women worked with me. Did medical and legal jobs which saved my life. Biked with me hiked with me laughed with me wrote to and about me made me a proud father and grandfather.
Today our small mancave in the small Berkeley storefront to which I will not be returning had a separate section for women behind a wall, where men and women could not see each other. Until it was time to go home. For me, just a half hour after we got there.
I told my wife and caregiver about that prayer book passage. They were not surprised.
(Larry Bensky welcomes correspondence: L.Bensky@igc.org)