Working with Jewish Client

Like a lot of shy, gay kids, the lingua franca of being a male child in the Bronx--SPORTS--meant pure anguish and terror. Please God, make it rain. But I do not think this escape from the harsh reality of my childhood was the SOLE reason that I threw myself into the world of books. No doubt being Jewish had something to do with an interest in the “text.” Also, perhaps queer kids have a different kind of imagination that directs them to seek succor in the arts?

Or maybe it was my grandparents!

From probably what we today would call the “Ukraine,” Ida and Gustave Levine came through Ellis Island to settle first, on the Lower East Side, and then the Bronx. They sired seven children, and dozes of grandchildren, and found a way to sense a vibration in me that resonated with their own. It was they who bought me several  black-and-white bible books for children. Their glossy thick pages revealed dozens of  handsome bible stars, especially King David, wearing a linen ephod while dancing and singing Psalms, the tehilim. I also enjoyed the amber-hewed picture of Jacob wrestling with the Angel all night long. I was delight to notice David lounging about on a 10th Century BCE divan with Jonathan in matching white blouses.

My Eastern European grandparents adored watching me raptly turn the pages of plush picture Bible books they bought for me, hoping I could plant a flag on their religious world—which was comprised solely of harsh Hebraic judgement and warm Yiddish jokes—rather than my father’s alcoholic and athletic sassy sexiness. They might egg on my already hard-core bookish interests, grilling me when I came to visit, which was like every day: “Why did Abraham almost kill Isaac?” “What was Samson’s failing?” “What writing did Daniel see on the wall?” They even asked me, “Whom did David love?” to which I enthusiastically answered, “Jonathan.” 

The speed with which I answered such questions made them  chuckle to each other not in Yiddish but the more secret Russian, curious that I left out Bathsheba, because, good for me, as she was, after all, a bitch and a shikse, the yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman—same thing! Ida might reward me with smelly kisses and honeyed handfuls of warm, buttered challah. This is how they groomed me to be their little spawn of Satan. Their Rosemary’s Baby like glee over my interest in their Orthodox way of life only made me only want to sit and study more, especially when they regaled me with pictures of Joseph in a  rainbow coat looking  right at the besotted reader with his azure eyes. 

A zey shayn, Ida boasted to anyone within earshot, about how pretty I was, adding that I possessed a yiddishe kopf, which is to say, a Jewish mentation, the highest of honors to be conferred in those days. I had been transplanted from the more Americanish realm of my other grandparents (Miriam and Aaron) to the world of the Tanakh, Mishnah, Gemara, Kabbalah, books upon books upon books upon books that had kept Jewry alive for nearly 2000 since the tragic fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE. But what drew me to them and their books was not my love of "Halacha," (or Jewish law) but rather the secret of romantic erotic love infusing the "Song of Songs."

I have spent several decades of trying to make sense of this "aura" I felt then, and always have since, as a writer, an artist, a psychotherapist. A religious feeling over takes one. A love of the male image. I am still involved in this discovery. I am still terribly susceptible. Anyone who knows knows too well this fact about me, that I am not unlike those women in the Canticles who yearn in the tent for their King. Who am I? Why am I alive now? What’s going on?

This “calling”—to understand the confluence of religious feeling together with the love of male beauty— took me away from my family in NYC to Los Angeles to live life with an artist-wunderkind. Once in LA, I met people with roots to the Gay Liberation movement and entered therapy. I then learned that the MIND was also a place, and was also “peopled,” some in love and others dead set against one another. I have spent almost thirty years creating a variety of organizations to help foster greater understanding of what goes on inside the MIND.

This sense of the way being Jewish goes back thousands of years, the music, the quality of study, the humor, the literature, the yiddish, the family, and even the suffocating parts of the whole "Megillah," gives me a STANCE in therapy that allows me to listen and to challenge ever-so-gently. Let's not forget that it was a great Jewish "Rabbi" of the last Century, Dr. Sigmund Freud, who announced the greatest intervention ever on Christian Repression, what he called the "Talking Cure." And as part of that "talk," the discussion might inevitably slide into a sexual topic. Yes, there might be shame. But if Freud could notice the shame, then the clients might open up about who-did-what-to-whom and begin to heal. So it took a Jew to liberate all the rest of us from our shame, and begin to enter into our own individuality and humanity. 

Jewish neurosis, Jewish fears, Jewish relationships, Jewish hopes, Jewish interests -- sometimes it's lovely for a Jewish person to have a person who can feel into what the culture offers us and the world. And sometimes, just sometimes, this ethnic tradition can help us reach out to others who also struggle with difference. For more on this, see my novel, Sacred Lips of the Bronx, published by St. Martin's Press in 1994.

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