I was sitting at my kitchen table all alone except for Atara Carmit, our Israeli Canaan dog, and I was enjoying a hot bowl of macaroni with cheddar cheese when suddenly I felt a paw on my knee.
“No, you can’t have any of it”, I told my furry friend. “You just finished a meat dinner and you know that we cannot mix meat and dairy foods”.
She looked at me with her beautiful but sad eyes as if to say to me “Go ask someone”. Nu? Whom should I ask in holy Jerusalem?
Walking along a narrow alley in the Old city, I saw an Armenian priest and I stopped him to ask him. “Why me”? he responded. “Go and ask someone else”. So I continued walking until I saw a Muslim cleric. “Why ask me”? he shrugged and hastened away as if the shadow of a Jew would be a curse upon him.
A few paces later and I stopped two gentlemen dressed in black garb with gold crosses hanging on a chain around their necks.
One of them, an Italian Catholic priest, was astounded. He looked at me before he recited two “Hail Mary’s” and said, “Look. You are only a few steps away from the Kotel, the Western Wall. You will find many dozens of rabbis praying there or begging for charity. Go and ask”.
Now why didn’t I think of that myself? Did I need a Catholic priest to tell me? So off I went to the sacred Wall, remnant of the holy temple destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
To one rabbi I began to ask my question only to receive his answer, “shush! I’m talking to God”.
To another rabbi I began to ask my question but he in turn asked me “what kind of a Jew are you?”
I paused and replied “I am a good Jew”. Not enough of an answer for him. Stroking his long beard, he asked “No. are you a good Orthodox Jew or a not-so-good Conservative Jew or God forbid, a not –Jewish Reform Jew?”
I was stunned and did not know how to reply. So he said, “Look. I am a Sephardic rabbi. Go over there and ask Moishe Pupik. He is an Ashkenazi rabbi. Maybe he can help you”.
OK. I thanked the Sephardic rabbi and made my way through the rows of charity-seekers until I spotted him. “Shoolem Aleichem, Reb Pupik. Ich vill der freggen a shaileh” (Hello Rabbi Pupik. I want to ask you a question). “Nu. Freg mir”, he replied. OK. Go and ask me.
But just as I was about to ask him, he interrupted me with his questions. “Are you a Litvak or a Galitzianer”? I did not know how to correctly respond. My father’s family came from Russia and my mother’s family came from Lithuania and somewhere along the way they both ended up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
“A Magyar”, he shrieked. “Ich hob gornisht tzu tun mit a Hungarishe Yid. Nem bessel magyarol”.
“I have nothing to do with a Hungarian Jew”, and in perfect Hungarian he continued “I don’t speak Hungarian. Nem ertem magyarol. I don’t understand Hungarian”.
As I was about to walk away he followed after me and in his “good” Hungarian and his outstretched hand, he asked for charity… probably for a “Black Lives Matter” fund.
I ran away from the holy Wall as quickly as I could only to find myself adjacent to a large throng of half-dressed men and women carrying and waving colorful flags. “Ma zeh”? I asked. And one of the young women replied “this is our symbol of Pride. Do you want to march with us?”
Now of course I have great pride in being Jewish but I could not understand why half-naked people had to show their pride with flags. So I quickly left them to their Pride as I ran from them to my own pride.
On returning to the New city, I asked a young boy of about 15 or 16 years old (who is counting?) if he had ever learned the answer to my question in his Talmud Torah classes.
“Betach”. “Sure I do”, he answered. “It’s a very simple answer. All you have to do is to look in the mirror”.
What that had to do with my eating macaroni and cheddar cheese while my faithful dog had continued to drool over her bowl of meat, I did not understand until the young boy replied more clearly.
“Go ask Hashem”, he said, using the Hebrew term for God’s name. “Go look in the mirror and you will know His answer”.
The next morning as I was shaving I glanced at my face in the mirror. And then it came to me.
“B’tzelem Elokim nivra ha adam,” it is written in the Book of Genesis.
“In the image of God is man created”. So why did I have to spend a day in Jerusalem seeking answers to a question which I could answer? “Go ask God” they had told me. And I did.
I put the bowl of macaroni and cheddar cheese in my refrigerator and I sat on the floor next to my dog. Both of us enjoyed the meat meal. And she even allowed me to lick the plate!