Memories of a Spine-Tingling Interfaith Relationship

After an eight-year, faithful relationship, I finally broke up with Dr. Pete. As a religious Christian, Dr. Pete loved talking to me about the Bible. As an Orthodox Jew, I enjoyed our conversations too. If nothing else, they helped distract me from the “snap, crackle, pop” maneuvers he performed on my misaligned spine every Wednesday afternoon. But when Dr. Pete started asking me more challenging questions about my faith, I realized that maybe you shouldn’t mix chiropractic treatment with religion after all.

I hated to end things. Dr. Pete had a masterful touch when rearranging my hard-to-fix vertebrae, especially S-1 through S-5, oh, and C-7 too. He helped me cope during the final trimester of a tough pregnancy when I was in so much back pain I literally had to crawl into his office. I respected his faith and appreciated his many philo-Semitic comments.

“I’ve never understood people who are anti-Semitic,” he’d say with more than a little emotion.  “The Lord said very clearly, ‘Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you I will curse.’ Why would anyone want to hurt the Israelites?” Dr. Pete shook his head in wonder, and I could not have agreed more. After all, I’m the granddaughter of European Jews who were beaten by drunken Poles, spat on by drunken Russians, and annihilated by Germans both drunken and sober. He displayed selected Psalms on the walls of his office and even in the bathroom, which I found comforting. Sometimes, fearing a fierce adjustment by Dr. Pete, a word of prayer in the loo couldn’t hurt, though the practice was not covered by insurance.

But one day, Dr. Pete slipped me a packet of brochures as I was leaving and suggested I take a look. Then he made a beeline for Room B, his white coat flapping in the hall. Curious, I opened the packet to find an illuminating brochure titled, “Witnessing to Your Jewish Friends.” It had no instructions on proper form for daily stretches.

Flipping through the pamphlets, I saw sections with headings such as “Why God Is At Least Two, and Maybe Even Three” and “May Your Name Be Inscribed in the Book of Life, But Only If You Admit That Jesus Is God.” Although Dr. Pete had once again liberated me from a bout of back pain, I had to wonder: Did Dr. Pete have plans to realign my religion as well as my vertebrae?

At my next appointment, instead of sending me to Room A as usual, Dr. Pete directed me to Room D, where he kept an old-fashioned chiropractic table appointed with leather straps hanging ominously from the end, and metal ankle holders jutting just as ominously above. It was not a friendly-looking piece of furniture.

After I was tied down by the leather straps, Dr. Pete swiveled the lower half of the table from side to side, yanking the lower half of my physical person along for the ride. As the top half of me separated more dramatically from the bottom part of me, I feared Dr. Pete would ask me if I had read any of the brochures. As my face was crushed into the small breathing space on the table, I ventured a question.

“By the way Dr. Pete,—ow!—what do all those dials do on this thing?”

“Oh, those!  They send small electrical currents to the nerves. We use them only when we have to.” Then, as a casual aside, he added, “Last night I was reading Jeremiah about when Jerusalem was burning. The Lord was really mad at the Hebrews! Sometimes they just didn’t listen very well to His instructions, did they?” Dr. Pete swerved the lower half of the rack rapidly at a ninety-degree angle.

“No, they didn’t,” I muffled my confession on behalf of my ancestors. Why was he mad at me? I wasn’t there when we crossed the Jordan river!

My spine-straightening session was becoming spine-tingling. When he finished gyrating me around on the torture table, Dr. Pete held my head between his two beefy hands, preparing to whip my head to the side for another pain releasing “crack.” While in this decidedly vulnerable position, Dr. Pete reminded me that there were serious consequences to lack of faith. He needn’t have worried. As I lay there, I prayed to God as never before that He keep me safe and that Dr. Pete wouldn’t hurt me. Then I thought, “For this I’m paying fifty bucks a pop?”

That day I quivered out of the office for the last time. Sure, he was a great chiropractor, and I’ll especially miss the special “flying tackle” and “pelvic rush” maneuvers he used whenever my sciatica flared up. But as my mother always said when I told her stories about Dr. Pete, “What’s the matter?  You couldn’t find a nice Jewish doctor?”

About the Author
Judy Gruen writes about culture, family, Jewish growth, and why bad contractors happen to good people. The author of four books, her work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and 10 book anthologies. She is a regular columnist on, and her most recent book "Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping." She is an active member of Aish HaTorah Los Angeles.