The Force Field

He walked past Bnai David Thursday afternoon and saw a trash can with the sign, “Sponsored by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky.”

He stopped and stared. “What the hell?” he thought. “A trash can sponsored by a rabbi? Where’s the kavod of the Torah in sponsoring a trash can? Aren’t rabbis supposed to be above these things? Is this another goofy cause embraced by this liberal rabbi and kindly shul?”

He walked on and felt awkward. Human connection, except in the rarest of cases, made him feel awkward. He hated the trash in Pico-Robertson. These new trash cans around the community were a great addition. The streets were cleaner thanks to the initiative of Bnai David’s Boaz Hepner.

“Perhaps rabbis should get down in the muck of the streets and make things better?” he thought. “I wonder if any other rabbi is sponsoring trash cans around town. I don’t think so. I don’t think any other Orthodox rabbi sponsors women’s prayer groups. Why do women need to pray in a minyan in shul? Can’t they just get their spiritual highs from cooking us men kugel? Why do women need to be rabbis? Why can’t we have special rituals and responsibilities just for men?

“This radical egalitarianism bothers me. I like separate roles for men and women. Yeah, I’m pretty sensitive and gravitate to a lot of womanly things, but hell, I’m still a man’s man.

“Why does the rabbi do this outreach to non-Orthodox Jews and to feminists who traditionally hate Orthodoxy and to the homosexuals who want to be part of Orthodox Judaism? Why can’t he just shun them like the rest of his colleagues?”

As he moved up the street from Bnai David, he still felt like he was in the rabbi’s force field.

“We all exert a force field,” Dennis Prager said on the radio. “We affect people around us.”

Dennis Prager exerted a massive force field. You felt changed just standing in his presence. Rabbi Kanefsky was the same way. You felt kinder and more considerate and more thoughtful and more studious and more Jewish just being in his presence. But his goofy left-wing ideas? Those sermons about embracing people and those monthly lunches for the homeless and that Spring 2003 sermon about not enjoying the Iraq war, hell, he loved war on TV, why was the rabbi preaching that he shouldn’t enjoy it? He loved shock and awe.

“I couldn’t even tell a dirty joke if the rabbi was anywhere near earshot,” he thought.

And then there was Malcolm* who always chewed gum in shul. That’s totally wrong. Tacky. Inappropriate.

“But is it kosher gum?” he’d asked him.

“Kosher gum!” Malcolm said. “When I grew up, there was no such thing as kosher gum. All gum was kosher. These ridiculous chumras.”

He had taken care to chew kosher gum and now Malcolm was telling him that wasn’t necessary. The moment before, he had felt righteous and now he felt silly.

He wasn’t a member of Bnai David. He hadn’t daven there in years. Why did he still feel the rabbi’s force field?

Oy, must cross the street and move on and up, past the oil derrick, and whiz, here comes a kid racing by on his bike through the puddles.

I bet that kid wouldn’t bike that way if he was a member of Rabbi Elazar Muskin’s congregation of Young Israel of Century City (YICC). There’s another rabbi who exerts a considerable force field.

His friend had told him that he no longer davened at YICC — intimidating shul! — because it was “judgmental.” He had davened at YICC and he had been thrown out of YICC and he had respected the judgment. YICC had standards. Whenever you have standards, you’re going to strike some people as “judgmental.”

Rabbi Muskin didn’t stand very tall but he had a lot of passion. He had shaped a community in his image. They were high achieving in the secular and religious worlds. And now he was walking into its force field all the way to the Kosher Thai restaurant next door to the shul and Chick n’ Chow.

He felt Rabbi Muskin walk beside him and it scared him.

He just felt so dirty. He didn’t feel worthy of stepping into YICC or Bnai David. It was hard enough just walking past these shuls.

“What kind of force field do I exude?” he thought. “There’s nobody who feels uncomfortable sharing a dirty joke with me. People feel comfortable using the n-word around me. Heck, there was even that homely shiksa who offered me a massage.

“I’ll get that lentil burrito for lunch,” he thought. “With the guacamole. My friend is paying.

“Buck up, matey. There’s nothing wrong with me that a black woman couldn’t fix.”

And I feel the power
Then there’s really nothing that we can’t do
If we wanted to, baby
We could exist on the stars
It’d be so easy
All we gotta do
Is get a little faith in you
Oh, I’ve been (to) so many places
I’ve seen some things
I know, love is the answer
Keeps holding this world together
Ain’t nothing better
Ain’t nothing better
And all the answers to our prayers
Hell , it’s the same everywheres, baby
Nothing ever breaks up the heart
Only tears give you away
Then you’re right where I found ya
With my arms around ya
Oh baby, baby, baby, love is a magic word, yeah
Few ever find in a lifetime
But from that very first look in your eyes
I knew you and I had but one heart
Only our bodies were apart
That was so easy, so easy
I had a taste of the real world

Top 10 Amish Pick-up Lines
10. Are thee at barn-raisings often?
9. If our religion didn’t forbid the use of telephones, I would ask
thee for thy number.
8. Can I buy thee a buttermilk colada?
7. You’ve really got the build for that plain bonnet and shapeless
black dress.
6. Say, my favorite movie is “Witness” too!
5. Are thee a model?
4. There are so many phonies at these quilting bees. Let’s go
someplace quiet.
3. Thy buggy has a bitchin’ lacquer job.
2. I got Sinatra tickets.
1. Are thee up for some plowing?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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