- 3 -
But now, here was this Hasidic Rabbi not only inviting me to peep through the woodenwall, but actually trying to convince me to peep. There was, the Rabbi promised, a great andpressing need for psychiatric services among the Hasidim; a twenty-year backlog of untreatedmental illnesses. Why, just recently, the Rabbi said, he had treated an elderly Hasidic hatmanufacturer by the name of Goldberg who had become convinced beyond reason that themitral valve implanted in heart years ago was not the plastic valve that the doctors hadpromised but a pig's valve. No amount of convincing by Goldberg's doctors or his family oreven the Rabbi could convince him otherwise. Not even a special blessing of the valve by RabbiSternglantz himself could placate this Mad Hatter who, after demanding repeatedly that thispig part be removed from his heart, attempted to remove it himself with a penknife and a bottleof hydrogen peroxide. The resulting laceration-described to emergency room doctors byGoldberg's family as a 'shaving accident'-required more than thirty stitches to close. And thisGoldberg, Rabbi Sternglantz bragged, was only the tip of the iceberg.I was ripe for seduction. The Hill was feeling flat to me. It was time for a change, apsychiatric side-trip to somewhere exotic, and what could be more exotic than Vayehi Or; LetThere Be Light!My boss at The Hill, Chief Merkin, was surprisingly willing to lend me out to the Rabbifor eight hours per week. In fact, he almost insisted that I take the position. The Rabbi's localityfell within The Hill's catchment area and therefore Vayehi Or would be considered an 'outreachprogramme' of The Hill. It was a good PR move, and a potential bonanza of patients. And it was just the kind of innovative programme that might finally put Chief Merkin on the map.'I have a good feeling about working with Doctor Feuer,' Rabbi Sternglantz told me. 'Ihave heard only good things about him.' Exactly what the Rabbi had heard and who he hadheard it from he didn't say and I couldn't imagine, but it was obvious that the Rabbi and I hadwidely different opinions about my qualifications to work with Hasidic Jews. It was best, Idecided, so there would be no future misunderstandings, that I lay my cards on the table rightnow.'I don't know anything about Hasidic Jews,' I confessed-and, except for that businessabout their fear of blood and the hole in the sheet, this was true. For the Rabbi, my ignorance ofthe Hasidim was not a problem. In fact, he told me, it would even be an advantage. 'They willfeel less judged by you,' he said.'I'm not a practising Jew,' I revealed to Rabbi Sternglantz, and to this unsurprising newsthe Rabbi simply shrugged. Perhaps, I thought, if I spelled out for him exactly what my non-practising entailed he would not be so sanguine about it. Perhaps I should tell the Rabbi how Ino longer went to shul, even on the High Holidays, and how I always enjoyed a nice piece ofcrisp bacon, even on Yom Kippur. Perhaps I should tell him how when I wrote out the name ofGod I wrote out the entire word, God, instead of G-d; that I had not laid tefillin since my barmitzvah and that during the sacrilegious Sixties I had used my tallith bag for my pot stash andhad used my tallith as a scarf. At last, I laid my trump card on the table. 'I don't believe in God,'I confessed to the Rabbi. He smiled. 'That,' he said, 'is between you and G-d.'