Beginnings

Around 1980, I found myself in a San Francisco gripped by the deadly AIDS epidemic.

Before the plague, I had the most exquisite lifestyle by the bay.  I was, by day, a happy librarian; by night, an aspiring opera singer (not especially promising, but having a great deal of fun).  Then AIDS came and my gay world transformed overnight from opera hall to hospital.  I watched as, all around me, party animals of every species morphed into organized, responsible, compassionate caretakers and community workers.

I became embarrassed of a lifestyle that had, it seemed, so little to do with anything of ultimate importance.

One night, devastated by the death of yet another friend, I walked miles through the city.   Raised a Baptist, I flashed on a scene from the Exodus, where the Israelites paint their doorposts with lamb’s blood so the angel of death will pass them over.  I thought to myself, “the angel of death is here, and I have made no sign!”  I remember I even paused in front of a butcher shop as if in search of lamb’s blood.  Finally, I happened across the sole Jewish bookstore in the city, and, surprised, I entered.  In a glass case I saw a pretty, small box.  I was told it was called a mezuzah, and that it was nailed on the doorposts of Jewish homes.  I bought one, walked home, and put it up right away.  It was my sign.

The mezuzah was empty, of course.  I had no idea that a tiny scroll with Hebrew text was supposed to go inside.  Nailing it up was, however, the beginning of a response.

Today I am a rabbi, I hope still responding.

(There are no real beginnings,

 only where we choose to start the story each time we start the story.)

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