And [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is also the Lord of the Sabbath.—Mark (2:26-7, NKJV).
Washington Heights, Summer of 2002.
People often wonder what caused me to become such a heretic.
There is no simple answer to that question. Many things spurned me on. It had been two years since I was makpid on davening every day. Or even putting on tefillin. I had dropped out of YU. The previous semester had been spent taking 2 classes at Brooklyn College, habituating in a basement apartment in Boro Park, and working part-time in a group home for severely disabled adults.
But my first foray off the median, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Chapter 2.2: To My Left, Gabe.
That summer, I moved back to Washington Heights. I was planning on attending City College that fall. I was planning on getting my shit together. I was still working at the group home part-time. The rest of the week was spent getting drunk, smoking cheap weed, playing video games, watching TV, and being completely unproductive.
I was sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with 5 people. They were good friends, so I didn’t mind. Stu was the first friend I made at Yeshiva University. Gabe was my favorite smoking buddy and a former coworker of mine. We worked the graveyard shift at the Caf. Store. When we were done, we would get drunk and high together.
Gabe was fun to get high with. He kind of reminded me of young Seth Rogen, only with a higher-pitched voice. My fondest memory: Winter of 2001 one night, our shift at the Caf Store was over, so we headed to my place to get high. Our friend N.C. was with us. I decided to microwave a Fettuccini Alfredo TV Dinner (munchies!). Gabe and N.C. raided my pantry to look for munchies for themselves. One of them found what looked like a bag full of potatoes. They asked me why I had so many potatoes. I didn’t know. I didn’t cook. My roommates didn’t cook.
I examined the bag closely. True. I was high. But I could still read. Those were not potatoes. They were deli rolls that had expired 3 weeks before. They were so mouldy, that they looked like potatoes!
Under normal circumstances, that would warrant a few seconds of laughter only. But Gabe and N.C. were so toasted, that they both started laughing. And laughing. And laughing. Loudly and obnoxiously. And they couldn’t stop. And Gabe’s laugh was high-pitched and loud.
I said “guys, shut up, it’s 2:00 AM and my roommates are sleeping.” That only made them laugh harder. I was waiting for my TV dinner to be ready so I could herd them out of my apartment. But time itself seemed to slow down. And they kept on laughing. One roommate came in and groggily castigated them for making our neighbors complain and for waking him up. That just made them continue to laugh. And they laughed all the way back to Gabe’s apartment.
Chapter 2.5: 3,000 Years of Beautiful Tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax.
Back to Summer 2002: The night that changed my life forever.
It was a Friday night. Normally, I would have showered, put on a dress shirt and tie, and gone to shul. Or stayed around and khopped a free meal. Not that Friday.
Gabe and Stu wanted to see a movie. They asked if I wanted to come.
For some reason, I can’t explain why, I barely had any pangs of guilt at this point. I said yes.
We took the train down to Midtown. We crossed over to 2nd Ave, where we saw Road to Perdition. It was okay. We weren’t a fan of the directing. But Tom Hanks was good. Not very memorable otherwise.
The important thing is that suddenly, Friday night lost its sacredness. Shabbos was no longer koidesh. Friday night was just another night of the week. I was free to go to a movie now. It. was. AWESOME!
The night did not end there.
We decided to go to The Rodeo Bar—a faux-Honkey-Tonk in Gramercy Park. There was a Rockabilly Elvis impersonator playing that night. He was pretty good.
So we sat there, chain smoking, drinking, and conversing. Wow, the night was only getting better. At that point, I was pretty much getting loaded every night of the week. Suddenly, Friday nights were good for bar-hopping as well. Guilty pangs? As the kids say, ain’t nobody got time for that! I was too busy reveling in the manumission from halacha. I didn’t even think about Shabbos that night.
Stu decided to temporarily exeunt. He ducked into the corner of the bar to write poetry on a napkin. Gabe and I moved into the restaurant to get a table and continue drinking. I asked Gabe if Stu was okay. Gabe said not to worry; he’s happier alone. So it was just me, Gabe, some beers, cigarettes, and the young night—which was still young.
Gabe ordered “Rattlesnake Bites”—shrimp wrapped in bacon stuffed in a jalapeño pepper. He offered me a bite. Now this time I hesitated. I knew there was bacon in it. I didn’t know it contained shrimp. If I did, perhaps I would have been more hesitant. The prospect of trying shellfish was still scary for me. I took one bite. Holy shit! It was a mouthgasm. I had never tasted anything like it in my life—and I loved it.
Sadly, I enjoyed my first time eating trayf more than I enjoyed my first time having sex (another chapter). It was at that moment that my Pintele Yid was on his death throes, and Acher began to rise.
Years later, I recounted this story with Stu. He remembered the night well. But he had no idea that this was my first time (a) being mechalel Shabbos and (b) eating trayf. He even apologized. I couldn’t understand why he was apologizing. As he well knew, I needed to get off of the dangerous and treacherous derecho of Modern Orthodoxy. I needed to explore and figure out what my derech is. That night began my full journey.
I told him that he has absolutely nothing to be sorry about. It is thinks to him and Gabe that I am the man I am today.