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Jon claimed that at the age of about thirteen a major change occurred for him. This change dealt with the religion Jon was born into, Judaism. This was the faith that his parents turned to at the age of twenty andbrought into the family after there had been no religious beliefs in the familylineage for quite a while, the religion in which his mother was Orthodox andhis father a rabbi.
This change began the morning Jon woke uplate, on purpose; cut off his waist-length red-orange payots, thetresses of hair behind the ears that unmistakably distinguish Orthodox maleJews from all other males; and went into the main hall of the religious dorm,in Israel, where his Jewish Orthodox classmates were praying. He was greeted with complete silence andthen, “Vos Hasta Geeton? GiArois Fin due!” “What have youdone? Go away!” from the rabbi. When he repeated the rabbi’s words to me inHebrew, it sent slight shivers down my arms, and I imagined that the words werespoken with the same tone and unkindness as they were ten years ago.
Sitting on Jon’sbed in his college dorm room, I felt comfortable with him, him in his shirtwith three little holes on the back of it, drinking a beer; and me in mysandals, though a cold day, to show off my freshly painted toenails. I was having fun; I enjoyed hearing Jon’slaugh and reminiscing with him about our crew practices, intertwining discussionsof changes going on in the team and what our common worries on the downfalls ofit were, with me asking him about his life, especially questions about religionand military service. We would skipfrom subject to subject, never losing track of what was being said, and beingable to switch back to a topic mentioned minutes before.
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From thisconversation I knew that there was something to absorb from Jon, thetwenty-three year old who worked out with me during crew practices. I was glad to have met him. Here was another person that I would beobserving carefully, hopefully without him knowing it, and finding out the“secrets” of life: something everyone wants to know but that according to me,only a few know.
Back to thatmorning ten years ago, Jon told me that his reason for behaving in the mannerhe did was because he had figured something out and was going to go throughwith it. In this case it was to goagainst his religion since it was no longer satisfying him. After having asked his rabbi many questionsof “Why?” and “Who says?” Jon went through with the physical action of turningagainst the religion and letting others know about it. By cutting his tresses off, Jon wascommitting an immense offense to his religion; regulations on the length of thepayots depend on your individual rabbi, but they are never to be cut offentirely. The payots are part of theappearance code of the Orthodox male Jew; they show his pride of belonging to aparticular group, telling others without words that he believes in thisspecific worship. Obviously Jon feltthat he had to act on his instinct and go through with this physical change inorder to put his mind at peace and distinguish himself from those who trulybelieved in the faith.
As a result ofhis actions, Jon’s mother would not speak to him; she did not want him to be abad influence on his siblings. Jon’sfather, on the other hand, was more open-minded and understanding of his son’sdecision; since his parents were divorced, it was a simple conclusion that Jonwould live with his father.
As I was hearingabout this ordeal of Jon’s, I pictured him in the religious attire standard ofthe Jews, with red-orange payots. Iwanted to ask for a picture, to see how Jon, the guy who has short hair now,looked with three feet of long curled hair down to his waist.
Jon has alwayshad a seemingly positive attitude about life. He told me that as people, we all start in the same place and that weare the ones who decide what to do in our lives; we can either go “the good wayor the bad way.” He knows people whowent the “bad way” and ended up in jail because of drug use. Since Jon joined the military and is now incollege, according to him, he went the “good way.” I know that others have said words similar to his, using thephrase “the good way or the bad way,” which could make him sound like anunoriginal person, since these simple words are already included in apreschooler’s vocabulary. Fortunately,I have figured out that there are only so many words that one can use in theEnglish language and that there are only so many thoughts about certain pointsof matter. Therefore, even if Jon’swords are simple, they are his own and should be treated in a way as if I heardthem from no one else. Each individualperson should be given time to explain his/her words and define them throughhis/her own experiences because although everyone goes through similar ordeals,for each person these ordeals are personalized. Though a specific incident may affect everyone in the samegeneral manner, at the time, to the individual, it seems that he/she is theonly one going through with that trouble.
As the minuteswere passing by in Jon’s room, I was realizing that his wording of “it changedmy life forever” was not part of the stereotype I had formulated based onactions of individuals I had previously observed. Here was a person who I wanted to sit with longer and keepprobing until I learned enough details that would feed me; and the only thingthat was keeping me back was the fact that I did not want to be an intruder byasking too many questions.
Because he was thrown out of theJewish Orthodox school, Jon stopped communication with many people, familymembers and close school friends; this was mainly because they did not accepthim since he strayed from the religion. He went from staying at one person’s place to another, from little oddjobs to little odd jobs while finishing high school. Overall, Jon stayed with hisfather while contact with his mother and brothers dwindled.
In November 1997Jon was drafted into the Israeli military. He mentioned this as another turning point in his life, something thatlet him continue on the “good” path of life. Jon was a superb soldier, excellent enough to be among the top tenduring training. He later became a 1stSgt., eventually leading his own group of boys through basic training. He was also awarded two medals of heroism,both for rescuing people under fire. After his mandatory three years, Jon was personally asked to stay anextra year, which he did.
He went on totell me the rest of his life story up to where he is now, a twenty-three yearold USB student looking at majoring in philosophy and occupying his free timebetween crew and work. It was only thispast September that Jon started college after being away from school for aboutfour years. From everyday talk I gatherthat it is quite a transition for him coming back to school. Jon has had to take elementary classes toreview things he learned in earlier years, as well as take required upper-divisionclasses.
Out of the blueI asked, “Do you think that after a while rabbis become weary of their occupation and stop being enthusiastic about their profession? Do they possibly become ‘no good’?”
I asked thisquestion because lately I have been wondering how there are many immoral actions committed by people that I have been unexposed to for most of mylife. Having heard about corruption in the Catholic Church, I wondered how a person from another major faith wouldtalk about the evildoings in his, or at least a faith that he was once partof. Although I knew that dishonestyhappened all around, one just had to look for it. It was a spur of the moment question.
“They would beafraid of going away from the religious parade,” answered Jon.
I enjoyed Jon’sanswer very much because of the word “parade” that he used to answer myquestion. It was an interesting way toput what we are all part of, everybody is part of at least one “parade,” butmore often than not, we are part of many.
Jon and I havein common the fact that we both deviated away from the religion that we wereborn into, he from the Jewish faith and me from the Roman Catholic. Although his wandering off was more extremethan mine was, it is interesting for me to hear of others’ dealings withreligion. I have not figured out myfull reason for walking away from the Catholic Church; therefore I am scouringfor ideas of how to explain my own actions to myself, my mother, and my grandmother.
I am glad to have met Jon and to be communicating with him. He has joined the list of individuals who I look at for new things to think about and consider in life. Since I talk with Jon at least three times a week, he is one of the few people I tell most things to nowadays. I want to thank him for his concern for me each time he calls to make sure that I am okay after practice. I also want to thank him for allowing me to pump information out of him on a very interesting issue indeed.