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Bagel Judaism

By Tzvi Fishman
3/24/2008, 12:00 AM

I’m waiting in a stopover in the Brussels airport on my way to LA to sign a writing contract for the development of the new sit-com called “Susie the Hairdresser.” Before I left Israel, my Hollywood agent called once again saying that he had received an offer from the California Kabbalah Meditation and Health Center. They are willing to pay me $10,000 to sit one day a week in their center so that people can touch my beard. Apparently, they intend to hide transparent, fiber glass wires in my beard so that people will feel an electric current when they touch it, so that the center can advertise its healing powers.

But what I want to share with you here is the strangest thing. It happened at the Ben Gurion Terminal just as I was waiting to board the airplane. Suddenly, an old man appeared beside me and said, “Whatever you do, don’t eat a bagel.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“You’ll fall asleep for 2000 years.”

Before I could ask him why, the line surged forward, and I had to show my boarding pass to get on the plane. When I looked back, the old man was gone.

Once we were in the air, I had time to ponder the meaning of the unexpected encounter. If truth be known, ever since I had accepted the offer to come to Hollywood, I had been craving to eat a bagel. Not a fake Israeli bagel, but a real Jewish American bagel. True, in Israel, we have the Kotel, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron, and the Sea of Galilee, and the holy gravesites of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochair anf the Arizal, to cite but two. But we don’t have real bagels. With all of our Israeli know-how, we have never been able to come up with a real Jewish New York bagel. And here I was dreaming about chomping into a real, fat tasty American bagel when a mysterious old man approached me with his chilling warning, that if I ate one, I would go to sleep for 2000 years.

Flying over the Mediterranean Sea, I suddenly realized what he was saying. 2000 is about the time we have been in exile, living in foreign lands. Now the countries of the Diasporas may be very enjoyable places, like the taste of a bagel, but something is missing. Diasporas can come in all sorts of flavors, just like plain, and sesame, and onion, and whole wheat bagels, but they are all empty in the middle. The center, the Land of Israel, is missing! Diasporas have synagogues, and Shabbat, and kashrut, and yeshivas, but the center, the redemptional focus, and national component of Judaism are missing. Without the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, and a Jewish calendar and army and government, and all of the mitzvoth that apply n the Land, and children who grow up speaking Hebrew, the Judaism of the Diaspora is a hollow Judaism. Just like a bagel, the outside ring is tasty, but the center is gone. That’s why Jews in the Diaspora have fallen asleep for 2000 years. Like a bagel, the Judaism of the Diaspora has all the surrounding trappings, but it is missing its heart. When you relish the bagel and don’t notice the hole, then you’re sleeping. You're pretending. You are deluding yourselves into thinking that the circumference is the whole. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem.”  The Judaism of the Diaspora is a Bagel Judaism, or Bagelism. That was the old man’s message. 

The Forbidden Bagel


I don’t know about you, but I’m not taking any chances. To hell with the money and all the phony Kabbalah centers. I’m flying back to Israel today!