(*Underwear)...And other words of advice from The God Squad
Long Island, New York, is home to The God Squad. Rabbi Marc
Gellman and Msgr. Thomas Hartman, "best friends," have been writing a syndicated
column since 2002. The two religious leaders have appeared on national
television and written books together. They are America's most famous
priest-rabbi media duo.
The title of this article comes from Rabbi Gellman's book: "Always Wear Clean
Underwear..and other words of advice from The God Squad." Gellman said that he
had a battle with his editors over the title of this children's book. He wanted
it to be titled, "Don't Pee in the Pool: and other ways parents tell you they
love you." His publishers said that no librarian and few parents ("tate-mame")
would buy a book with the word 'Pee' in the title. They won! Gellman admits that
he's fine now after years of therapy. He ends the piece by writing, "I have to
close now. I am in L.A. visiting my 5-year-old grandson, Zeke, so I don't really
have time for this. I am going to read Zeke a bedtime story now. It's one of his
favorite books. It's called, 'Walter the Farting Dog.'"
Msgr. Hartman, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, is stepping down as
co-writer of The God Squad. No more hugs and kisses on the cheek--a regular
ritual signifying accomplishment for a job well done, interfaith understanding,
and a sign of "frayndshaft" (friendship).
Hartman says that there is a planned message ("yedie") in the symbolic
kiss and hug on TV. "This is a visual medium. People will react more to our
friendship than the concepts we develop." Hartman, by the way, is regularly
chided by his partner for being the Robert Redford--the "sheyn"
(handsome) one--of the duo.
Gellman and Hartman are perhaps the two clergymen in the U. S. with the widest
regular viewing and listening "oylem" (audience).
Over the years I have regularly read Rabbi Gellman's columns, "The Spiritual
State" in Newsweek Magazine. They have been posted on my kitchen "fridzhider"
(refrigerator), along with Ann Landers columns
Shown below are some of my favorite columns:
1. Prayers for Henry, who has cancer
This particular column really touched me since my brother, Paul, is suffering
from pancreatic cancer. Gellman wrote that "The secret of this fight is to know
the feeling of being ROOTED in the love of family & friends and, for some, God.
I am praying for you Henry. I am praying that beyond the smell of antiseptic and
crappy hospital food that you might catch a whiff of something fine and bracing
and beseeching and incantatory. I am praying that you can catch the scent of
water. No matter what tomorrow might bring, Henry, I pray that today your new
leaves will begin to sprout. May God bless you and heal you."
2. Graduation from kindergarten
Having attended four "kinder-gortn" graduations for my
grandchildren--Amanda, Scott, Shane and Connor--I found this particular column
just "vunderlekh" (wonderful). He wrote, "I just returned from Los
Angeles where I saw my only grandson, Ezekiel, graduate with a group of cute and
charming 5-year-olds from his nursery school. From what I was able to observe
when I saw Zeke in class, I would say he graduated with honors in finger
painting, magna cum laude in crayons, summa cum laude in knocking down things
made with blocks; undoubtedly, Zeke was the valedictorian of snacks."
3. A Prayer for Va. Tech
Rabbi Gellman prays for all the parents and protectors of all the children who
are sent off to all the schools in all the mornings of our lives. He write,
"Help them to let their children go to school with a smile and a kiss and not a
tug and a tear. We know that the chances of such a bloodbath engulfing them are
remote, but like lightening or a sudden storm, we know that the chances for
complete safety are an illusion in our wounded world ("velt"). We truly
and sorrowfully know that some storms cannot be weathered. So it is with the
storm of murderous evil on this day. We know that we must let them go, but today
we do not want to let them go. Today we only want to hold them close. Help us
all to live with the terrifying challenge of freedom and fate."
4. A Prayer for Care Givers
Rabbi Gellman's parents resided in "Chai Point," a residence overlooking
Lake Michigan. He prefers the name "Chai-howyadoin." (His father has since
passed away.) The Rabbi writes, "We are, sadly, not living in the old
neighborhoods ("shkheyneshaft") not surrounded by large extended families
who gather every Sunday to play cards and eat traditional greasy food while
sharing the burden of care for our old ones. We need a place like Chai Point
now. We cannot give them what they gave to their parents, and our own lives
would neither protect nor nurture them. We are putting them in homes to soothe
our guilt. We are enabling our parents to knit together a new life with others
their age who remember things we do not know. This Passover my mom made gefilte
fish for a lonely woman down the hall. This was not a little thing. Chai Point
is not a building. It is a society of human beings who happen to be old and who
have chosen to be old together."
5. Imus must repent
Don Imus's racist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team; he called
the players "nappy-headed hos").
Gellman wrote, "The third stage of repentance is to ask God to purify you from
the effects of sin. Sin is not just a mistake. It is a mistake that stains us in
a way that no apology can ever completely rectify. I teach children about this
by pounding a bunch of nails into a board and telling them that each nail stands
for something bad we do in our life. Then I pull out the nails and I tell them
that this is like apologizing and changing what we do. I then point to all the
nail holes in the board and ask the kids how to make those holes go away. None
of them know how to make the holes go away. People who are not religious have
their ways to fix the holes, and I respect those ways.".
6. The Death of Miles
Rabbi Gellman wrote about the loss of his dog, Miles; he also thanked his vet
for providing such superior care. Gellman wrote, "I bury people, and I know that
grief at the death of a pet is not the same as grief at the death of a person,
but it is still grief. It is still deep and raw and shattering to our admittedly
irrational expectations that we will never be separated from those we love. I
tell people I counsel through grief to try to give thanks for the pain we feel,
because the pain is a measure of their love...I am happy to be a mess of tears
now because I was, and my family was, loved by Miles unconditionally, and I
savor this grief as the way the gift of unconditional love is painfully but
7. Doing little things with great love
Rabbi Gellman wrote, "Mother Theresa was right when she said that God did not
put us here to do great things. God put us here to do little things with great
love. Right now there is probably someone you know who is in mourning whom you
have not yet contacted. Call them today, or better yet, get a card or write a
note with your own hand and your own heart (forget the green bean casseroles)."
8. Is God good, smart and powerful?
(from the book, "Bad Stuff in the Headlines: A Guide to Handling the Headlines"
by Gellman and Hartman) "If you're wondering where God is going to come into
this picture, consider this in their introduction: 'If you believe that God is
good and smart and powerful, it's hard to figure why there's so much bad stuff
in the world God created. Some people say that the reason there's bad stuff is
that there's no God. But we believe that God exists and that God made the world
with holes in it so that we could fill up the holes ourselves and have something
important to do with our lives. And a lot of the bad stuff isn't God's fault at
all, but our fault for making bad choices.'"
On September 19, 2007, a Nebraska State Senator, Ernie Chambers, filed a lawsuit
against the Almighty in protest against frivolous lawsuits. Chambers accuses God
of causing "widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon
millions of the earth's inhabitants" by using "fearsome floods...horrendous
hurricanes" and "terrifying tornadoes." He is seeking an injunction against God.
9. God and Aretha Franklin
www.dickstaub.com reports that Rabbi Marc
Gellman also sees the problems inherent in a disconnect of intellectual life and
popular culture. "There must be room in the culture for people who believe in
both God and Aretha Franklin. Right now we are perilously close to a world in
which Rolling Stone owns all the good music (and all the bad music) and religion
owns all the good ideas (and a few bad ideas). This cannot continue because, to
paraphrase Kant, ideas without music are empty, and music without ideas is
10. Sermons - Pews in the News
One of the five most important religious trends of 2005, according to Gellman,
is Biblical illiteracy. He wrote, "We are the people of the Bible but you would
hardly know it by going to church nowadays. I think we Jews do better on this
score, but most of the baby Rabbis I mentor still preach sermons (if they preach
at all) that sound more like Dr. Phil than Rabbi Phil."
Marjorie Wolfe wishes Msgr. Thomas Hartman "zayt gezunt!" To Rabbi
Gellman, she says, "Zei nor gezint un asach hatzlukeh mitt eiyer shreibn."--Be
well and best wishes on your writing.