Cantor Jeff Klepper

This spritual event happened to me around Passover, 1968, when I was 19.  I was not quite 22 when I wrote this account of it. in Summer 1970. During Passover 2012, Cantor Jeff Klepper, an old friend from my Jewish camp days, found it going through old papers and sent it to me.

In 1977, psychiatrists at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, geniuses from Harvard, tried to convince me this vision was a symptom of a permanent brain disease, a grandiose Messiah complex.

Donald Meyer, MD: Judgmental Psychiatrist

Donald Meyer, MD, a first-year resident with three months’ experience, was my chief judge, inquisitor, and invalidater.  After refusing to look at my published magazine articles, he called me arrogant, non-compliant, and looking for a free ride from the system.  It wasn’t just me.  He treated the other patients assigned to him during my stay the same way.

He became a forensic psychiatrist — PERFECT JOB FOR HIM.  Instead of helping people, he judges them in an hour or two, and reports his opinion to whoever is paying for it.  I never saw a doctor who hated sick people as much as he did.

The event’s scary ending sent me running to the student infirmary in the middle of the night.  I refused Thorazine, and said I did not want to be cured of this.  I wanted help understanding what it meant.  I said I would not talk to any shrink who thought I was crazy for thinking I had a spiritual awakening.

The shrink who visited the next morning from student counseling services smirked when I told him the story, and I clammed up.  The next morning, the head of counseling came.  He had been a Lutheran minister before going into counseling.  He said lots of people my age had spiritual experiences.

Leon Wurmser, MD

My family doctor got me into therapy with a saintly psychiatrist, Leon Wurmser, famous in his field, whose specialty was very creative adolescents.  On the side, he was an expert in Jewish mysticism. We spent the summer exploring what that experience meant.

He called it a spontaneous, metaphorical synthesis,of some of the dominant themes of my life.  In that sense, it was a spiritual experience, he said.

He never used a psychiatric term or prescribed a medication. He told me always to listen to my creativity.

Ten years later, after being traumatized working for the Jews and losing everything, then being invalidated at Beth Israel, I had to perform a more difficult “Phoenix rising” effort that everyone but me thought was impossible.  I rehabilitated myself as a writer, better and more successful than I had been before I got “sick.”

One big reason I could was the validation and support I got from Dr. Wurmser in the summer of ’68 of my creativity and spirituality. That doctor’s last words to me were, “You’re creativity will be your salvation.”  He was right.

A Stairway to Heaven

Jacob's Ladder by William Blake

There was still grass under my feet after than slab of marble cracked me across the forehead. I flexed my knees to make sure they were still supporting my weight. The key ring I’d been tossing in the air was out of my hands when the marble hit, and must have fallen on the ground.

I was flat on my face on a marble slab. My nose and forehead were bleeding. To reach the handkerchief in my pocket, I had to roll over on my back. I was halfway over when I glimpsesd myself standing, flexing my knees, tossing a key ring, in a nearby meadow. Then the marble rotated slightly, and the meadow was gone.

In front of me was another marble slab perpendicular to the one I was on. Dangerously close behind me was a 15-foot drop to another marble slab. I was on a staircase.

I crawled away from the edge. I was not about to risk getting to my feet on slippery rock so close to a precipice. Once I was upright, I could reach the next step with a good running jump

Praise God, the Blessed One. Praise God, the Blessed One, forever and ever.

I don’t know why I ended up on my face again. Maybe I couldn’t get good footing on the smooth surface. But the pain I felt the second time, after that unsuccessful attempt to jump to the next step was greater than when the marble first hit.

I didn’t stop to absorb the pain. I was too frustrated. My goal seemed as far away as it was before, though I’d landed in a different place. A short distance away, a spring trickled from the rock, and some vegetation grew in the path of the water;

“Who is happy??” the rabbis ask. “He who is happy with what he has.” I would settle by the spring, since that is where fate had chosen to put me.

Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. Praised be God’s Name, whose glory is forever and ever.

The water was brackish. The little bit of salt water I drank started to nauseate me. I made another leap for the next step.

Was it another bump on the head that left me lying on my face unconscious, or just exhaustion? I could not pick myself up off the marble.

I should have remained unconscious and drowned. Consciouness only brought awareness that my skin was on fire and my body badly bruised. The salt water I was lying in was no longer a trickle; it was a waterfall. I was vomiting, the saltwater forced my eyes shut and burned my open wounds.

I had strength for one more jump.

Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand

Who is like You among the gods, Adonai, glorious in holiness, awe-inspiring, working wonders. Adonai will reign forever and ever.

I discovered a fault in the rock about two feet above eye level. With my last strength and a few contortions, I could squirm into that niche, and get out of the saltwater.

But my senses had lied. The niche, though high and wide enough to shelter me, was too shallow. My center of gravity could not reach shelter. When my last strength was spent, the waterfall swept me to earth. Which part of me would break, my arms, legs, neck, back, or skull?

A Meadow

The moment I lost contact with solid rock, the waterfall stopped. The water formed a cradle that carried me upward and set me down on the next step. It set me down in a meadow. I was flexing my knees tossing a key ring in the air. The water that had tormented and saved me vaporized, and ascended to heaven in the shape of a hand.

God’s love is a tree of life to those who cling to it. It’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. Return us to You, Adonai, and we shall be returned. Renew our days as of old.

 Playing Catch With God

I was too exhilarated to stand still. I danced around my meadow at Minute Waltz time, heaving my key ring as high as it could till it disappeared in the night sky, catching it one-handed, behind my back, without looking. The keys never touched the ground – oneness far beyond my athletic instincts and ability.

“I didn’t have to smash my face with all that jumping, did I? I could have made it to this step without that, couldn’t I? I know there’s a step beyond this one, and maybe a dozen more.

Partners? You and I? I’ll get to the base of the next step slow and easy, and when You decide I’m ready, you’ll make it possible to reach it. And please, don’t let me forget what You taught me this morning.”

Adoration and Mourner’s Prayer

We bow our heads, bend our knees, and give thanks, before the Sovereign of sovereigns, the blessed Holy One.

A long, narrow vapor cloud appeared in the sky. I followed it at military pace until I was out of breath. I heard a scream in the distance, and followed it to a graveyard.

Then, I screamed and started to run. It was the same scream I’d been following. I looked up and the cloud was gone.

“Partners?”

I sat down, tapped a rhythm with my key ring, and said Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer that glorifies God and does not mention death, for what had been.

Extolled and magnified be the Great Name, Whose word is written, and rules the universe, in our lives, and our days, and in all people. And let us say Amen.

“I will start for the next step after a proper period of mournng,” I said.

Did you ever have an experience that contained spiritual truth, that someone called a symptom of a disease?

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment for this entry

  • Ken!Brait1 says:

    Sometime after this event, I changed my Hebrew name to Dov Yisroel from Keren Dov. After Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis, the angel changed his name to Israel, which means “he wrestled with God.”

    All Jewish children are given a Hebrew name to use when they are called to the Torah, circumcised, or buried. The name Keren was foisted on me at my circumcision ritual, when I was eight days old, by Grandpa Will Braiterman, a silly, galactically vain old man who has haunted me my whole life.

    Keren with a Hebrew K is Hebrew for “fund.” With a Hebrew C, it’s a horn, like on a goat.

    When I started Hebrew school in 3rd Grade, the teacher asked everyone’s Hebrew name. English names from the Bible have definite Hebrew equivalents. If parents don’t like it, they often choose a Hebrew name that starts with the same initial as the English name.

    There is nothing close to Kenneth in Hebrew. “Pop-Pop Will” named me after Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, the Jewish National Fund, a charity that planted trees in the Holy Land. Keren means fund.

    So on that first day of Hebrew school, I said my Hebrew name was “Karen.” Even the teacher laughed. The rabbi told me to ask my parents because I must be mistaken. Nobody had Keren for a Hebrew name.

    It got to the gentiles on the public school playground. “Hey, Karen, where’s your dress.”

    Fortunately, I was also named after my mother’s grandfather, Ber in Yiddish, Dov in Hebrew. Dov is a common, respectable boys’ name in modern Hebrew. I started using it in high school. I changed it officially after my wrestling match with God.

    I was so glad to be rid of that stupid name Keren. “Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue,” as the old song goes.

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