Although people might find it hard to comprehend I am about to retell a true story that is about fifty years old, I will do so here for your edification.
I want to remind anyone and everyone that I came back for the believing flock and not the Synagogue of Satan.
One day, when I was about five years old, my parents went out of town for the weekend. For the first time, I learned that they were going to leave my sister and me behind with a family I had never met before. Normally, they left the two of us with my grandmother on Arnaz just south of Wilshire.
As I remember it, this family lived near where we had lived before in Baldwin Hills on Nicollette Avenue near the intersection of La Brea and Rodeo Blvd. I believe this family’s home was somewhere in the Crenshaw District. It might have been closer to Leimert Park.
Anyway, we stayed the weekend with this couple and four of their five children. The eldest daughter showed up on Sunday. On that day, we got bathed and went to a Catholic Church with them which was the first time I went to any church and sat through a Catholic Mass in my life. I asked the family’s father a few questions during the service and was actually astonished that my sister went forward to be a part of the Sacrament. I was sure that my Mother and Father, both Jewish of course, would object. However, please keep in mind I was at such a young age that I was very reluctant to reveal what my older sister had done at the church to my parents. She also told the father of the family she knew he would not participate in the Sacrament because he had already consumed beer that morning. After the service, we went right back to their home.
My parents picked us up in the early evening and asked us what we thought about this weekend’s sleepover stay. I remember telling them I thought it was okay but I preferred to stay with my grandmother. I really thought that was the end of this story at that time.
However, this was not the case. I learned that the priest somehow got our home phone number and began calling my mother and telling her that he wanted to speak with me. I was suspicious about all of that. I remember asking my mother “What does he want to talk to me about?” because I could not understand why a priest wanted to talk to me. The only thing I could think of is maybe someone thought I had touched the Holy Water in the large metal basin, which I had not because I was told I was not supposed to before I did. She told me that he would not explain his reason and that he only would say that he wanted to talk to me. I said “No” because I wanted this man to explain what he wanted to talk to me about first before I was going to be taken there. But this priest was persistent and continued to call our home phone number, insisting to my Mom that he talk to me, without explaining why. Over my objections, my mother told me I should go there and find out what the priest wanted. I felt a lot of frustration about going on this trip, but being a little boy I didn’t really have much say in what my Mom wanted me to do. I distinctly remember her telling me how I should be dressed before we went there.
On the way there, we picked up the woman my sister and I had stayed with that weekend I attended my first Mass before we went back to the church. My sister was not with us. Without going into extreme fine details at this point, I remember how everyone present was dressed.
The three of us waited in the foyer of the church’s offices for awhile as this priest and the only nun I saw around complete tasks and discussions they were occupied with at the time. I could not clearly hear what they spoke about only a few feet in front of me. I remember the priest pointing at me as he spoke to the nun, and the nun giving me a quizzical look, as he evidently explained what I was doing there. He went back toward the left, out of view, while the nun then went over to the kitchen doors to the right and then back through the doors toward the left. When she returned to the foyer she told me that the priest was ready to see me. I asked her where his office was and I was pointed toward a door down a short hallway.
I remember this from my little boy’s perspective. It seemed like a very far distance because I felt very unsure about what was about to happen as I was walking into a very unusual and unknown situation, unlike anything I had experienced in my little life. The walk seemed to take a long time for me. I found the front door of the priest’s office, saw him sitting inside, and he directed me to a small child’s chair across from his desk. I could go into great detail about how his office was decorated but suffice it to say I would now call it “Catholic, but sparse.”
The priest seemed a bit uneasy as he attempted to begin this conversation. I have jokingly referred to it in more recent times as a bit of the “break the ice chit-chat.” I remember him saying that it must seem unusual for me to be speaking to him, a priest since I was not a part of his congregation. I was actually nonpulsed on the outside as I told him, “It’s okay.” He then seemed to fumble for words as he asked me if I knew why I was there. I told him “My Mom said you wanted to see me.”
At that, he nodded and really seemed to struggle for the right way to express what he wanted to say to me. . .
He slowly said, “I think you’re Jesus and I wanted to know if you think you’re Jesus?”
I replied, “My name is Ben, not Jesus.”
He nodded again and continued, “If you were Jesus,” and correcting himself, “If you are Jesus, would you consider joining the Church?”
I was a bit surprised by this question and I replied, “If I am who you think I am then I would be in charge of your church.”
I distinctly remember his bug-eyed reaction to my reply, but I continued to explain, “If I was Jesus, why would I bow down before a statue of Jesus because I would be bowing before a statue of myself and that doesn’t make sense. And why would I drink the wine because I would be drinking my own blood and that would be weird? And why would I eat the crackers,” (Please note I had it explained to me that the wafers were like crackers) “because I would be eating my own flesh and that would be really weird.”
Only later, as an adult, could I begin to understand the very unusual reaction this man had to my explanation. The only thing I could comprehend at that time was that my response was making him feel bad. I tried to wrap up my lengthy explanation as this man went from sitting upright in front of me to a turned position ninety degrees to his right, was completely bent over, and he was holding himself up with his left arm on the desk. I remember concluding my response with the words, “when I get older and I understand things better.” I was trying to make myself clear that I did not expect that church to be turned over to me immediately, as I was not completely sure that what the priest was thinking was right and I wanted both of us, if not more people, to be sure about all of this first. I was aware I was just a kid.
I waited. The priest was looking about strangely and seemed to have trouble keeping himself in place. After a few moments, I asked him “Is there anything else you wanted to ask me?” He could only shake his head in a negative response as his condition seemed to be getting worse. After a few more moments I asked, “Can I go now?” He gestured with his left arm upward in a motion I understood to mean I could leave, and I remember that he looked back at his left backward facing palm as if he was unsure if he was doing something wrong. I waited a moment to be sure that this man was going to be okay if I left the room at that point. It seemed to me he wanted me to leave and so I decided it was the right time to leave his room.
I got up from the little chair and walked back more confidently at this point because I was happy this little meeting was over, I was glad to be leaving, and I knew my way back to the foyer. My mother and the other woman were not exactly as I left them before and I remember looking both ways for them. I found them a bit closer to the glass-enclosed front wall as I walked closer.
I gestured with my head toward the front door and told them “We can go.”
I remember my mother, much larger than I was at the time, bending over to me and asking, “So, how did it go?”
I said, “It was okay.” I looked again toward the glass doors.
She pressed me further, “So, nu? What did he say?”
I looked up at her and said with a smile on my face, “He thinks I’m Jesus.”
My Mom’s face looked concerned as she asked me, “Are you going to convert?”
I replied with a smile, “No, I told him I didn’t have to.”
To which she quickly responded, “Good, because I don’t want you to convert.”
I remember the other woman’s face had a strange smile on it as she looked at me before we left. We went through the doors and got in our car and drove away. I remember thinking about what had happened. I went over the whole thing in my mind. For the first time, I was confronted with a very bizarre issue I had trouble attempting to understand. I didn’t know if I was Jesus. I thought maybe it was possible I was Jesus but didn’t know it: that the priest was right but I might not be old enough to understand what being Jesus meant.
My mind was full of thought as I took the woman’s spot in the car’s front passenger seat after she went to her home. My mind was filled with new and unusual questions as I was attempting to understand what being Jesus means and how I could learn the truth. I remember my mother telling me, “Don’t worry about it, Benji.” and telling me that everything would be okay.
By the time I got home, I understood I would have to read a lot of books that I was not old enough to read yet. I also knew that my Jewish school friends would not like it if they found out what I would be doing if I did and I would have to do so without letting them know.
I remember feeling overwhelmed that I had a very large amount of work to do that I was not ready for yet. I think I was more confused than I had ever been as I walked to our front door.