David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Searcher Adrift (Native Son #17)
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

Recently I’ve been told that, on occasion, my Boomer articles are being quoted from church pulpits around the city.

I’m pleased to believe that I’m speaking in a voice worthy of a Sunday. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I figure the folks of the cloth quoting me to their flocks ought to know a little more about my personal views of faith, what shepherds I follow.

I was raised in the South by Yankees, among Christians by Jews. After the war, my dad brought his young wife to Sandston for his new job at Byrd Field as an air traffic controller. At age six, I was moved three miles away to a neighborhood freshly carved out of forests and fields. I had kids to play with, a drive-in movie to sneak into, a furniture store to steal cardboard boxes from for forts, and not one other Jewish family within a hundred square miles.

For the first years in our rancher among ranchers, Halloween and Christmas brought us shoe-polish swastikas on our living room window, toilet-papered trees, and one burning cross in the lot across the street. Mom and dad explained to me in the simplest terms that we were considered different, others. Only a decade and change after WWII, they’d both experienced, and fought against, worse.

On another occasion, at age eight, I was left alone for a few hours. Without knowing what it was, I watched a “You Were There” episode about the Holocaust. Hours later, mom had to peel me away from the tear-soaked sofa cushions. Walter Cronkite lent visuals to the horrid tales of the tattoos, what it truly meant an cost to be an other.

Needing refuge, I threw myself into the life of our synagogue. Dad was president of the Brotherhood, Mom the Sisterhood. She ran the Saturday kitchen for latkes, matzo brie and kugel breakfasts, Dad called out the ping pong balls at Friday bingo. They did more, but I was proudest of these.

Before service I sat with the accented old ones (I was “Dove-id” back then). They bared their wrists to show me camp tattoos, the same faded blue as their own veins. I listened to stories; they didn’t pamper me. I cried and held my place beside my elders. They were heroic, members of a club I feared I couldn’t join because I hadn’t suffered like them or the historical torments of my people. But they endured my squeaky tales of toilet paper and shoe polish, and let me stay. Cruel gestures seemed a pretty cheap price to belong among them.

We related to each other like people in an outpost because we were. I respected the courage and humility around me. My lifelong affinity for the weak and minority formed in those years. I love latkes the way my mom served them, with apple sauce and sugar.

What did not travel with me from childhood to manhood was God. Not the Old testament God, the slayer and protector, nor the gentle, sagacious New Testament God of my neighborhood. I retain no remnant of any theological lesson I’ve ever been taught.

The need for a sanctum faded once I began to forge my separate history. My own suffering did not become unbearable, and because I could bear it I did, alone. When I lost the need in my life for the synagogue, my relationship with God lapsed with it.

To be frank, I never really found Him as a child. I was too busy being vexed, playful, precocious, feeling special and martyred. Though I was given a communal upbringing, the old Jews’ faith didn’t rub off on me, only their stories of malice and survival.

I’ve grown to become their opposite, while I strive every day to be just like them. I’m not a worshipful sort, I haven’t suffered for my people or my country, but I try to be brave and respectful in my little ways. I have no family around me any longer, I work instead to serve my city. I have no camp tattoo but I write and lay myself bare in front of thousands.

I am, in the end, a being of conflicts, a believer in God without being His follower, a believer in men without being their follower. When you read these words, or perhaps hear them on a Sunday, please pray for me and all the searchers, the adrift ones. We have our uses. We are the people the meek shall inherit from.

Posted in Boomer Articles, Boomer Mag    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, church, god, faith, sunday, rva


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