Almost Jewish

by Virag Gulyas
Judaism

Did I just catch her praying after the bathroom?

February 21, 2017

Just before my first class at the Grad school, I bought the book Judaism For Dummies. As dumb as it sounds, it’s actually genius. And while I avoid reading it on the metro during my tiresome commuting minutes, I am reading it everywhere else. Yes, including the bathroom. (And here I need to mention in brackets that in Europe I’d not read the book in public because the title says Judaism;  in  New York, I’m not reading it because it says Dummies, and revealing the slightest version of being a dumb in NYC, is not something you do. You can decide which excuse is better.)

This book is frenetic and exactly what an almost Jewish person (aka not Jewish, but wishing to be one) needs to read. But you know what, I think most of the Jewish people should read it too as it turns out sometimes I know more about Judaism than my Jewish friends.

One thing is for sure, most people in my Jewish circle had their jaw dropped when I asked them: ‘Why do you pray after the toilet?’

‘What are you even talking about?’ They asked with less interest than I’d expect. After all, they are Jewish; I am not.

‘I am talking about that you guys pray after using the bathroom.’

Silence. So I explained.

Observant Jews whisper a prayer after their visit to the bathroom that says “Thank You, God, who formed human beings with wisdom and created them with openings and orifices. If one of these orifices were ruptured or one of them blocked, whoa – it would be impossible to stand before You and survive. Blessed are You, God who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

I’ll admit: I smiled when I first read about this.

So I quickly looked up if Christians have any similar prayers that I don’t know of, but the only remotely close search result that came up was: is it disrespectful to pray on the toilet?

Well, I don’t know how my grandfather, who served as a priest until his retirement, would answer this, but if you want to hear my take on it, I say, there is no place that is disrespectful for a prayer. In fact, I made a pact with God when I was 14: I’m not attending Church anymore, but I’ll talk with you every day. God said: ‘OK my child.’

Asher Yatzar (meaning, ‘that was formed) aka the bathroom blessing whisper might sound an act of a far too religious person (but again, what is too religious anyway?) and if you are a secular or a non-believer, it might be something that you would just roll your eyes at. But if you’re someone who thinks of himself or herself as a spiritual person, this prayer is absolutely in line with everything today’s new age gurus teach you.

From Louise Hay through Deepak Chopra to Tony Robbins, they all say the same: be grateful. Stop the running, and in-between your routines acknowledge the miracles of life. And you can laugh, but being able to pee without help, without pain, without an effort is a true gift. (If you have ever had a kidney infection, you know exactly what I am talking about).

So as I was reading about Ashe Yatzar, I thought OK, I might not pray in the Jewish sense, but sometimes I do think about it how lucky I am to be healthy and be able to go to the bathroom without too much of a hassle. (Not counting the hassle your roommates give you during morning hours.)

But then today, just before class, there was this girl. She whispered something as she was walking towards the classroom. And I stopped her because I wanted to know if she got the job she applied for. She was a little hesitant to stop – and I was even thinking why is she talking to herself? But then she did stop, and she did answer me. She got the job.

I said mazal tov, and I went to the bathroom as my routine preparation for the 2-hour-long-no-break classes.

It was only on the R line on my way home when I realized: ‘Oh, shoot, I think I just caught her praying after the bathroom.’

And there, between City Hall and Cortland Street, I was once again in my delicate balance between embarrassment and naivete. Embarrassed because how could I interrupt her prayer? And then naive, since how should I know? I am just an Almost Jewish.

You think I am overthinking it? Perhaps. But this is why I am here. My only question is what do I do when I break someone’s prayer? Do I apologize? Or do I just shut up and walk away?

I don’t know. Do you?

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