© David Volk

Imagine living in a country where there are hundreds of religious book stores and all of them reflect your religious background. All of them have the scriptural texts you grew up with, the images you grew up with and even some of the same tacky icons like statues of the saints and praying hands (which I thought were supposed to be the lord’s hands when I was little).
What am I saying? For many people who read this, it won’t be a stretch at all because, chances are, if you grew up in America, you’ve probably been in a religious bookstore that reflects your values because most such bookstores reflect “Christian values,” whatever they are.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking such values. I’m just always shocked when for some reason, I happen to be running errands at strip malls across this great land of ours, see what looks like a great book store and decide to duck in and check it out only to have it turn out to be an LDS store or a Cavalry store (and if it’s a Cavalry store, why are there no horses?).
And the sad part is, it often takes me a while to figure out that it is indeed a religious bookstore. After all, the books look like real bookstore books, but then, out of the corner of my eye, I’ll notice a cross on the wall, pause thoughtfully for a moment, then rationalize that the owner must just be especially religious and let it go at that until I start seeing pictures of Jesus surrounded by children and lambs and notice thousands of kitschy crosses dotting the sales landscape….
Not too surprisingly, I can’t leave fast enough. It’s not that I don’t have strength in my faith, I do. Nor do I think the Christian police are going to pick me up, take me to the back of the store and beat me into conversion. It’s just that spending time in one of these places is like getting beaten over the head with my differentness. Sure, I know that Jews aren’t a large portion of the population in a nation that celebrates Christmas and Easter, but largely ignores Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur, but it’s easy to ignore the exclusion the rest of the year until I set foot into one of these places.
Which was why it was so refreshing last month to step into a shop that I thought was just a Judaica shop – a place that sells high end Kiddush cups, tallit, yamikas, menorahs and the like – to discover that it was an honest-to-goodness (or badness, as the case may be) religious bookstore that reflected my faith.
I can’t tell you how nice it was to cruise the shelves and see books with titles like “Finding Your Spouse in 30 Days” and know that nowhere in the tome did it urge readers to “give yourself over to Christ” (not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s your wont, mind you). I can’t begin to explain how great it was to see a video tape for children whose cover featured a large, none-too-attractive tomato puppet rather than those over-coiffed, over-glamorized Veggie Tale muppets and know that these were lessons for my people. There just aren’t enough words to describe the joy I had in seeing shelves laden with Magen David (six-pointed stars) and Jewish imagery rather than the crosses I see every day back home.
Okay, well, not every day because I don’t go into religious book stores on a regular basis, but for those of you who aren’t Jewish, you would be surprised how many crosses you run across in your daily life without really noticing. They are everywhere. And you never hear of someone going to Magen David the street to get to the other side, but pedestrians are always crossing at intersections and using crosswalks.
See what I’m saying?
I notice it, you don’t.
Not only that, but you do see people crossing themselves in church or out in public, but you never see Jews making the sign of a six pointed star on their chests. And you want to know why? Well, it’s simple. There are too doggone many points and we’d probably get lost and forget where we were in the middle of the process.
Four is a good number and easy to remember. Six, not so easy.
So where was I? Oh, yes, a Jewish bookstore in Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. And by the way, did I mention that the phrase “old” here puts the word “olde” to shame in the states? Heck, there are pieces of unsold merchandise here that are older than some of the “Olde Gift Shoppes” I’ve been to in the U.S., but that’s another story for another time. Perhaps when I’m talking about something “Newe”.
And this Jewish bookstore wasn’t to be outdone by any gentile store in the kitsch department, either. There were Old City place mats, posters with pictures of famous rabbis on them, figurines of little shtetl people, refrigerator magnets with a Nike swoosh on them along with the phrase “Just Do It” (even though I think “Just Jew It” would be more appropriate) and even a cd of the Small Wonder Puppet Theatre’s presenting The Dancing Bear in “The Story of the Shpoler Zaidey.” This came as a great surprise to me as I had no idea that Captain Kangaroo’s Dancing Bear was Jewish. Turns out he had his name shortened from Bearenstine. Who knew?
And who could pass up a figurine of a young yeshiva student with a clock where his stomach should be?
The best part is that all of the icons appear to be having a good time or, at least, seem to be enjoying being thoughtful. That’s not the case at most of the other religious book stores I’ve been to. The saints always seem so mournful, the nuns (where applicable) always seem to be so stern, and that Jesus fellow, he almost never smiles. He always stands there looking so serious, regardless of whether he’s teaching, hanging out with children and sheep or ministering. I understand being the son of the lord is supposed to be a serious business, but would it hurt to depict him telling a joke or cracking a smile once in a blue moon?
Of course, it could be that darn halo the pictures always show behind his head. Maybe the light was just too powerful. And maybe, just maybe, Jesus would have smiled if someone had bothered to give him a pair of sunglasses.
From a man who believes the future’s so bright, he’s got to wear shades,
David G(ettin’ back to work) Volk