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O My America: North Carolina

December 21, 2014

by Lawrence Bush

jesusSO HERE I AM on the last 150 miles of our 700-mile Khanike trek on 1-95 to Columbia, South Carolina to see our daughter and her husband. The Interstate has shrunk to a dinky two-lane highway with stop-and-go-traffic on a pavement grade that changes every 100 yards — o, what a little infrastructure investment could do! — and NPR has gotten really boring this late Saturday afternoon, so we start station-hopping. The North Carolina airwaves offer a stew of Christian talk radio, Country & Western Christmas music, and weak signals — ahh, here are two gentlemen discussing President Obama’s recent unconstitutional outrages and how the government is now forcing Christian small businesses to make wedding cakes for gay people while illegal immigrants are getting all the remaining jobs in America. We listen to them for a while, they have a good strong signal and it’s almost nostalgic, how passionately they rail against the government, like we used to do on Pacifica Radio in the Sixties...

Now they’re taking phone calls, and here’s a young woman calling from Nevada. She’s a Christian, she says, and she finds everything that they’re saying to be, in fact, very unChristian, very unmerciful, very mean, she says, nothing like how Jesus would embrace people, embrace the poor, embrace the leper, nothing like it at all. They let her go on and on while they’re sharpening their knives in silence — and she has great courage, this woman, denouncing these bigshot radio men in an unfaltering voice, until she dares to quote some Scripture at them, and then they cut in, and correct her, and extend the quote, because “Jesus,” one of them says, “was about truth-telling, not just compassion,” and then they go to the break without ever addressing her critique.

Well, good for her. God bless.

After the break comes the Messianic moment, a 5-minute spot named something like that, tailored special for us New York Jews driving through North Carolina. Rabbi So-and-so and his sidekick Mr. Such-and-Such are telling us about Khanike (they pronounce the “kh” with such force, you’d think the mark of “real Jews” is that we are constantly clearing our throats and hawking). The amazing, amazing thing about the Khanike festival, they say, is the shammes candle, the helper candle, the candle that lights all the others, and which is always positioned on the menorah, they insist, higher than the rest — because the shammes represents Jesus... which is also why you put the lit menorah in the window, because you don’t want to “hide Jesus under a bushel.”

Oy, get me to the state line before I convert...

Here’s to American diversity.

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and Jewdayo.

To read the next in this series of three blogs about the Carolinas, click here.