Jack Hickman Cult Shoresh Yashi
Date: July 21, 2006 10:44PM
Below find a letter I sent to a friend regarding some of my journey just before and sometime after leaving Shoresh Yishai - hopefully it will help someone...
A Quick Digest to My Dear Friend Jimmy O’ on the Life and Times of Gerry Smith – “The (Shoresh Yishai) Conflict”
In 1979 – 1980ish … (after being involved for 4 to 5 years)
I was an undergraduate at Stony Brook University pursuing a studio art degree when, what I will call the ‘The Conflict’, first began to take hold of me. (Actually, not having been willing to face it, I’d allowed ‘The Conflict’ to lay dormant within me for quite some time prior to this. It was only now becoming more animated. It was no longer willing to be stifled.) This was not your typical college student’s conflict such as the likes of, “Where is the money coming from for next semester?” “How am I going to get that assignment done?” or perhaps, “when am I going to get some much needed sleep?” Sure these valid concerns and they were on my mind as well, nonetheless they were being dealt with in the usual manner – the, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it” approach. They were par for the course and expected. But this conflict… ‘The Conflict’… well that was another story.
Still attending Kahal Kadosh Shoresh Yishai (aka St. John’s) and endeavoring to keep an Orthodox Jewish ‘life style’ I continued to deal with the various issues and questions that, presumably, every good Jew would be or should be challenged with (or at least as I understood Abba to be teaching) such as keeping kosher, ritual washing, morning prayers, minion, keeping the Sabbath, making it to services, the ushering in of Messiah and some that were a bit silly such as “Should I wear my ‘kipper’ or would my cap suffice being less conspicuous?”, should I let my Tallit Katan / tzitzit show etc. I was muddling through these matters with great earnest. “To Be a Jew” was often my bedtime companion. However, now there were additional elements to calculate into the equation. Now I had to figure in the issues brought into play by my rapidly evolving participation in the ‘World of Art’. Tending to be somewhat analytical, and more than a bit anal about things, I tried desperately to fit these two ways of life harmoniously together. The Jew and the artist. Was this an oxymoron? (Of course it did not help that I had recently read the Potok novel about the Hasidic artist in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.)
And than, bursting to the surface, came this insuppressible internal conflict – ‘The Conflict’ asking me, “By the way where does Jesus fit in?”, “Are you Jew or are you Gentile?” “Are you Christian?”, “Where’s the evidence?”, “How can you possibly keep all these laws and function?” I thought and ponder the verses, “And enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for no living man can be regarded righteous before Thee” Ps. 143:2, and “When I shall say to the righteous, [that] he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.” Eze. 33:13. I contemplated the fact that, “I can’t do this!”, and I considered “Can anyone completely fulfill the demands of these regulatory standards?” and “Nobody is perfect” (“Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, [those that] remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Is. 64:5-6) “These edicts call for faultlessness!” These questions raced about my mind trying to find a comfort zone. These obvious conflicts in lifestyles, identities, isms, ethics, morals and principles sent me often to lose myself in ‘The Stacks’ at the university library trying to take a closer look at the laws and the life issues of the Orthodox Jew and the Jewish way of life. Not only did I find Abba’s teachings to have inaccuracies but, also that the only answer, involved the blood atonement. (“For the life of the flesh [is] in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it [is] the blood [that] maketh an atonement for the soul.” Lev. 17:11) Yet, this was no longer possible. Try as I might I could not find resolution. (In retrospect, perhaps, had I been wiser, I might have spent more time on my knees petitioning the Author; and maybe had I been more Berian to “search the scriptures daily” [Acts 17:11] I would have found unmistakable answers.)
During my visits to this place of hopeful insight (‘The Stacks’) I only became more and more bewildered. I found to my dismay that things I had been taught by ‘Abba’ appeared to be, in many cases, inaccurate, twisted and/or inconsistent with the practices, the values and the principles of Judaism. In some cases they were blatantly wrong. Further the ‘Art World’ as such and the walk of an Orthodox Jew appeared to be miles apart. As far as the deeper more encompassing questions (‘The Conflict’), for those, I still had no definitive resolve.
It didn’t take long for me to become unsettled and disillusioned with Shoresh Yishai and Jack Hickman. Adding to this discomfort and the questions was the knowledge of (or perhaps rumor of) the private lectures being given by Hickman to his select few. These lectures (“teachings”) regarded his family history and lineage put me even more in a quandary. These so called “teachings” were suspect to say the least, especially in the light of all my other reservations. I was coming to the shocking realization that I had taken far too much for granted. There had been a great deal that I had just swallowed at face value. I did little investigation, I had invested little examination; and often I had, without question, accepted these ‘truths’ through out the years. Now it had come to a head. In fact it was a festering abscess ready to rupture. “Was I following a lie?” “What had I allowed myself to believe and why?” I had been a fool. Be that as it may – “Could I possibly leave something that had been my life for the past six or so years?” Major choices had been decided (or not decided) based on ‘Abba’s wisdom’ and my involvement with this ‘community’. There were roots that had burrowed in and now they were rotting. My friends were part of this group; my dreams were with this group.” “Was my future to be played out ever entwined with this group?” “What was I with out them?” “Who was I without them?” – Alone!
I didn’t know where I fit any more. I wasn’t a Christian, I wasn’t a Jew, I wasn’t a part of the ‘Art World’, I was quickly separating myself from “the community” – willingly or not it was happening; and I had alienated my blood family long ago. My eyes were opening. I didn’t like what I was seeing! Even my scholastic studies had been compromised. I hadn’t been properly focused on my artistic and academic endeavors. Suitable efforts had not been made (I could blame no one except myself.) Yes, I would graduate, however, I had no plan, no focus and my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t know where my heart was. Everything had been tainted. I became increasingly depressed. I was lost and I knew it. I had no friends to turn to. Those in my ‘Art World’ were loose and of no consequence. I had kept them that way. This was done to ensuring my distance for reason of, what were, my ‘religious’ convictions. I had been avoiding those of my friends at Shoresh Yishai, not wishing any further conflict (even the Fayerman’s to whom I was like a son) – besides our common bond was now broken. There was no one to look to or to have offer direction (no one that I was looking to at any rate.) I’m not sure I would have heeded anyone anyway.
I graduated in June of 1980 with a BA majoring in studio art and a 3.2 (.3?) GPA. I didn’t attend the ceremonies. It was meaningless. Much like everything else had become. I proceeded to take dead-end worthless jobs. My self-esteem was at an all time low. At some point I stopped attending services all together although Joe Hinman, still living at the same residence I lived at, inquired from time to time if I would be going to service. I made some lame excuse as to why I wouldn’t be going and that was that. I had begun to drink quite a bit and dabble a bit with drugs. I had no dreams, no goals and nothing really to look forward to. Thus, nothing to loose. I was beginning to hang out with the wrong crowd. It’s not that I enjoyed it very much it was just something to do.
“The Cross Roads” – c. 1981
It was, I believe, in 1981 when things really caved in. It was the beginning of “The Cross Roads.” I discovered, to my alarm and disappointment, that the girl I was go out with (and contemplating getting more serious with) was doing LSD. I blew my cork. Of course that was a bit hypocritical, as I was messing with drugs myself – just not as severely. Needless to say that relationship ended. I ask myself, “What was I becoming?” I could answer the question. This was the first new shake up since I had some what left Shoresh Yishai only a short time before. (At this point I had managed to subdue ‘The Conflict’ and securely lock it deep down inside of me once again. I‘d decided I was not going to deal with it. Not now - maybe never. My goal was to forget it.) The break up with my ‘girl friend’ bothered me, however not nearly as badly as I thought it would. Perhaps there was really no relationship there to begin with, rather more a desire for one. I was looking for something to be a part of I suppose. Some kind of comfort.
Not long after the break up, on a very snowy night, came the next phase of this saga “The Cross Roads.” I had called into work to attempt to convince my boss that the inclement whether deemed it unwise for me to travel to the job. The job was not nearby and I was uncomfortable about driving in snow as it seemed to be escalating. The job was in Valley Stream and I was living in Selden. This, I felt, was quite a distance to be traveling during a bad snow. I had just been transferred out there not long before as had been my boss. Well, as things went I was unable to reason with my boss (I suspect he wanted to show off to his superiors) and I was told that I must come in. I am not really sure why I went. Instinct told me I should tell him to forget it, I wasn’t nuts and I wasn’t coming in. After all it was already pretty nasty out and only promised to get worse. I guess I must have wanted to keep my job so I drove in. By the time I got to work the snow was coming down very heavily. I remember saying to myself, “Who’s going to be nuts enough to come shopping on a night like this?” “This is crazy!” When I got inside I again tried to talk some sense into my boss. But no, he insisted the store needed to stay opened and off he went for home. I don’t know what time the call came. All I knew was there had yet to be any customers in the store, I already sent the cashier and help home and had seen very few customers in the mall. Most of the other shops had already closed a long time ago. The call was from my boss. He phoned to tell me to shut the store and get home. He proceeded to advise me of how bad it was out. Needless to say I was rather annoyed! I’m quite sure I let him know it too. I knew all too well how bad it had gotten out – he didn’t need to tell me. It took me a long time to just get to the Southern State. When I finally reached the parkway I realize it was going to be quite some ride home. The cars were pretty much bumper to bumper. I could barely see the cars in front of me for all the snow hitting my windshield. Cars in the left lane were riding with one tire up on the shoulder to try to keep traction. I was now to be one of those cars. I don’t recall how far along I had gotten when, without warning, an impatient driver decided to cut in front of me. The only thing I could do at that point was to either hit him or apply my brakes. Either way I knew things were not going to turn out good. I chose to apply my brakes, more out of habit than anything else. The next thing I knew I went into a skid and ended up with the nose of my car stuck in a snow bank. I was now at a 90-degree angle to the parkway and a sitting duck. Try as I may I could not free myself. Within seconds the anticipated impact came. I remember watching helplessly as the next car in line plowed into my driver’s side door. Thank the Lord no one was hurt. I was a bit bruised up and my leg was pretty sore and it hurt to walk on but that was it. I would heal. I wish I could have said as much for my Mustang. When all was said and done my car was totaled out. And so came the second of the shake-ups to hit in a very short period of time. I had no ‘girl friend’, no car and soon there was to be no job. It took a bit of time to recuperate from the accident. Having no medical insurance I didn’t bother going to the doctor. After all nothing was broken and everything still moved however painful it might have been. Had I gone to the clinic it might have sped up the healing process. On the other hand it didn’t really matter I had no way of getting to work anyway.
Than came the final blow - the next phase in the saga “The Cross Roads.” I had been hanging around the house recuperating (living off my savings) when I received the phone call. I have forgotten (if I ever knew) who made the call. I just recall them saying that they were sure that I would have wanted to know. “Know what?” I thought to myself. The ‘what’ was a ‘what’ that I didn’t want to hear nor deal with. The ‘what’ was that George Fayerman had died of a heart attack. I could barely speak to thank the person for calling me. I felt sick. I will never forget how sick I felt. George had been like a father to me. He had been trying to get in touch with me for weeks. I hadn’t wanted to face him for fear of what he would say regarding my leaving “the community”. I won’t return his calls and now he was dead. Little did I know the Fayerman’s had been doing some of their own soul searching regarding “the community”. In hind’s thought it would have been good for us to have gotten together. Now it was too late. He was gone. I recall visiting the family sometime that week but I don’t recall much else.
Well, after some contemplation I bought an old beat up Subaru. I gave most of my belongings away and packed the rest on top of the old heap. I emptied my bank account and with whatever money I had left. On a January morning I said good-bye to Joe and started off to ‘visit’ my Mom and Dad in Florida. My ‘visit’ lasted almost a year (more like 9+ months actually.) Suffice it to say, Florida was not my cup of tea. Although, it was while I was down there that I found out about the Newsday article. Apparently there had been others questioning “Abba”, his integrity, and his truthfulness – or his lack of it. They were questioning their lives in “the community”, wondering what to do next, who they were, how they fit in and where. These were many of the same things I had been questioning. I found it strangely reassuring and yet, very sad. It didn’t make me feel much better. It wasn’t until I had returned to New York that I had learned more fully of the impact of what had happened in “the community” (before and after my self imposed exile) or at least as much as came out in the open. I knew there would be some things that would never be known. More troublesome to me was knowing that there were other lives devastated. There were some tormented worse than even I was. I had the sick feeling that there was damage yet to come. Than there were those who would in no way heal. In spite of all this I was determined to get my life together. I knew God would be the only way to do that (while in Florida God had already began to soften my heart toward Himself.) There wasn’t any thing I could do for myself that was for sure.
“The Resolve” c. 1982 - 1983
When I got back to New York (through all my ups and downs) I was determine to find meaning to my life. It would be refreshing to just start all over. I recalled thinking that the only thing that ever made any kind of sense to me – the only thing that I felt any comfort in - was relying totally upon God – that would mean a relationship free of all the baggage I had sought to impose on myself because of the “teachings” of “the community.” I had failed miserably trying to meet and practice all of the compulsory standards and such expected of me while in “the community” any way. I was imperfect and unable to do so. (Aren’t we all?) Some how I knew outside of His intervention I would never get anywhere with fulfilling these requirements. I was most certainly at the mercy of God. It was evident from my most recent past that I had screwed things up pretty badly. It was obvious that in and of myself I could do nothing to help myself. Little did I know I was beginning to disarm “The Conflict.” I once read a quote that went something like this “The Jewish nature and soul needs to know God. This is its purpose on earth. Our souls are looking for God and we are trying to know God.” I knew this was what I wanted and needed but how was I to do this. My sin placed me under judgment – I had failed to meet the requirements of the necessary compensation – what were my options? I was drawn to go back to church. For me that is where I found “The Resolve.” It took quite sometime but God cleared up all the stench and infection all too evident within myself. Not that He needed time. He knew what time I needed. I believe now that “The Conflict” and “The Cross Roads” were God’s means of showing me how much I needed Him, How much I was unable to do it on my own and how much grace and mercy He was willing to show me. I needed to “know God” not from man’s perspective nor by man’s attempts to be righteous but by total dependence on Him. I remember reading Isaiah 53:6-12 in a new light, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither [was any] deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, [and] shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him [a portion] with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” I was one of those transgressors. There was and is hope for me. Not in and of myself but in and of the Lord. Yes, there must be a sacrifice and yes, there must be bloodshed. However, it would not come from any animal sacrifice. That we know ended long, long ago. It certainly would not come from my ability to fulfill the law. I now knew this for sure. The only answer that made any sense to me was Jesus. He, having lived a perfect life, was the sacrifice. He was the only one pure enough to be one. I realize I am no great bible scholar – nonetheless this understanding brought a great peace to me. “The Conflict” could now be buried – dead not to afflict me any more.
Things are not always the easiest for me. There was a lot of damage done during “the community” years and the first few years that follow. I realize there are always consequences to sin. This humbling was bitter sweet. Yet, in the end it brought resolve between my Lord and me.