Larry. Easter. Life after death. Jews. And me.


Larry. Easter. Life after death. Jews. And me.

by Rabbi Brian

Best friends

I am on the phone with my best friend. He is a retired minister. Larry has preached the Gospel more than 62 years. He is the nicest man I know. I love him.

I met Larry 18 years ago when he officiated at the memorial service for my wife’s mother, just two weeks before I got married in 1998.

I am 46 and his best friend. I am a rabbi. He likes to introduce me to people this way: “This is my best friend in the entire world, a rabbi.”

Larry is in Los Angeles. I am in Portland, Oregon. We are currently connected, wirelessly, via cell phones.

It’s the night before Easter. Erev Easter, as Jews might call it. Larry is in a restaurant picking up potato salad for the giant celebration that will be at his home tomorrow. I think he is at Mom’s Bar-B- Q House on Vanowen at Hazeltine, in Van Nuys. He’s taken me there. They make a most delicious mashed potato salad. Yum.

Earlier in our conversation, he said he wished I could to be there at Easter dinner. Inviting me the night before wasn’t enough notice, I replied. If he had asked me, I’d drive to the airport right now and get on the next flight. I’d love to spend Easter with my best friend. My best friend, who I am afraid is going to die soon and leave me.

And, so, I’m listening to him on the phone.

Larry doesn’t know this. He doesn’t know that the call hasn’t ended. He doesn’t know that he never hung up the call. And because I want to remain connected to him, I don’t hang up either. Instead, I pressed the mute button and am continuing to listen through my headset.

He doesn’t know that I can hear his sweet baritone voice making small talk with the African Americans kids in the shop.

I can’t hear very well. I imagine the phone is in his breast pocket. But I don’t know that.

“We were going to the theater,” he says. And something like “seven, four.” Like a ballgame score. I can’t make out much.

As I listen, I think about the fact that he is going to die. I think about the fact that I will miss it when I can’t to listen to his voice live.

Last week, I listened to my dad’s voice, preserved on voicemail a few weeks before he died. It brought back memories. Plenty of memories. But it wasn’t live.

“Four brothers and they were all over …. feet.”

I can hear the rhythm of his voice more than the words. I hear a long Larry’s pause mid-sentence, as he formulates just the right way to say the next thought.

At times I can hear clearly. Some words are clear. “All that goodness sure is good.”
I love this man so much. I don’t want him to not be.

It’s going to be Easter tomorrow. Will Larry be able to return from the dead and visit me?

“I was a minister at that church for 43 years. Can you believe that?”

Larry has told me that I am the first male friend that he has ever had and that I am his best friend in
the whole world. After hearing him say it so many times, I believe him. He will forgive this transgression of mine—listening in on him without him knowing that he is keeping me company.

It wasn’t until a few months before his 50th wedding anniversary that he told me I was his best friend. At their wedding, Larry had had one guest. Everyone else was on Ginny’s side.

I organized a 50-years-later bachelor party for him at a Mexican restaurant, at another place he introduced me to, Don Zarape’s at Laurel Canyon and Burbank. We always orders water with extra lemons so he can could make a very weak lemonade. And, at every Mexican restaurant, he asks for a large, extra bowl of salsa which he eats with a spoon, as if it were the world’s greatest gazpacho.

“Is that the potato salad?” he says. “Oh, it is. Great. Well, thank you.”

The line goes mostly silent. Just some noises. Maybe we are walking to the car. No. We are still inside. I hear voices.

“I’m just waiting for the .”

Bags rustle? Nothing much but background noise.

“Oh, there it is.”

It is 29 minutes and 33 seconds since I placed the call to him.

The line is silent.

We’ve talked about death, Larry and I. We are both in the religion business after all. Here is what I’ve learned about his beliefs:

  • He isn’t going to be sitting, literally in a heaven, by the side of Jesus. This has nothing to do with moral transgressions. He simply no longer believes what he was taught as a child. As Larry says, “There is nothing wrong with having a 4th-grade understanding of religion so long as you are in the 4th grade.” He doesn’t believe in a literal afterlife.
  • He isn’t scared of death. He likes a notion of Paul Tillich’s that his self is at one, connected to, and in consonance with everything in the universe. Larry understands that he has unity with the ground of being.
  • He knows that I do not want him to die. I have expressed this from time to time as another way of telling him how much I love him.
  • He has avoided directly answering me when I’ve asked him, “Do you have any plans to return or at least assure me that I will be able to be in contact with you?”

I think he just got out of the car. The sound has changed, but I wasn’t really listening. I think he might be opening the car door and walking. I’m feeling a bit self-critical of, and simultaneously enjoying, my detective skills.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about his beliefs about Easter:

  • Larry categorizes himself as a “pre-Easter” Christians. In other words, he’s comfortable with the stories of what Jesus up until an including the crucifixion. He doesn’t put much stock in the post-resurrection part.
  • He had never wondered, until I asked him once, why the service and holiday is called Easter and not Wester or Norther or Souther. That year I asked, we found out together. Its roots were in a pagan ritual, taken on by early Christians, in which people greeted the springtime sun rising in the east.
  • As to why the gospel writers talked about a bodily resurrection, he explained that people then – like now – could only express themselves with the words they had. They felt as though something miraculous had happened – that while they knew they had lost Jesus yet they felt simultaneously like they didn’t lose him.

I think he’s home now. I hear him say, “I’m hungry.” I hear Ginny. Now this feels creepy. Except I can’t hear exactly what they say, so maybe it’s ok. I want to hang up. But I also don’t want to. What if they get into a fight or start kissing? I hang up. Our 43-minute call is over: 11 minutes of talking, 32 of me him keeping him me company. It’s kind of sweet, but maybe a bit stalker-y too.

The line is silent.

When Larry dies, will I feel his presence like the gospel writers felt Jesus was still alive?

I hope so. And, it scares the Jesus out of me also.

Author’s note:
The article might end there above. I’m not certain. I wrote thoughts about Judaism, Easter, and my thoughts on God, which you can see below. 



I asked my god-sister, Lisa, about Easter. Here is what Lisa, an intellectual, secular, cultural Jew and psychotherapist in Santa Monica, told me:

  • Easter as roots in a pagan spring festival.
  • It is important for people to acknowledge the celebration of spring, especially because we seem to forget that we are a life form living on another life form.
  • Only people beyond Piaget’s formal operational stage who are in the “theory of mind” – thus able to maintain different subjectivity – are able to truly understand that a resurrection need not be a concrete, actual event.
  • The egg-hunt might be connected to the resurrection because eggs are a symbol of life and rebirth. Or maybe it is about the hunt and the finding.

I too often take up a reductionist view of religious holidays – looking at the origins. Logic is comfortable, safe. Being intellectual helps ameliorates fear.

I also talked with Nagy about Easter. Nagy was born Daniel Buckley, a good Catholic boy. He later became a Vietnamese Buddhist monk with a Jewish wife. He’s also an old cooter to whom I am very much attached. (And, yes, I get the joke about being attached to a Buddhist monk.)

“Nagy, are Buddhists afraid of Easter?”

“Nah,” he tells me. He is in a talkative mood. Often he just wants to have a 30-second phone call. We do that probably once or twice a week. Today I’m in luck. He is in the mood for a chat.

“The problem with Easter,” he continues and then pauses, “is how the resurrection is used.”

He repeats “how the resurrection is used” a few times as he gathers his thoughts.

He tells me about how he teaches the story of Siddhartha’s enlightenment and the resurrection as the same story. Then he restates what he just said, but now as a question. “How is it used? How is it used?”

“What I want to know,” he continues having found the wisdom in his musings, “is what do you do now that you’ve been reborn?”
I love that question, “What do you do now that you’ve been reborn?”


It’s been about an hour since I hung up with Larry. I am a little hungry. I want to record my thoughts about Easter and Jews before I go for dinner.
Here are my thoughts about the relationship between Jews and Easter:

  • Jesus, on most days and for a multitude of reasons, scares Jews. Therefore, a holy day in which Jesus is celebrated as more than a baby and a miracle worker – as someone who transcends death – isn’t going to sit well with Jews.
  • When I present the Jesus story – without the word Jesus – and tell it as in an ancient, indigenous myth of a hill people of Northern Thailand, most people enjoy the story as a deity’s desire to free humanity from suffering. Therefore, I’ve concluded, it’s not the story; it’s the associated baggage that stops people up.
  • The theme of Passover and the theme of Easter are the same – that of liberation, proclaiming our freedom. However, Jews retelling the story of the Exodus do not include an expression of a personal relationship with God. Jews have a hard time expressing love towards or from God, having a personal relationship with God it’s just not one hears Jews express. (There are historical and cultural reasons for this.


I’ve reread what I’ve written and decided to postpone dinner until I write what this all means to me.

When Larry and I we were first becoming friends, I remember being inspired by his kindness. And, I remember thinking, in the words of St. Augustine, si isti et istae, cur non ego? If he or she can do it, why can’t I? And, I remember consciously deciding to emulate Larry’s kindness.

After some years of practice, I am kinder.

Without ever having thought it consciously, for the last few years I have been emulating the relationship Larry and God have. I have stopped fighting – and fighting to understand – a notion of God that is outside of me. I find myself much more accepting of the world. I feel more connected to the ground of my being.

I feel free, freed, welcomed, liberated.
I care less for the questions of agency and cause (how and why this happened) and prefer to examine Nagy’s question: “Now what?”

Now what? Time for me to live my life in love.

I love you, Larry. And, always will.

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