Real Magic



I flew from Los Angeles to New York to attend my friend Arthur’s rabbinic ordination.


“His seminary isn’t legitimate,” I hear from some colleagues. “You shouldn’t go,” I’m told.


I suspect, and time will prove this to be true, I will lose some rabbi friends because I choose to attend the ordination of a rabbi by the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute—in their mind a suspect seminary. My heart isn’t into taking sides or making a statement. I’m not for or against the school’s accreditation. I’m in favor of supporting a friend.


This is also the weekend when my friend Steve, who bills himself as _The Millionaire’s Magician_, has his official book launch at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble bookstore.


I’ve known Steve since we were both campers at magic camp in 1985.


I’m wickedly jealous. I just put out my first book, too.
But mine is self-published.

I’m not on a stage.


I sit a few rows from Steve, standing center on a small raised platform. Fifty plus pairs of eyes converge exactly where he wants us to look—on the volunteer seated, with her eyes closed, twenty feet to his left.


With his right hand, he touches a point on his left arm midway between his elbow and wrist.


He addresses his volunteer, “And did you feel something that time?”


“Yes,” she says.


“Can you point to where you felt something?”


She points, with her right hand, to a place on her left arm midway between her elbow and wrist.




Out of a seemingly-enchanted tea pot, Steve pours ten different drinks, one at a time, selected at random by members of the audience. More applause.


He holds up a book, has someone pick a page number and someone else pick a number to correspond to the word on that page. He then opens an envelope containing a piece of paper on which that exact word is written. More applause.


I hate it. I can’t promote my book about finding holiness by doing magic tricks.


I mean, I could. But would you trust a rabbi who pretended to have magical powers?

(From experience of trying to combine the two, I can tell you, even if you think it’s a good idea, it doesn’t work.)


Before I leave, Steve inscribes my copy of his HarperCollins imprint:


“Brian, one of my oldest and most revered friends. _Thank you_ for your love and support over the years. Your relationship means so much to me.”



(If you get the book, you’ll see me quoted on page 49. My friend Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer frequently uses this quote in this lecturing:  _The proper response to the inevitable is relaxation._)


I thank Steve, we make tentative plans to catch a meal, and I exit onto Broadway towards my folks’ house on 72nd, where I grew up.


Now, you probably won’t believe what I’m about to tell you. And, truly, you shouldn’t. I mightn’t believe it if you told me. I might believe you thought it happened, but I don’t know that I would believe it really did in the way you were telling.


I swear this is what happened.


At 71st, a man in an “I heart NY” shirt has set up two tables of used books and magazines for sale. I stop and, quite at random, pick up a small white paperback entitled, _The Way of Chuang Tzu_. I pick it up because the author is Thomas Merton, and the great Trappist monk is a soft-hero of mine.


I flip the book open and land on page 112.


Totally at random.


And there is the quote.


It’s a quote I’ve been looking for. Probably for over a year.


It’s the words about not getting attached to right and wrong that I just didn’t know who said it or how I would find it.


This is the world pre-internet, when all information is not accessible in an instant.


And, there is the quote.


The chances, the odds, are ridiculously impossible.


But, there it is. The quote I wanted to find but couldn’t figure out how to find:


>When the shoe fits

>The foot is forgotten.

>When the belt fits

>The belly is forgotten.

>When the heart is right

>”For” and “against” are forgotten.


I hope neither your shoes, nor your belt, nor your heart agitate.

After all, not taking sides is what made me able to attend my friend Arthur’s ordination.

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