CHAPTER 1 - THE BAPTISM
For years, despite the press coverage, Rabbi Glixman always wanted me to let my son’s story rest. He worried that the truth would one day affect Robert's chances of finding a proper Jewish wife. But my son is now grown, and he has more than fulfilled our rabbi’s dreams. He’s married to the kind of woman that the rabbi had hoped for. History demands that his odyssey to the rabbinate be accurately preserved for future generations.
The critical problem arose in 1984 during my second custody fight for my son. I wasn’t yet Orthodox, but Bobby was already leading Friday night services in a number of Hebrew prayers at a Conservative Synagogue, the Homestead Jewish Center in Dade County, Florida. He was pretty proud of that. You can just imagine how he felt about Maria going back on her pledge to raise him as a Jew. Now the only promise that I was hearing from his mom’s lips was one to put him in a catechism class.
There was nothing in the short run that either my son or I could do about her plan. But Bobby did his best to make his presence known to the teacher, Mrs. Gracy. On the first day there, the boy stood up and announced, “I’m a Jew. I don’t belong here.” All the teacher had to say in return was, “Sit down; sometimes children don’t know what they’re saying. Your mother knows best.”
The instructor did, of course, report the incident to the office where a record was started on little Robert to see whether the remark was a fluke or something symptomatic of a greater problem. Maria had not initially clued the St. Louis Catholic Church about Bobby’s past.
They began to suspect that something was really wrong when Robert began to spout off many of the 24 verses that I had threatened to teach. I had published a book six years earlier about the Nazarene, and I knew precisely how to teach my son to go for the Achilles Heel of the Church.
“Isn’t it true,” Bobby asked, “that Jesus said salvation is from the Jews? He said it in John 4:22, didn’t he?” A teacher of six and seven-year-olds normally doesn’t get too many questions like that, and in short order Mrs. Gracy found she had a weekly theological war on her hands as I continued to grill the boy on how to destroy her class. One office-recorded remark quickly grew into a small book. Soon the teacher refused to take Robert into her class unless Maria sat in with him. That seemed to help, but what Mrs. Gracy didn’t realize was that Bobby was only being silenced then by physical punishment at home for his theological commentary.
Maria knew our son couldn’t be baptized at St. Louis. By then they had no doubts about Robert’s convictions. Still, she wasn’t about to be stopped by opposition there, so she set out for the Epiphany Church.
Father David Smith was Epiphany’s head priest. A 37-year-old man, Smith had overseen his church’s rise to be one of the largest congregations in Miami. He was proud of his accomplishment, but probably knew that the key to continued success was in good fund-raising techniques.
Maria came to see the Father with her boyfriend, Ricardo, and checkbook in hand. She told him that she was anxious to see her son baptized as soon as possible. According to Maria’s sworn testimony in her Answers to my Interrogatories, the dialogue went as follows:
“How old is the young man?” Smith asked.
“Six,” Maria said. Bobby was still five weeks short of his seventh birthday.
“Has he been instructed in the faith?” the priest asked.
“Oh, yes,” Maria said. “He’s been attending catechism class at St. Louis.”
“Would you be the boy’s father?” Smith asked of Ricardo.
“I’m Maria’s fiancé,” he answered.
Maria went on to explain that she was divorced from a Jew who was Robert’s father. Smith wanted to know how Maria had been married to me. When he heard the ceremony was performed by a notary, he was satisfied that she was free to marry Ricardo in the Church for this was, in the eyes of Catholicism, to be her first marriage.
“Did your son have a brith?” the Father asked.
“What’s that?” Maria asked innocently.
“A ritual circumcision,” Smith informed her.
“Oh, Bobby’s been circumcised. Is that a problem?” she asked.
“Not really. Even our Lord was circumcised. How soon do you want the baptism performed?” he wanted to know.
“Would tomorrow be too soon?” Maria asked a bit nervously.
“Normally we require a child to attend our catechism class for three months, but the boy’s under seven so he isn’t yet quite at the age of consent,” the Father said pensively.
“Would a donation help?” Ricardo asked as he handed the priest a check.
“We’d be happy to accommodate you,” Smith said. It should be noted that seventeen years later when Rabbi Schiff of the Miami Jewish Federation met with and asked Father Smith about that fateful day, Smith denied that Maria had ever informed him of David’s Jewish background.
According to Maria the following day she dressed Bobby in his new suit. Ricardo drove both to Epiphany. Bobby sensed something was different about this trip, and Maria told the boy that the priest would “place a shield over his head to keep him from going to hell.”
I had warned my son to never allow anyone in church to pour water over his head, but that was months ago and Bobby was too busy playing with a new toy in the car to give the upcoming event much thought. In church Smith met privately with the couple while Bobby waited in the sanctuary. Ricardo told the priest that there would be no other relatives present that day because Maria’s parents were sick. Smith said that was O.K., called in two office workers to serve as witnesses, and then went out to do his duty. The service was performed, at Maria’s request, mostly in Latin. Bobby had no idea what was happening until he saw that the priest was sprinkling him with water. By then it was too late.
In the car on the way home, Ricardo laughed at the boy. “Well, Bobby, you’re one of us now!” he taunted. Maria held up the baptism certificate for her son to see. “Now you’re Catholic, too,” she boasted.
Bobby started to cry. He thought I would kill him or worse, that I wouldn’t love him anymore. The next few days were pure agony for the former pride of the Homestead Jewish Center.
On Wednesday Maria drove our son to her mother’s house about an hour before I came over to pick him up for the first time since the baptism. Maria told her mother, Theresa, what she had done, expecting her to be happy. After all, it had been Theresa who initially started the fight with me over the baptism issue. The end result of that feud was the divorce.
Maria was shocked to learn that her mother was furious about what she had done. “Robert’s more of a Jew than his father is!” Theresa shouted. “I’ve tried to win the boy for Christ for years now. He wouldn’t have any of it! You can’t make him a Christian by just sprinkling water over his head!”
“I can and I did,” Maria snapped back. “His father said in his petition to the court that Bobby was never baptized. Well, that’s not true anymore, is it? His old man also complained about me living out of wedlock. I’ll take care of that, too. Just wait, you’ll see. Ricardo loves me. He’ paying my bills, and he promised to marry me,” Maria said emphatically.
Theresa looked at the boy. Bobby was crying again, and she felt that her daughter had violated his rights as a human being. “Don’t worry,” Theresa told him. “You’re still a Jew, Bobby. Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. We’re all Jews. Now you’re a complete Jew, too.”
At that moment, Bobby heard me honk the horn. He ran with tears still under his eyes, but with a smile on his lips.
“Daddy! Guess what just happened! It’s great. Grandma says I can be a complete Jew. She says Jesus was a Jew, and we’re all Jews!”
“What in the world are you talking about?” I asked. “That doesn’t sound at all like the Theresa I know!” I was especially wary about the complete Jew phrase. Christians often used the term to refer to Jews they had won over. To Jews it made about as much sense as the Vietnam War phrase, We had to destroy a village in order to save it.
Bobby let the Truth out. “Mommy had me baptized but Grandma says it doesn’t count. I’m still Jewish!”
I wanted to die. “My God!” I exclaimed, “You aren’t a Jew anymore! I told you to never let them pour water on your head!”
“I’m sorry,” Bobby said choking in tears. “I forgot.”
My son went on to tell me about how he had been tricked into the baptism. I was a turmoil of mixed emotions. I felt rage at Maria, more at her priest and the Church he represented, and deep disappointment in my son. But the real rage that I should have felt should have been directed at myself. How could I have ever gotten us in this situation in the first place?