My grandfather, Isadore Klayman, a Jew, fled the Soviet Union as a young boy, entering this country legally through Ellis Island, as most immigrants did in the early part of the 20th century. Not knowing his birthday – the Ukraine was not big on record-keeping, particularly for rural farm families – “Izzy” was asked by the government immigration officer to pick a date for his entry visa. Izzy’s reply, “I’ll take Christmas, December 25! If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!”
My grandfather always felt very Jewish. In fact, he wanted to be a rabbi before deciding to go into the pork-packing meat business. He never ate pork, which, of course, is not “kosher.” But in his heart, and as he conveyed to me, his grandson, he believed that Jesus was the son of God.
I came to believe this, too. As a brash young boy in Hebrew school – the place where Jewish kids go to learn about their heritage on their way to becoming men at their bar mitzvahs – my teachers never mentioned Jesus. I thought this strange, since Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and he obviously had the biggest impact one man – assuming he was only a man – had ever had in world history. So one day I got up in class and asked the teacher outright, “If Jesus was not the son of God, how come the whole world believes in him?” The response was stony silence, along with a shocked look! Needless to say, I didn’t exactly get stellar grades in Hebrew school. But my time there was important; it marked the beginning of my “rite de passage” to becoming not only a Christian, but an antiestablishment revolutionary.
During my days at Duke University, years later, I for the first time experienced anti-Semitism. Having been rushed by a Christian fraternity, when it learned that I was a Jew, it lost interest and told me to go see the Jewish one, Zeta Beta Tau, across the quad. But I did not want to be typecast, and I told the Christian fraternity to go “f” itself. I would have said the same thing to the Jewish one, but I had no interest at that point in joining any fraternity. I wanted to be my own man, with my own thoughts and my own sense of who I am. As the famous comedian Groucho Marx used to joke, I lost interest in ever becoming a member of a club that would have me as a member!
But my brush with anti-Semitism created a great curiosity about why I had been singled out and rejected. So, I took several courses at Duke to learn about my Jewish heritage and developed an even greater appreciation. I wore a Star of David but continued to believe intellectually that Jesus must have been the son of God. And, I was proud of Jesus having been a Jewish rabbi. Indeed, in Renaissance paintings of Jesus’ “Last Supper,” he is usually depicted sitting at a long table at Passover with his fellow rabbis, wearing a Star of David.
Jesus, in my view, was the greatest Jew who ever lived! He was crucified because he gave fellow Jews in his “fraternity” the same kind of exhortation I was offered at Duke – and the Romans got even harsher treatment. The two obliged by killing him on the cross.
Jesus was the ultimate Jew; he believed in justice, compassion, charity and love. He never uttered an anti-Semitic thought. How could he? He was Jewish. But he fought against the corruption, deceit and intellectual dishonesty in the high rabbinate and was on the side of the people. He took on the Roman empire, which feared him since his teachings caused his huge following to disobey Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ruled over the Holy Land.
Jesus always knew what his fate would be. He paid the price and was prepared to die for what he believed in – that divine godly inspiration that later became Christianity in its purest form. Jesus was my hero!
But despite my belief in Jesus and all he stood for, I could never bring myself to convert to Christianity.
But then, 10 years ago, at the height of my struggle to bring Bill and Hillary Clinton to justice during the impeachment proceedings, and shortly after my maternal grandmother had died tragically, I was standing at Christmas in a Catholic Church with my then-wife and my young children. I was looking forward to the altar. As the altar boys passed down the main aisle at my right, caught unaware and out of nowhere, I felt this tremendous warmth and someone talking to me. I understood immediately it was Jesus. He told me in so many words that I could accept him, not just intellectually, but spiritually, into my heart. From that moment forward, I was a Christian – albeit a Jewish one. I now have a cross superimposed on a Star of David, which I wear close to my heart.
The last years of my life have been difficult, and I do not have the space to get into it all here. I separated and then became divorced from my wife, and my children moved to Cleveland with her. I was also betrayed by the people I left in control of Judicial Watch to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004. But I always, even during these times, kept my faith and prayed to Jesus. And I remained always the revolutionary, taking on the establishment.
Two weeks ago today, thinking of all my “trials and tribulations” and those of my clients, like Elham Sataki, the brave Persian broadcaster I have written about in recent columns, I was driving to work and for some reason began to focus on Jesus. I then thought that perhaps my trials were not so great – compared to Jesus’ life as a true antiestablishment revolutionary. And, just as I thought this, the same warmth and adulation I had experienced 10 years earlier in the Catholic Church took hold of me. It grew and grew and lasted for about 45 seconds. This time, I felt Jesus saying to me, “Larry, you are not the son of God like me, but I want you to be yourself and continue to fight the establishment – and like me you will pay a price. But remain true to yourself and don’t give up.” This was the message in so many words.
And, while I am not Jesus, nor am I the greatest Jew there ever was, the same message should go forth to all freedom fighters around the world, in the United States, Iran and elsewhere. “If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me!” My late grandfather Izzy would agree!