Howard waited until late in the show today to announce that for the first time in his adult life, he was going to a synagogue to pray. I missed the segment (I heard him talking about a staffer named Shuli, not shul), but I read about it at the excellent howardstern.com site.
Late in the show, Howard shocked Robin by announcing his return to prayer: “There’s something I’m upset about and I can’t get any—I can’t figure out any logical, scientific way to solve it so I’m going to prayer. Yeah. I asked [Beth] to go with me because I don’t want to sit there like an asshole by myself. So I’m now resorting to prayer. I’m going to pray to God. Yeah. It happened the other night. It always happens when I’m sick. That’s when I’m at my weakest.”
Howard declined to be specific but continued: “There’s something I’m so upset about—that is wrecking my life—that I’m going to pray to God for him to fix it.” While punctuated with one-liners (“I’m going to go to a Jewish temple and if that doesn’t work, I’m going to church.”), Howard said his appeals to God would be sincere: “I’m not praying for myself, by the way. [I’m] praying for someone else…I need help…it is something horrible.”
Howard said he’d fully committed to the idea: “I even decided—in this moment that I’m praying to God, I’m going to be wearing a Yarmulke. Yeah. Because I—I don’t want to be taken as a joke or as being disrespectful. A Yarmulke is a sign of respect—of humility in front of God.” Howard concluded his announcement: “So I’m not going to say that I don’t believe in God anymore because that would be hypocritical.”
As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, Howard has the same tortured relationship with organized Jewish religion that many of his peers have. Think Woody Allen, Phillip Roth, Larry David, Neil Simon—Howard is their radio equivalent—and all of them have skewered the faith they had shoved down their throats as children.
Howard has taken that to hysterical extremes—playing his squeaky-viced bar mitzvah tapes for comic effect, inviting the comedian Gilbert Gottfried in to do shtick as a rabbi, deriding—often with good reason— the emptiness of the bar mitzvahs he’s forced to attend. But…
But it is not surprising that as he’s matured, he has come to a deeper, spiritual understanding of what Judaism has to offer. If you look at Roth’s writings, even Woody Allen’s later movies, you see the same evolution. These men accumulate success, fame, money, but inevitably they look for more. In their art, they are often asking big questions in funny ways. In their lives, they are prone to asking the same big questions. Their obsession with mocking Judaism belies an obsession with Judaism, a sense that there’s more there there, that the religion that disappointed them so as adolescents could perhaps sustain them as adults.
I don’t know what crisis Howard is undergoing— His children? Beth’s need for a child? His parent’s aging? Artie? His career choice? How dumb am I to even speculate?—but I do know that religion done right—Judaism done right— can be a powerful tool for guiding one through turmoil, indecision, darkness.
There are superb rabbis in New York and elsewhere who can offer the best of his faith back to him, but ultimately, he was born into a faith that offers no easy answers, certainly no instant ones.
“Imperfection holds the sparks of holiness,” wrote Rabbi Irwin Kula in his book Yearnings, “we must understand the wisdom of our yearnings.”
Hang in there Howard….