Calling All Jacobs
Not many people know this, but I used to be a psychic. Not a real psychic. I don’t actually believe in the Afterlife. I was one of those guys who takes your money and then talks shit for the next fifteen minutes. The shit was anything that came into my head, as long as it made the client feel better. I was doing pretty well until I made the mistake of accepting an invitation from the Irish Association of Retired Jews to chair a Night of Channeled Messages from the Dead, in the Moses O’Riley Center, Belfast. Such nights were my bread and butter. A hundred people pay thirty pounds each to attend, in the hope that I can contact a dead loved one; they get the consolation of knowing that their loved one is at peace, and I get the consolation of three thousand pounds. It’s what the Yanks, the undisputed masters of this trade, call a win-win situation.
So, there I was, behind the curtain, staring out at the audience, mostly women, checking out who to target.
They looked easy enough. It would be a piece of cake. I made my expression mystical, and walked out, to generous applause.
After some light hearted banter to put them at their ease, I raised my hands just enough to seem assertively, not aggressively, charismatic, and announced that the real business of the evening would begin.
I put each index finger to my temple, assumed my trademark look of controlled wildness and said:
“The connection is strong tonight, my friends, and fellow wisdom-seekers. The Spirit Collective is with us here in force, as are the Ascended Masters. And now, under their guidance and loving hand, here come your loved ones themselves. I can feel them, I can see them, I can sense them, the dear dead departed. What? What? What was that? I will… I will”.
I explained to the
“One person in particular is demanding to be heard. A very strong spirit indeed. The channel to him is now open. He is in me. I am his vessel. He is waiting for one of you to join him. He is ready to reveal his name”
I closed my eyes, opened them again, and looked around. Everyone was staring at me. This was my first Jewish audience. I did not know much about Jews. Perhaps I was over-confident, perhaps success had come to me too easily, and this was payback time, for on this particular night, I made an amateur mistake. I held both arms out like Jesus and said:
“Does anybody here present, by any chance, have a loved one who has passed over called…Jacob?”
I swear to God, every person in that room put their hand up.
I looked at them in dismay. A hundred Irish Jews who all knew a dead Jacob. What were the odds? Pretty damned high, actually, if only I’d bothered to do my research. I started to sweat. This was not how it was supposed to work. The idea was that you choose a not too common, not too obscure name, and only four or five people put their hand up. From that small group, you choose the stupidest and most gullible, and Bob’s your uncle. Zachariah, I suddenly thought. Why the hell didn’t I go with Zachariah?
It was too late. I needed to whittle my dead Jacobs down to a manageable size, but, being out of my comfort zone, I panicked. Don’t ask me why-I still don’t understand it myself –but, to make this Jacob stand out from the crowd, I gave him a uniqueness that was much too political. I knew perfectly well that those who come to séances and such do not wish to hear about politics, yet still, idiot that I am, I said the following:
“This Jacob, when he was alive, did not agree at all with Israeli policies towards the Palestinians….. what he calls decades of unforgivable injustices forced on Palestinians still make him angry in the next world, which is partly why he hasn’t moved on. He says that nowhere in the Old Testament will you find justification for one nation enslaving another, or building houses on land they have no legal or moral claim to. He says – and I’m quoting him directly – ‘Shame on Israel! Shame on Zion!’
All hands shot down as one. A deathly chill entered the room, and I began to detect less well- being towards myself than there had been. I understood for the first time that eyes can actually bore into you with the force of an electric drill. I put on my best, disarming, ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ type of smile. It didn’t seem to work, and I was preparing myself for public execution, when I noticed, right in front of me, a middle-aged woman, squirming in her seat, showing on her face the shame that I knew at once could only come from having known a pro-Palestinian Jacob. I regenerated. Thank you Jesus! I’d hit the psychic jackpot! Her hand was still down, though. She wouldn’t look at me. She was a coward. She did not want to take ownership of her dead husband. Or son. Or brother. Or whatever. What strategy could I use to draw her out, save my reputation, and live to cash my pay cheque?
While all this was surging through my mind, scepticism, the scourge of all psychics, had reared its awful head, in the form of a bearded Rabbi.
“Excuse me, Mr. Kilgannon, he said far too politely, “did Jacob actually use the term ‘Old Testament’?”
“Then, he isn’t a very good Jew, is he?”
“Because the phrase ‘ Old Testament’ is not a Jewish term; it’s Christian”.
I didn’t concede victory just yet.
“Hang on. What’s that? Jacob says that, sensing I was a Gentile, and having been brought up to be polite to strangers, he used Gentile-friendly language.”
There was a murmur. My opponent was not in the least put out.
“That’s very reassuring. There are though, as you tell us so clearly in your last book, deceptive spirits out there are there not?”
“Well yes, but…”
“Just to make sure you are not being deceived, and just to check Jacob’s Jewish credentials, could you ask him what we Jews actually call the revered documents also known to non-Jews as the Old Testament?”
“I…I…I…he’s getting a little faint.”
“All he has to do is say one word.”
All Jacob had to do was say Tanach..
I looked that up later.
He couldn’t, of course, in the circumstances.
The Rabbi rose to his full height – five foot two, folded his arms and said:
“I fear, Mr. Kilgannon, that you are a Charlatan.”
That was, apparently, worse than a Christian, and suddenly, I was present at what might well turn out to be my own stoning. There were no actual stones, of course, but in what I had assumed to be a master-stroke of marketing, I had supplied everyone with a bagel and cream cheese. Hands were beginning to grip these snacks aggressively. My face, chest and crotch were being targeted. Worse still, the bagels were made in Belfast, where dough is already hard even before it is baked.
“You must understand”, I said desperately, “that all I do is deliver to you what the spirits communicate; I am not responsible for the content of messages from the Beyond. I pass them on uncensored.”
I looked pleadingly at the squirming woman I knew could be my Saviour. She looked down. I was disgusted with her lack of honesty and backbone. I had no other choice than to go for the ‘quality of mercy’ approach.
“You Jews have seen much, heard much, borne much in your illustrious history.” I resumed. ”One constant in that history is that you rise above anger, turn the other cheek, and, above all, never shoot the piano player. I throw myself on your mercy. If I have made a mistake, forgive me. Am I not, like you, all too human. If I bleed, do I not….bleed?”
The first bagel hit me on the nose. It was thrown by an eighty year old grandmother. The second and third missed. The fourth, thrown by the Rabbi himself, hit me on the upper lip, drawing blood.
The blood, it was, that saved me.
At that moment, unable to bear the injustice of it all and finally overcoming her shame, the middle-aged woman stood up, faced the crowd, and cried:
“Stop it! Stop it! He’s a good man. He has the gift. He’s telling the truth. It’s my Jacob who has come through to us! My Jacob! He was a good Jew. He loved his mother, but, my God, how he hated Israel!”
I could have kissed her. I was back on track. God bless all Jewish mothers.
“May I now be allowed to continue?” I said, with quiet authority. “What is your name?”
“Jessica.” Well, Jessica, Jacob wants you to know that he is fine, that he loves you, that he always loved you, and that his fondest memories are still those priceless moments when you held him to your breast as a child.”
“I’m his sister!” Said Jessica, indignantly.
“I thought you said you were his mother.” I stammered.
“No! I said he loved his mother. He couldn’t stand me.”
It’s difficult to recover people’s faith in you quickly once you have conjured up in their minds the image of a sister offering her nipple to her baby brother, and, quite understandably, I paused, which is fatal in my profession. It was all that the Rabbi needed to get back on his high horse. I was no longer, though, his principal target.
“Jessica!” He said, in a voice Abraham would have been proud of, “what is this you are telling me? You have a brother; he calls himself a Jew, and he doesn’t support Israel?”
“Had a brother. I had a brother.”
“Have a brother, had a brother, what has that got to do with anything? Doesn’t Israel have enemies enough without Jews themselves joining the bandwagon?”
I had heard that Jews like a good argument, and are better at it than most, and it suddenly occurred to me –far too late of course – how explosive a mixture it could be when Semitic and Celtic genes are mixed together for generations, and the cocktail given a shake one fatal night in an Arts and Adult Education building in the centre of Belfast.
I realized, too, with unaccustomed humility, that these people were naturally more eloquent and assertive than I had ever been in even the best of my performances. I learned quite a lot, in just a few minutes, about Diaspora, Supersessionism, Wagf, Hamas, Likud, Resolution 242, and all the places you could stick it. It was quite an education, and then, seamlessly, like those Romantic films in which the young couple get the dance floor to themselves, the Rabbi and a young student had suddenly taken centre-stage, just in front of me. They were jabbing fingers towards each other, and the other 98 members of the audience had segregated into pro-rabbinical and pro-youth factions. The Rabbi cited a list of prominent Jewish thinkers to back up his arguments; the student cited just one: Karl Marx.
“Ah,” the Rabbi say scornfully to the young man , “that’s just what the world needs: a Jewish communist in Belfast! Oy-vay.”
Despite the growing tension and possibility of physical violence, I couldn’t help beaming with delight on receiving actual proof that Jews do sometimes say “oy-vay” when pushed to breaking point. I’d always thought that was a myth.
The meeting, though, was getting out of hand. Fists were being waved, faces were getting redder, very few people were still sitting and worst of all, no-one was listening to me anymore. I had one last card up my sleeve.
There was a gong on stage, which I normally use late into my act, giving it delicate little taps as Buddhists do, to send the Dead gently back to where they came from. This time, on a sudden impulse, I whacked it like that guy in J. Arthur Rank films I used to watch when I was a kid. It had the desired effect. Fingers were frozen in mid-air. Attention turned to me again. I was still professional enough to let the sound resonate, and only begin to speak as the last echo was fading away.
“My friends, and fellow truth-seekers,” I said calmly, “have some respect, if not for yourselves, then for the Dead, who, I have to say, are becoming increasingly appalled at what they are witnessing. Some of them are under-age; some are thousands of years old: all of them can see and hear you, and many of them are beginning to ask how human civilization could have made so little progress after so many centuries of apparently fruitless practice and experiment. Remember why we are here. Remember Jacob.”
This may have done the trick, and channeled the evening back to where I wanted it to go, had not the 80 year old grandmother walked up to the stage, looked me in the eye, and shouted:
“Shut up, you fucking charlatan!”
There’s no real come back to that, and, in any case, all I could think of was shut up you fucking old bag, which would never have done. I slumped into my chair, defeated. For the first time in my career, I had lost an audience. I did not know what to do. I was not used to being on the sidelines, and could scarcely take in the rage, recrimination, swearing, hand gestures, and inexhaustible mantras of astonishingly inventive insults that were taking up where they had left off. For the first time I my life, I began to lose faith in myself. I was at a crossroads in my life.
It was then that a chair was thrown, and I realized with alarm that, if anyone was physically injured, I might get sued.
“Security!” I shouted. “Security!”
Security at the Moses O’Riley Centre consisted of a retired hairdresser with diabetes. She didn’t seem too concerned. She told me she was from The Falls Rd, had lived through The Troubles in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and that this stuff was ‘handbags at dawn.’ She then texted someone, said that help was on the way, and told me to sit down and enjoy the show.