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Hypnotizing Norman

Outside my cloistered yeshiva, I found a new social order and a friend who, unlike me, was trusting enough to submit to someone else’s authority

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(Collage Tablet Magazine; original photo Lasse Kristensen/Shutterstock; background Library of Congress.)

With his right hand Norman reached over his right shoulder and grabbed a handful of air. He brought his empty fist in front of his face and studied it. “Yellow,” he replied.

How to describe the feeling that flushed through my body when Norman looked at his empty hand and said “yellow”? What reflex in that split second had led Norman to conjure hair he could see and grab? From which part of his being did Norman pluck this unexpected word, “yellow”?

I had spent most of my life in parochial school. I had logged countless, interminable hours in synagogue, obediently worn tzitzit under my shirt day in and day out, and wrapped my arms carefully with phylacteries at morning prayers as I had been taught to do. But it was only now, watching Norman stare at his empty hand and claim that he was a blond, that I finally found something I could believe in: In a previous life, Norman had been a tall, blond, long-haired, Confederate soldier. I didn’t know how this golden-haired rustic had become my D&D-playing friend; I just knew it was true, and I loved that it was true. But I loved it in a way that also burned with envy.

Until now, Norman had been trapped like the rest of us in his painfully evolving adolescent body, his stagnant adolescent life, and despite this he seemed straightforward and uncomplicated—far more than those of us who surrounded him—despite a home life that I knew had complications. But now Norman was suddenly the hero of a very different kind of tale, marked by a dead-serious and alien manhood. What would other undiscovered corners of Norman’s imagination have to say? Who else was in there? And what lives, past and present, were trapped inside of “the Itz,” refusing forever to emerge because I would always be too timid to give myself to Joe Bower?

It was getting late, time for Norman to come home, and Joe began to reverse the process. After some gentle suggestion, Norman arrived successfully back in his mother’s womb. Then Joe Bower ran into a problem.

“Norman, you’re now a baby again,” he said with authority. “You can see and smell what’s around you.” But it quickly became clear that despite Joe’s suggestion, Norman had not left his mother’s womb on the return trip, and didn’t plan to. Joe’s calm voice tightened, “Norman, I want you to come back now to the present time. You are now 14 years old again, and here with me.” But Norman just sat and rocked quietly.

The room shuffled, the candle flickered. I looked at Joe Bower, until now a towering figure, and saw in his place a gangly, moustachioed 14-year-old, suddenly, dangerously, fallible. If Norman’s hypnosis had unexpectedly led me to a new belief system, this was the moment when I discovered that the clergy was all too human. Again Joe firmly insisted that Norman emerge from the womb, and then again a few moments later. But Joe Bower’s commanding voice died out ineffectually.

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Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it with us.

I really enjoyed reading this story. Well done!


Itzkovitz (NORMAN) has a charming easy-to-read style but is still some steps away from the introspection and irony of Shalom Auslander, who I would dub his literary cousin. I will wait with patience.


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Hypnotizing Norman

Outside my cloistered yeshiva, I found a new social order and a friend who, unlike me, was trusting enough to submit to someone else’s authority