What links could I possibly draw between Rabbi David Wolpe (named this year by Newsweek as America’s #1 rabbi) and Evan Handler, who played Harry Greenblatt, the Jewish, bald, and often naked lawyer on Sex in the City? More than you might think. Besides the fact that both live in LA, have oodles of exuberant followers and had to fight for all they were worth after being diagnosed with critical/incurable illnesses, each man was in town to promote a book built around the idea of faith in Wolpe’s case: Why Faith Matters and in Handler’s, the meaning of life: It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and Bad News of Being Alive.
It might have been interesting to have them on a panel together. As you would expect, Rabbi Wolpe is a believer, in faith, in organized religion and its place in modern society. Handler on the other, uh hand, received what he called “a watered down cultural heritage” that encompassed Chanukah and Passover celebrations and Christmas stockings that his parents stuffed with “whatever was in the refrigerator at the time.”
What struck me was how each man’s encounter with a life-threatening illness helped to shape his relationship to God or in Handler’s decidedly undecided case, as he put it, “I don’t know [if God exists]; and I don’t know from an extremely heartfelt place.” Handler is not a Christoper Hitchins God-is-not-good atheist by any stretch.
More than surviving the death sentence of his leukemia, Handler also beat one in a miilion odds. Supposedly sterile, he impregnated his wife-to-be (the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage) and then she became pregnant again. Handler and his wife are now parents of twenty-one-month old Sophia Clementina. “I’m one in a million twice in a row,” he said. “I think that maybe our baby is a sign that Elisa and I were meant to be together.”
This is the distinction I would make between the two men; distinction, mind you not judgment. Perhaps because David Wolpe was raised within a religious tradition, at a time of life-threatening struggle he had a context in which to explore and reach out to forces beyond himself for comfort and strength. Evan Handler, every bit as determined to live and every bit as grateful for the blessings of health and the miracle of a child, is left to wonder from a sincerely heartfelt place, “Maybe there is a grand plan after all.”