A Prayer for AJ…and all the others.

I prayed last night.
That may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it is positively out of character. I am no longer an observant Jew. I am a cultural Jew. In fact, in the religious sense, I am as close to being an avowed atheist as one can be without actually avowing it. I guess the early brainwashing infiltrated a bit deeper than I thought. More about that later.

Mind you, I don’t criticize or make fun of people who pray regularly, but I have not done so in more than 40-years.

I’ve recited prayers when appropriate and as a gesture of love to others for whom it was a significant act…but actual prayer went out the window right at this time of year around 41 or 42 years ago. I was sitting in Shul for the High Holidays – which begins tonight in observant Jewish households — after the recent passing of my Aunt Edie, who was more a second mother to me than an Aunt. And I was still grieving.

All this high-holiday talk and prayer about living a good life and getting “written into the book of life for a good year” suddenly seemed like so much bullshit to me. Cancer had taken my Aunt. She was a fine person who lived an exemplary life and did not deserve to be taken at age 53. So all this “deserve” talk, all this proscribed penitence and ritualized righteousness to me, amounted to nothing.

Tonight on Erev Rosh Hashonah – the Eve of the Jewish New Year – I will light a Yahrzeit candle – a memorial candle – in remembrance of my father who passed away five-and-a-half years ago. I will recite the traditional prayer as I light the candle, but I need neither to remember him, because he is with me every minute of every day.

I do it because I think it would be meaningful to him and because he did it for HIS father. I do it out respect and out of love.

None of which is why I prayed last night.

Last night I prayed out of frustration. And anger.

I know that –like virtually everyone else regardless of religion – since the age when I was too young to think for myself, I was brainwashed into believing there was a God. What’s more he was a nice God, a loving God…an Uber-Parent…maybe even an Uber-Grandparent of a God.

At first the brainwashing was subtle…like when the holidays came around…the festive, holiday smells in the house changed as Mom spent days cooking the Rosh Hashonah dinner for a couple of dozen people. Or a Passover Seder that grew like topsy until we had to find venues other than our house to contain the crowd of participants. Chanukah brought presents and latkes – fried potato pancakes – and did I mention presents? The proverbial spoon full of sugar that made the medicine go down.

Then, when I turned 9, I was off to Hebrew School a few nights a week after regular school. Here was the doctrine. Here was the overt brainwashing. Some took, some didn’t.
But the constant was this nice guy, forgiving God.

Except that as I got older and looked around I realized that if this “nice guy God” was really so nice, how could he have allowed all of the horrors mankind inflicts on itself. The answer – almost invariably – was that God gave mankind free will and would not interfere with it, for better or worse.

Sounds like a cop out considering he’s such a good-guy God, but it does conveniently account (and abrogate responsibility) for the wars and the Holocaust and the myriad other genocides that point up “man’s inhumanity to man” and turn it into a English Lit course cliché.

So assuming I actually buy the “free will” rationale for an uninvolved God allowing mankind to slaughter itself and the planet which sustains life, explain to me please how “free will” plays into a child being stricken with cancer at 7-months old.

Explain to me why at the age of three he will shortly enter the hospital to have a port inserted into his chest so that for five-days every month for the next nine months at minimum, they can easily pour chemo-therapy drugs into his tiny body in the hopes that it will poison the cancer that afflicts him, into remission.

The cancer is called Langerhan’s Cell Histiocytosis and if you’ve never heard of it, it’s because it only threatens a couple of million people, many if not most of the afflicted are children. So there’s not a lot of awareness or research or resources being focused on it.

We Call Him AJ…


Well, my dear friend’s grandson and her dear daughter’s son, has this terrible disease. He is the three-year old I spoke of. We call him AJ, and he is a wonderful, bright-as-sunshine, inspiring boy who is being betrayed by his body and if you believe in them, the fates, the gods…the God…if he, she or it actually exists.

I love AJ and it broke my heart to see what has befallen him. When they finally diagnosed him and got him into one of the few programs in the country that knows anything about this cancer, he met up with another boy named Leo who was similarly afflicted.

Little Leo and AJ…


Little Leo was a couple of years older than AJ and this past summer, he lost his battle with the disease. He was five years old…and when I heard about his passing I wept, though I knew him only from photos on Facebook, his mother’s posts and updates, and the fact that he was AJ’s friend.


I wept when I heard the news, I wept when I saw the coverage of his funeral and in fact, I am weeping now as I write this, recalling this sweet boy’s passing.

So we debate healthcare and pre-existing conditions and the very validity of science itself, but we pray to a God who either does not exist and never did, ceased to exist at some point or exists but simply doesn’t want to get involved.

Yeah, yeah…some of you will accuse me of sacrilege and that’s fine. I own it. I’m pissed.

And I prayed last night out of frustration when I heard that AJ’s cancer was re-emerging with a vengeance and this draconian measure that will hopefully help, is what we must now put this sweet little three-year old boy through.

The opening words of my prayer were, “God I don’t know if you actually exist, but I’m not taking any chances.” Then I went on: “This prayer is for AJ and all the other AJs and Leos out there. If you really are all powerful and merciful and a good guy God, then get off your ass and do something to help AJ. Help them all.  We already lost Leo and countless others whose names I do not know. If you are there…if anyone is actually home in “Superior-Being-ville” then act like it.”


AJ CoolestBrotherEver


About Rich Altman

A writer and marketing communications professional for more than four decades, "Apropos of..." is Rich Altman's first foray into the world of personal bloggery. View all posts by Rich Altman

2 responses to “A Prayer for AJ…and all the others.

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