“Whoa! Do we have a crowd here tonight!”

The crowd cheers so loud, I can hear them through the thick curtain. They’ve been waiting several minutes; No one works an audience quite like Teddy they’re anxious now, keyed up, ready. It’s a trick we developed right at the beginning: always start a little late. It builds the excitement.

“Now I can see that all you nice folks and ladies are getting a tad impatient. Do you want to get started?” Another cheer sounds through the room. “I can barely hear you. I said, do you wanna get started?!” The response this time is deafening. “Aw, right!”

The crowd is wild tonight, I think, as Ted’s Southern drawl booms from the speakers. No one works an audience quite like Teddy. He has a way with them, builds on their emotions to get them exactly where he wants them to go.

And right now, they’re ready.

I can almost smell it.

“Then, my dear folks, let’s get started!”

I hunch down, knees bent.

“Without any further ado, I call upon the man of the hour, the man you’re all here to see.”

The familiar thrill rushes through me. Doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing this, I always feel that thrill.

“Ladies and gentlemen . . . Jake Green!”

I run out to cheers and screams, my fist pumping the air. I ride the applause like a tidal wave, faces streaming by me in a blur. They’re calling my name, the sound hitting me like a euphoric rush. I embrace it. You have to, with so many people out there. Try fighting it, and you start seeing the individual people. You realize that you’re standing in front of a packed hall, a good few thousand men and women just staring at you. The thought can freeze you up. But allow yourself to be buoyed by their enthusiasm, and you’re untouchable.

I reach the podium, slow down, and walk in front of it. Another old trick: have a podium, but don’t use it. It makes the speech seem more personal, less rehearsed.

“Good evening folks!” The crowd roars out a response. “Such a nice turnout tonight. Is this all for me?” Applause and laughter ripple through the crowd. “Phew! But enough with the chitchat. The clock’s ticking; it’s time to get started. Because tonight we’re all here with a common purpose. We may each have our own stories, but we’re all here to figure out the same thing.”

I pause for dramatic effect, bend my knees, lower my voice.


I straighten up, spread my left arm wide. “We’re all in it! But there’s a big difference between the board game and the real deal. Our version doesn’t come with an instruction manual or guide. We were just dumped into it and expected to figure it out. But life ain’t that simple, is it? I mean, you’ve got the media telling you to follow your heart, and your parents telling you to straighten up and find a job, and Our version doesn't come with an instruction manuel the religious fella down the road telling you to find G‑d, and then there’s the accountant and your best friend and that website someone suggested and the therapist and the professor—all of them telling you you’re doing this life thing wrong, and only they know how to get it right. It’s dizzying! Who are you supposed to listen to?”

I smile. “That’s what I’m here for.

“You see, the truth is, life isn’t so complex after all. You may have heard it called a mystery. Well, I’m sorry, but life really isn’t that mysterious. You know the opening act—you burst, wailing, out of your mother’s womb. You know the end scene, the big twist that everyone sees coming—you die. Sucks, but that’s the fact. The play’s always gonna end the same way. It’s just the stuff in the middle that’s a little hazy.”

I lean my elbow on the podium. “Well, friends, allow me to clear things up for you.”

Another dramatic pause.

“You see, life is a house.

“It’s a huge house, sure. Bigger than any you’ve ever seen. So big that nobody’s ever explored it all. But it’s a house, nonetheless. We all start in different places. Some of us begin in the luxurious penthouse suite on the top floor; others start their journey in a cubbyhole in the toolshed. But we’re all in the house; and we’re all here to stay.

“But this house is interesting. There are parts that are dizzyingly beautiful; parts that are exotic and mysterious, parts that are fascinating and full of light. But there are parts that are dark and terrifying; parts that suck your soul and crush your spirit, parts where you wander aimlessly in bleak surroundings with no clue how to escape. The goal is to hit the right parts of the house and dodge the parts where you don’t want to go.”

I step forward, drop my voice slightly. “And the key to doing that is focus.

“You see, you’re not alone in this house. The whole world is in it with you, journeying with you, exploring the house’s secrets with you. And, more often than not, confusing you. There are the ‘cool’ guys telling you to just relax and come hang out on the beach chairs in the lazy, hazy room. Sounds fun at first, but soon enough you realize that you’re tied down to the beach chair and the haze is so thick you can’t find your way out. Then there are the religious people calling at you from the side, telling you need to stop exploring and figure out the truth behind the house. ‘Who built it?’ they ask. ‘Why are we here?’ Intriguing questions, but ultimately just distractions. There are the crazy scientists trying to figure out how to make the house last forever so you never leave. Well, if they figure that one out, let me tell you I’ll be running to join them so fast I’ll be trippin’.” The crowd chuckles. “But until that day, they’re just wasting their time fixing the unsolvable and losing precious time exploring the house.

“That, friends, is the secret to life. Focus. You want to explore the house, you want to experience it in all its beauty, and steer clear of its darker rooms, and you need to be focused if you want to do that. Sure, some shortcuts might seem like fun now, but before you know it, you’re trying to climb a marble staircase with a trainload full of luggage holding you back. You’ve got a choice to make? Ask yourself, will this let me explore more of the house, or hold me down as others breeze on by, laughing. Thinking of trying out some lovey-dovey new religion? Will it open more of the house to you or keep you distracted with shiny tricks and sleights of hand?”

I step back and stretch out my arms wide. “Friends—welcome to the house.

“Now, let’s start talking about how to stay focused.”

The work doesn’t stop when the curtain falls. Backstage is a hive of technicians and assistants, working on countless tweaks and fixes to improve the show for the next performance. And they all need my input on something. I’ve just finished with the last one when I hear my name.

“Jake!” I turn as Ted walks up to me. “Great performance, as usual. Question: what’re you doing in a month?”

Nothing comes to mind. “I don’t know, Ted, what am I doing in a month?”

“Dunno. You know I’ve been meaning to fix the shed at the back of my house. We could do that. Or maybe we They all need my input can go bowling, if we’re really bored. Or maybe we can go to New York.” He grins. “‘Cuz I just got off the phone, and New York is on!”

I feel my own grin start to spread across my face. “New York? As in, the New York?”

“You better believe it.”

“As in Barclays Center, New York? The stadium able to fit 19,000 people? As in our performing, ‘Welcome to the House’ in front of the packed stadium, attracting the largest crowd we’ve ever had by far? That New York?”

“Yes, Jake. That New York. It’s official. Ticket sales are already through the roof. So you better bring your A-game, you better bring your A+-game, because this is it.”

Three weeks later. Brooklyn.

“Jake? Jake Gold?”

I look up from my phone to see a rabbi approaching me. Weird. I wouldn’t have thought I had any fans in the rabbinic circle.

“Hey, always great to meet a fan. Wish I could talk, but I’m a little busy right now. Would you like me to autograph anything?”

“Autograph? You don’t recognize me? It’s Joey! Joey Fine! Yosef Fine, now.”

I blink, take a step back, look him up and down. He’s got the full garb, black hat, black suit, long beard. “Joey? You look . . . man, how long has it been?” I look him up and down again. “What happened to you?”

He laughs. “I became religious.”

“You’re kidding me, right? You became religious? Atheist Joey? What was it you once told me? ‘Religion offers comfort, support and love, and all it asks is that you lay your logic and reason at the door to never be picked up again?’“

He shrugs. “Yeah, that sounds like me.”

“So what happened?”

He gestures behind him. “This is my synagogue. You want to come in? We can catch each other up on our lives.” He grins. “Plus, we’ve got coffee.”

I glance at my watch. I can always reschedule meetings. “Sure.”

Joey - Yosef - leans back in his chair. “So the attractiveness of the pitch is that, by portraying life as a house, you simplify it greatly. You’re no longer faced with countless different choices. It’s all the same question: will this option help me navigate the house or hinder me? But at the same time, you also make the gain in the right choice more apparent. If, for example, you didn’t portray life as a house, and just said that people must choose between short-term and long-term gain, it wouldn’t be so compelling. There are always those who will choose short-term gratification. But with the house, you’re able to say that by not going through door A, you’re allowing yourself to immediately head towards doors B, C, D & E, which are far more exciting.”

I frown. “In a nutshell, I guess. It’s a very analytical way of looking at it.”

“But you believe it yourself? It’s not just a pitch, is it?

“No. When I started, I promised myself I wouldn’t lie to those who followed the philosophy. I would only tell them something if I believe it myself.”

“Hmm.” He takes a sip of his coffee. “It’s an interesting idea. It’s a little too hazy for my taste. For example, how does one really know what’s a distraction and what’s not? But I can see why it’s attractive.”

“Alright, enough about me. I wanna hear your pitch.”

He blinks. “My pitch?”

“Yeah. Your pitch. Everyone’s got one. Verizon’s is that they offer the best network. Geico’s is that if you switch to them, you save more. You can dress it up all you like, do the funny one with the princess, or the interesting one with the pirates, or the creepy one with the guys in the gym, but the pitch remains the same. So, what’s yours? What’s your pitch to get people to become religious?”

Joey shrugs. “I don’t have a pitch. No, really. It depends on the person. Everyone is looking for something else. For me, it was the logic that attracted me. I was so filled with derisionI walked into the rabbi's office and spent half an hour venting for religion, so riled up on the arguments of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hawking that, finally, I couldn’t bear it anymore. I walked into my father’s rabbi office and just unloaded on him. I spent half an hour venting, spewing out this tirade that Judaism is completely irrational. He sat through it all, listening. When I was done, he didn’t argue back. He just began asking questions about what I said. When I couldn’t answer them, he proceeded to show me how little I really understood about the matter. How, without introducing the concept of an infinite Creator, finite existence is an impossibility. When he showed me that, when he showed me that religion is founded on logic, I was hooked. But that’s not the pitch that I would use on you. It wouldn’t move you. You’re not looking for the logic, the truth in Judaism. You want to know why you, in your house of endless doors and countless mysteries, should check out the door marked, ‘Judaism.’ You want to see the beauty in Judaism.”

“And what pitch would you try on me?”

He takes off his glasses, wipes them, puts them back on. “Hypothetically? I would tell you that G‑d built a house filled with rooms and doors, and He filled that house with people, all for one purpose. You. The entire house was built to bring you closer to him. I would tell you that He set in motion countless events, going back further than either of us can fathom, just so that you and I would meet, here, today, and I could make this pitch to you. I would tell you that He did all of this so that you would walk into the one room you never walk into—the room holding the greatest secret the house has to offer. I would tell you that if you continue exploring the house as you are doing, you’ll end up missing out on the reason the house was built in the first place. That, more or less, is the pitch I would make.”

We both fall silent, the ticking of the clock the only sound in the room.

At last I speak. “That’s quite a pitch, Joe. But that’s all it is, really. Without the evidence to back it up, it’s meaningless.”

Joey nods. “How long did you say you’re here for? A week? Give me that. One week, in which I’ll teach you about Judaism. You’ll put on tefillin in the morning, spend Shabbat at the synagogue. One week, in which I’ll show you this part of the house. If, after the end of the week, you’re not convinced, you continue on your way and that’s that. And if you want to know more, then we’ll learn more, at your pace.”

I stop, lean back, think. Then I lean forward. “OK. One week.”

Barclays Center.

The crowd waits silently for me to begin my speech. 19,000 people. Man, that’s a lot of faces.

“Good evening, New York. Tonight, you came here to hear me tell you that life is a house. That all of life’s decisions, all of its agonizing choices and challenges, are rooms in the house. And the goal is to explore the house to its fullest. You came here to hear me tell you that if you want to explore the house, you need to be focused. You can’t let anything distract you.

“I want you to know that this is He challenged me to experience Judaism for a week not some mantra I fabricated to make money. This is a philosophy I invented and used in my own life, one I firmly believe in. But you should also know that, a week ago, I allowed myself to become distracted.”

I take a deep breath. “I’m Jewish. That never seemed to mean much to me before; it was like my height or my shoe size. An interesting fact, a footnote in a biography, but little more than that. But about a week ago, I met a rabbi who challenged me to discover more about my heritage. He challenged me to experience Judaism for a week. And, despite my long-held philosophy, I did.”

The crowd is completely silent now. Throughout the stadium I see people leaning forward, the occasional reporter eagerly taking notes. At the corner of my eye, I can see Ted gesturing furiously at me. I don’t care; I promised myself I wouldn’t lie to them.

“What did I discover? In many ways, my philosophy hasn’t changed. I still believe that life is a house. I still believe that the key is focus. I still believe that the house is full of distractions that need to be ignored. But I discovered that, my entire life, I had been walking through the house with the curtains drawn. I’d been in the dark so long that I had forgotten there was a sun. And then, about a week ago, the curtains were drawn back for me. The light flooded through the house—the same house it had always been, but suddenly filled with meaning, suddenly showing a clearly lit path to guide me along the way.

“It’s only been a week. If you’re expecting to hear some deep, profound secret, I don’t have one. I’ve still got so much to learn. I’m still trying to figure out what the light is. But there is one thing I know to be true.

“I never want to be in the dark again.”