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How I Became Religious By Taking LSD
I was always a hippie, hipster, stoner kid.
I was always on a journey for Truth.
I was always hungry for answers.
Back then, I thought Truth, you know the one with a capital T, was only found in drugs and having experiences…
But then I found G-d.
And that changed everything.
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Chapter I: Are You There Truth? It’s Me, CA
I first started taking LSD in 2007 when I was 17. It rocked my world.
My reality was realigned, remixed, and readjusted to a “Lynchian” style universe where Truth felt tangible. To my barely formed brain, I thought Truth was nestled somewhere between a great book, movie, or poem. Somewhere in a crevice of the universe was the secret; hiding in plain sight but only for those who were looking.
I thought the Truth was the indescribable feeling I got when I stared deeply at a painting and everything got a little fuzzy and black around the edges. Or the feeling in my gut when I watched something so damn beautiful. Like a sunset on the beach with a joint dangling from my lips, or a scene of a giant black monolith towering over pre-historic ape-men. It was awesome and humbling and made me feel like everything was all connected. That the universe was telling me an interwoven story and it was epic.
Why did I feel that everything was connected, that snow and dirt and flowers and AP Psychology and my mom and the planets and black holes and really good books all came from the same stardust?
Why did I bask in the moments when I was removed from myself? When I would take hit after hit of LSD or munch on 3 1/2 grams of psychedelic mushrooms? There was a certainty in those moments when everything was nothing and nothing was everything and that was all good, all fine, it wasn’t positive or negative, it, just, was, man.
To me, the highest form of discovery was self and the only place to find that was in the Arts. Any great essay, movie, painting, poem, or speech all had an element in them that felt ethereal and elusive. They had something inside of them that seemed to transcend the moment they were in and connect to a timeless quality, an eternality that I so desperately wanted to integrate into my own body and mind.
Chapter II: The Holy Land
And then I had a close encounter with a fourth (fifth, sixth?) kind in the holy land, Israel, Eretz Yisrael, the land of Caanan, whatever you want to call it. I was walking around the hippie town of Tzfas with a group of friends.
Tzfas is an ancient city full of old-school hipsters and beatniks, wandering souls from all over the world, talented graffiti artists, glassblowers, candlemakers, mystics, and cosmic searchers. It’s a melting pot of every type of person who is looking for answers. It’s also known as the city of Air and when you take a deep breath in you can smell the rich history permeating the ironic seriousness tucked between cat and cobblestoned-riddled streets.
I had taken three tabs of LSD a few hours earlier and the effects were in full swing. The graffiti was speaking to me, the trees were breathing by themselves, and the sounds of leaves rustling reminded me of a classical orchestra. Everything fit perfectly.
“Do you want to do your mitzvah for the day?” A young religious man asked. He had a wiry frame and an equally thin mustache that hung off the edges of his lips. His black hat, black blazer, and black pants contrasted perfectly with his wrinkled white button-down shirt. Who was this guy?
“What’s a mitzvah?” I asked. I’ll learn later that a mitzvah is loosely translated as a commandment. In the Jewish faith, it is one of 613 ways to connect to G-d. Among those many commandments, there is an opinion that when writing the name of G-d, in any language, you omit a letter out of respect. I only learned that later.
“Tefillin is a mitzvah,” he said. “I’m walking around spreading the light of G-d.”
Now, I was high as a kite. I didn’t need G-d or tefillin. I was good.
“What’s tefillin?” I asked.
The young rabbi pulled out a small bag and unzipped it revealing two black boxes with leather straps wrapped around them. I would later find out that Jewish men, dating all the way back to Mount Sinai had been putting these on after they turned 13. Some men even put on multiple pairs.
I wasn’t interested in this. I was woke. I was connected to the universe, to synergy, to synchronicity, and to serendipity. I didn’t need organized religion or its relics. My truth lay in between a good meal and a cozy pillow.
But I was, and am, a storyteller at heart. I was working in film production at the time and I thought, ‘If I was writing the story to my life, this is a character-building moment. The character of me puts on tefillin. You’re in the holiest place in the world, you’re on your favorite psychedelic, and you’re Jewish. You’ve got to put on tefillin; it’s an origin story.’
Little did I know.
So, ok. We wrap up the black leather straps along my bicep, my forearm, my hand. A black box rests on my bicep with two verses from Exodus and two verses from Deuteronomy. The young rabbi places another black box on the top of my forehead and two more black leather straps caress down across my chest. My chest, which is full of so much love and light and LSD.
And as the sun was shining on me, my best friend, three other friends we picked up along the way, and this young rabbi ‘spreading the light of G-d’ are standing on the side of a mountain in Tsfas…a butterfly came and landed right on the rabbi’s wrinkled white button-down shirt. In one brief moment, I reach over, cup my hands around the butterfly, the tefillin still wrapped around my fingers…
And time stops. All I can hear is my breath and all I can feel is its wings.
And it felt like G-d speaking to me.
Not like Morgan Freeman booming down a luscious heavenly voice with the clouds parting, light shining to my specific spot, but an actual act of G-d.
Like this meant something. Like this meant everything.
“What do I do?” I asked, the butterfly still fluttering in between my fingers.
Everyone laughed. “Let it go,” the young rabbi said.
So I opened up my hands, the butterfly flew away, and I knew I had to keep putting on tefillin. I had conviction. Was this the Truth I had been looking for? Was G-d the answer that had eluded me all these years? Was a religion and belief system what I was missing all this time?
Chapter III: Made the Flip
That was in 2017.
At the time of this writing, April 2023, I’ve told this story more times than I can count and thought about its repercussions enough to make my wife wonder if she made a mistake marrying me. She also became religious later in life but took her time with it. She always says, “I’m 5 years ahead of you.”
She’s one year younger, though.
When I came back to the States after the Israel trip–both the physical birthright trip and the LSD experience– I stopped working in the movie business as a lowly production assistant, and I got a job working for a kosher candy company making deliveries. All of a sudden, my world exploded into the underbelly of the Tri-State area of the Jewish underground.
There were hidden neighborhoods right out in the open; Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey, Lakewood, all of these places I had walked by, drove by, seen of, and heard of, but never really paid attention to. There were black hats and white shirts, beards and head coverings everywhere. But I had never seen what was right in front of me and a part of me this whole time.
I stopped smoking weed, hung around the Jewish crowd, and met so many people calling me rabbi. I learned quickly it’s a term of endearment, they didn’t think I was actually ordained. I stopped shaving my beard and started wearing black and white.
It all happened so fast.
I mutated from a fast-talking, weed-smoking, womanizing, grilled cheese and longboarding hipster with a pack of light blue American spirits in my front pocket to a card-carrying member of one of the most strict religious sects in the world. I didn’t convert because I was always Jew-ish, but I embraced my heritage with both hands.
I had never thought of marriage or children or settling down or the future past a month or two, but now I have a wife of five years, two children, and one on the way. Life is grand.
But not everything is LSD and butterflies. Anyone who’s ever had a spiritual experience or just a really awesome connection with something ethereal will know that the highs are high but the lows will kick you in the balls when you’re not looking. So, pay attention.
According to the rules of orthodox Jewry, there is extremely limited interaction with the outside, secular world. In most cases, that is. That goes for the music we listen to, the books we read, and especially the food we eat.
Don’t get me started on the food. My favorite food before I was religious was a juicy cheeseburger and anyone who knows anything knows that a major tenet of Judaism is not to eat milk and meat together. I still remember the last cheeseburger I had on Flatbush Avenue though…
Now, seven years later, I wonder if I moved too fast, too quick, too religious–or frum as they say–but time is an elusive sonofabitch and before you know it, I went from a 10-gauge-silver-hoop-pierced-stoney-baloney to an ultra-orthodox-Chassidic man you would call Rabbi without missing a beat. I sometimes gaze at my reflection and wonder who the hell have I become.
Sometimes I wonder if I made the choice too drastically, too fast, or too extreme, but then I have moments of complete rapture with G-d.
Sometimes, the butterfly flaps its wings one more time and I see through dark clouds of uncertainty one ray of light that is brighter than any 5 a.m. sunrise I’ve seen and I remember. I remember that it’s all real and that things happened that I can’t explain.
G-d has given me what all the books and movies I watched and all the drugs I ingested couldn’t give me. He has given me clarity in my mission and place in the world. He has given me a community that takes care of each other and the world. He has given me a grounded, settled place of existence where I have a guideline and set of moral convictions to help me navigate this whirlwind we call Life.
In my moments of crystal clear clarity, all of His miracles he does for me are obvious.
But sometimes I fall asleep while standing up, sometimes my eye of awareness bats its eyelid, and I forget those moments. In those brief moments of darkness, I can only remember the crushing religious obligations and sacrifices I make on a daily basis.
But I wouldn’t trade it for the world and all that is in it.
I was always looking to connect to something outside of myself, something outside of my “I”, and I have. Even though it’s hard that I don’t eat out at certain restaurants, or hang out with old college buddies, or my parents don’t really get me now, I’ve got an infinite connection with the Creator. I’m tapped in, holding the line with an opportunity to look deeply at the universe and all its glory and see, like truly see, what it all means.
I’m still searching and some days I find it, and some days I come up empty-handed.
But I know that I finally found Truth, with a capital T. Even if it comes with its challenges.
It’s a relationship with G-d. And every relationship is hard.