Steven Spielberg and a One-Boy Religious War


Comedian Adam Pally is a longtime performer at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater. Now he can be seen on “The Mindy Project.” Today we overhear him regale us with a tale of his one-teenager war on religion.

This story originally aired in Episode 174




Hey, my name is Adam Pally. I play Max on the show “Happy Endings.” This is a story about my early days as a warrior against religion.

I was in the 6th grade, mid 90’s. My parents sent me to a private Jewish school because they were concerned about me going to the mean streets of Livingston, New Jersey public school.

I hated it, I absolutely hated it. There was a dress code, I hated wearing a yarmulke. I was big into the idea that, like, just because I’m not wearing a yarmulke doesn’t mean I’m not Jewish or that I don’t believe in it. That was argued against, shockingly.

The thing I hated the most was wrapping tefillin, which is a Jewish custom that primarily takes place in the Orthodox community, but we had to do it. Tefillin are leather ropes you wrap around your arms seven times and it has a box on the end of it that has a prayer inside it, and there’s one that you put on your head, and you have to do both. And I was like, no. That was the line for me. I was like, not doing it, nope.

I was on my high horse about five days and then the edict came down from the rabbis that I was not allowed to play sports if I wasn’t going to wrap tefillin, and they said during baseball practice, “You’re gonna have to sit in a room with the head rabbi who will definitely teach you the right ways.”

And let me paint a picture of what Rabbi Lerner looked like: imagine Santa Claus but Jewish. We hated each other. I was everything he didn’t like about new thinking, and he was a rabbi so I hated him.

First off, I’ll say that I had recently read an unauthorized biography of Steven Spielberg where he had talked about how he is not a religious Jew, but he had just made Schindler’s List and he had done all this amazing work in restoring the knowledge of the Holocaust. I was impressed, because I was like, “That’s how you do it; that’s how you’re a Jew.” You don’t have to go making a show of it walking around with tefillin on, you know what I mean?

What ended up happening, while I sat there, for the first six days I was quiet. It was like “Good Will Hunting” where they just sit there and then it’s like “Your time is up.” It was a battle of wills. And then finally he got frustrated and he yelled at me.

He was like, “I’m not gonna continue to come in here and waste my time for someone who doesn’t believe in God,” and “Where are you gonna end up?” He really ripped into me, you know? And it just like worked him up. He went to the bathroom, and he’s like, “I’m going to the bathroom.”

I was unhinged. I was almost crying, I was so angry. So I took the tefillin which had been sitting on his desk. There was an exposed pipe, and I wrapped the tefillin around, and it’s leather so it holds, and I backed up all the way to the last desk in the room, and I waited until he walked in, and then I started swinging on it like Indiana Jones.

First of all, I am amazed that he didn’t have a heart attack right then. His mouth was so agape that I saw all his fillings.

And then I started screaming at the top of my lungs titles of Steven Spielberg movies. You know, so I was like, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Indiana Jones!” And he looked at me like this kid’s crazy.

In my mind I was like, “He’ll get this,” but he didn’t know that I read that book. Then I took it a step further. I was like, “USC! Arizona!” These are just facts that I had read from Steven Spielberg’s biography because he grew up in Arizona and he had gone to USC. So this really didn’t make any sense what he was hearing.

You know, God, as I’m telling you this story, I’m feeling for him, because he must have walked in that room and seen a 13-year-old boy just turned upside down crazy, committing a hate crime, I mean, defacing religious artifacts. It must have been a lot for him to swallow.

The next thing I knew, security guards had my hands behind my back and were walking me down to the principal’s office where I waited. My mom showed up, they called her out of work. I remember looking at my mom being yelled at by the principal. You know I’m sure in her mind she couldn’t believe that I had done that, but then she looked up and she looked at me through the glass and she smiled at me. That was my “Schindler’s List” moment of the little girl in the red dress, because I was like, everything is gonna be okay.

And she came out and she goes, “You’re going to public school.”