The Spiritual State: The Naked Graduate

I know it. I'm funny. However, I also know that I am not professionally funny. It's just that if you think of me as a rabbi, I am hilarious, but if you think of me as a real comedian I am several clicks below ordinary. Truth be told, I am not even the funniest rabbi. Jackie Mason (who was a cantor for 25 years and then ordained a rabbi) is funnier than I am. Also Rabbi Joe Potasnick, the director of the New York Board of Rabbis. He is also funnier, and then there is my friend Rabbi Robert Alper. Bob and I were classmates at Hebrew Union College--Jewish Institute of Religion (we went there because it had the funniest name of any seminary we could get into). Bob was a professional rabbi until he became a professional stand-up comedian. He lives in Vermont ( but he will gladly come to your place and make you laugh with really funny clean jokes (and those are hard to find). Bob looks like Steve Martin, who is funnier than Bob but not a rabbi so you will have to pick between them. Anyway, Bob told me a graduation story that was not only true, but actually had been witnessed by his wife, Sherri. This story is not only funny, but also morally uplifting and spiritually important (and those kind of stories are also hard to find). So, as my gift the class of 2005, I herewith, forthwith and thereby offer to you the story of the naked graduate.

During graduation ceremonies seven years ago this week at a small private high school in Vermont, each of the 14 seniors was given a chance to address the assembled guests and speak for a few minutes on a topic of their choice. Most of the graduates chose the conventional topics of what they remembered most about high school, their plans for the future, and the obligatory litany of thanks to family, teachers and friends. A few of them even thanked God. This was before the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for anyone to invoke God's name for anything at any time during a graduation ceremony unless of course somebody sneezes.

One of the graduates, a young woman whom we shall call Molly Smith, began her speech. At its beginning, Molly's speech was just like all the others. She spoke of how the school had challenged and inspired her individuality, and then, as she explained later, in her attempt to express the spirituality of her graduation, Molly tossed down her mortorboard, slipped out of her white graduation robe and completed her speech about truth, wisdom, confidence and the road less traveled--stark naked. Even though they were in Vermont, the audience of 200 went wild; then the local media went wild; and then the national media went wild. Molly was even invited to appear on the David Letterman show.

Bob told me that nearly every resident of his small Vermont town got a call from one of those tabloid TV shows asking them if they knew of anyone who had a photograph or a videotape of Molly Smith giving her speech naked. There was one, and only one. Apparently when Molly dropped her robe everyone was so shocked that they did not even think of taking a picture, except for a man named Jay Cavallaro. Jay was the professional videographer who had been hired by the school to record the graduation ceremony, and so he had the whole naked truth on high-quality professional videotape. He quickly became a very popular guy.

Let me tell you what Bob told me about Jay. He had just opened up his video-production services company. He was in debt, married and anxious to start a family, but he couldn't because he had no money and his wife needed some surgery. Then, suddenly the tabloids were competing to buy the tape and the offering price soared to $100,000. Jay was looking at manna from heaven. It was, after all, a public event, and Molly had made absolutely no attempt to hide--anything. It was a windfall and just the moment Jay Cavallaro needed some wind. And this is what Jay did: he turned down all the offers--all of them. He just said no. Jay later explained the reason. He said, "It wouldn't have been right." That was that. It just wouldn't have been right.

So, to the class of 2005 I say--make two lists for yourselves. The first list is the list of the things you will do for money. The second list is the list of things you will not do for money because it wouldn't be right. Then, throw away the first list, keep the second list with you at all times and go live your life. Everything else is a cinch. Just ask Jay.

(Note from Gellman: Molly Smith is not the girl's real name. I know her name because obviously it was a very public event. I could use it, but it just wouldn't be right. Why bring her yet more embarrassment for a youthful indiscretion. Anyway the story is not about Molly. The real story is about Jay Cavallaro, and that is his real name. Jay and his wife, Michelle, are doing fine. His production company is called Jumpcut Productions. Jay and Michelle adopted three Ethiopian siblings and he is still receiving and refusing requests for the tape of the naked graduate. I used his real name because a guy who could do the right thing even if it cost him big time deserves to have his name known and praised by both my readers.)