Rabbi Tanenbaum was desperate, and he noticed his finger trembling as he placed the call. “God’s office,” boomed a bass voice after three rings. “Please pay attention as our options have recently changed.”
Tanenbaum was nonplussed. He’d been praying for an answer for nearly a year but received none. His synagogue was about to be declared unsafe by the city’s buildings department. His small congregation did not have the money to pay for the extensive repairs needed, nor had they been able to obtain credit. At first he’d ignored the flyer that crossed his desk: In trouble? Call 466-763-3423 (GOD SOF FICE). How silly, he’d thought.
Now he listened to discover where this obvious joke would take him. Was the number actually connected to a person? If so, would that person realize that he or she was the earthly holder of God’s telephone number? When the phone rang he was curious, but the recorded answer on the other end was a shock.
“For the Department of Jews, dial 1,” the electronic voice instructed. “For the Department of Christians, dial 2. For the Department of Muslims, dial 3. All other denominations dial, 4.”
Tanenbaum hesitated a moment before going forward with what was clearly an elaborate practical joke; then he pressed 1.
“This is God’s Office of Jewish Affairs,” the voice responded. “Please pay attention as our options have recently changed. For Orthodox Jews, press 1. For Conservative Jews, press 2. For Reform Jews, press 3. For all other denominations, press 4.”
The rabbi dutifully pressed 3. Again came the voice. “This is the Department of Reform Judaism Affairs, God’s Headquarters. Please pay attention as our options have recently changed. For instructions on being ordained, press 1. For problems with a congregant, press 2. For management of Hebrew schools, press 3. For managing a synagogue, press 4.”
Fully committed to seeing this through, Tanenbaum pressed 4. The same baritone voice responded, “All of our angels are currently busy assisting other supplicants. Please stay on the line; you will be connected to the next angel available. To redirect this call at any time, press the pound sign.”
Tanenbaum could no longer be surprised when the telephone waiting music came on. It was the score from Fiddler on the Roof. He waited. Every five minutes the voice would interrupt. “Please do not hang up. Your call is important to us. An angel will be with you shortly.” Then the music would resume. Always it started with Tevye singing “Tradition.”
After about a half hour, a live voice—a clear, pleasing tenor—came on. “This is Seraph Micah. How can I help you?”
“Is this some sort of joke?” asked Tanenbaum.
“I get that all the time,” said the angel. “This is a new service, actually, created by the Buddhists. When they replaced all their outmoded prayer wheels with abandoned rotary phones, we saw the possibilities; after in-depth research we found a better way to answer prayers, one that’s environmentally safer than using burning bushes and the like. Now, what can I do for you?”
“My shul is going to be condemned as unsafe. We don’t have the money to repair it. I need help.”
“Did you try a mortgage?” asked the angel.
“Nobody will even give us a credit card.”
“I’m sorry,” said the angel. “You’re in the wrong department. You should be in the Department of Miracles, Jewish Division. Please press zero and the pound sign. When you’re reconnected to the menu, press 5.”
Tanenbaum, despondent at this point, followed the directions. After two rings a voice said, “This is the Department of Miracles, Jewish Division. Please pay attention as our options have recently changed. For miracles involving money, press 1. For miracles involving health, press 2. For miracles involving personal relations, press 3.”
Tanenbaum pressed 1. Another recording! “Due to the extreme demands created by the recession, all of our representatives are busy. You will receive a return call in one to two months. If this is an extreme emergency, please press six now.”
At his wit’s end, Tanenbaum literally punched the number six. The phone rang once. A silky smooth voice on the other end said, “Satan here. May I help you?”
Fred Cohn is a retired criminal defense lawyer. His short story, Cornelia’s Song, will be published in the September 1 edition of “Mobius.”