Israelis like to tell a fable of a Russian Jew who goes to his rabbi in search of a job. The rabbi instructs the man to stand at the village gate each morning and wait there to greet the Messiah when he comes. For this, the rabbi offers the man one ruble a month. “The pay is so low,” the man complains. “Yes,” says the rabbi, “but the job security is excellent.”

Humanity has seemingly been prepared to meets its maker since Adam and Eve left Eden for parts unknown. On its face, the concept of apocalypse doesn’t seem all that inspiring. In fact, taking the scenario to its natural conclusion, it’s downright depressing.

Yet, people love it. America’s favorite “trashy” supermarket tabloid, the now-defunct Weekly World News, made End Times coverage part of its regular stable of cover stories, along with Batboy and Zombie Elvis.

In fact, a study conducted by a religious tolerance group in Ontario, Canada, found that in the year 2000, the tabloid had End Times predictions in 42 out of the 52 issues published that year. The one prognostication WWN failed to unearth? That would be its own demise, seven years later.

So, why is the apocalypse so popular? (Admittedly, I love it, too!) The short answer, of course, is that it’s easier to cope with the obliteration of society in one fell swoop than it is to decide who’s taking Becky to dance class — because you both work. Oh, and don’t forget that the mortgage is due on Wednesday. And, by the way, did you forget to call my mother yesterday? It was her birthday, you know.

I asked a friend, Dr. Bella Schanzer, head of the psychiatry department at the John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit, what the medical explanation is as to why people take comfort in apocalyptic notions.

After some witty retorts, Schanzer was able to synthesize the apocalypse’s chaotic appeal into a nice, clean quote — as only a shrink could: “Oftentimes, people fixate on things like ‘doomsday’ as a way to avoid having to deal with problems in the here and now,” she says. “By believing that the end is near, people don’t need to worry about solving their real issues because, once the world ends, those problems will ‘go away.’”

And there you have it. Who wouldn’t rather just believe we are helpless in our doom and throw caution to the wind?

In the reporting for this month’s story, Beth Robinson and I spent countless hours digging to unearth whether we really are imperiled and — if not — then why the hubbub about an end to the Mayan Long Count Calendar?

In truth, it’s a fascinating subject. Separating the wheat from the chaff is the challenge. I won’t tell you in this column whether you’re safe or not (read the story on page 23), but I will say the most revealing quote Beth found on the subject is also this column’s headline.

Kicking Off the New Year
The staff at Red Thread likes to think of this magazine as a kind of journalism lab experiment. We try one thing and, if it doesn’t work, we swap it out with something else. The year 2011 has been an amazing one and, to borrow a phrase from Sinatra, “the best is yet to come.”

Last spring, we launched a monthly coffee klatch with some impressive first results. However, it became apparent that asking people to gather at 9 a.m. on a weekday was a tall order, given most of us should be at work.

With that, we’re going to revamp our monthly meet ’n’ greet and try a bar night instead.

This way, people can stop off on their way home, grab a quick bite and talk about issues facing our community. The first bar night is scheduled for 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, at Mosaic Restaurant in Detroit’s Greektown. We’ll tell you more about it next year!

On behalf of Gail, Keri, Jackie and David (my colleagues), we want to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Live it up — it could be our last.