Esther’s Diary

Note: This story contains adult language and addresses issues such as sex in a way that may not be appropriate for all readers.

Dear Diary,
Mordechai took me into Shushan today. Not the Jewish part, that’s so crummy, but the real part where everybody else goes. He is so cool, you’d never guess he was Jewish. He was wearing an incredible black and silver robe. Everybody looked at him like he was a nobleman, which he isn’t of course. He gave me a neat outfit to wear–it had a light blue top and a skirt with dark blue swirls. But I still felt like an ugly Jewish girl from the sticks. And my hair was the pits; I was wearing a stupid ponytail like a little kid. You should have seen the girls in Shushan. Everybody puts their hair up in all kinds of cool buns or wears these amazing headpieces with beads and even gold and jewels.
Then Mordechai took me to the courtyard of the palace. It was amazing. King Ahasuerus was staying in the palace so the full court was in session and everybody was just hanging around this big plaza in front of the palace. It was, like, a huge carnival. The women were so beautiful and the men all seemed rich. And Mordechai fit right in. He is so hot with a nice trim beard just like the Persians, not straggly like the Jews. Some men came right up to him; I think he is doing some kind of deal. I felt like an ugly washrag among all these beautiful, cool people.
Suddenly Queen Vashti appeared on a horse. She is, like, the most beautiful woman in the world. She was wearing the most brightly colored robes I ever saw, and they were billowing around her almost like a rainbow of clouds. She left her robe nearly wide open at the top. You could see the men trying to get a peek at her boobs. And her skirt was slit so high you could, like, see her legs all the way up to her thighs as she sat sidesaddle on the horse. The rabbi and the Jews around here would have fainted if they saw her. She was so awesome. Even the noblemen were drooling over her as she ordered them around. I’d kill to be like her. Being Jewish sucks.
After she disappeared into the palace, Mordechai took me to a café he knew. It was dark and very romantic and smelled of exotic teas and spices. He took my hand and then stroked my cheek and told me I was as beautiful as Vashti. Of course he was just saying it; nobody could be as beautiful as Vashti, but I did like hearing it, especially from Mordechai. Then he put his arm around my neck and stroked my hair. He pulled me close and kissed me. I tingled at his touch. He’s nothing like the stupid Jewish boys at home. He really did make me feel beautiful. Everybody thinks he’s my uncle, my mother’s baby brother, but he isn’t really. He was taken in by my grandparents as a foster child, just another Jewish orphan after some pogrom where a lot of Jews got killed. So we’re not actually relatives at all, not through blood anyway. He is supposed to be watching out for me as my guardian now that my parents are dead, but he’s not even that much older than me. Anyway, he is so cool.
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Dear Diary,
Guess what? The King has ordered up a huge party at the palace. It’s been going on for months already and nobody around here even heard about it. Of course, being Jews, we couldn’t go anyway. Jews can hardly do anything. But Mordechai was invited somehow to one of the banquets, and he asked me to join him. He’s got some deal going with some people in Shushan–they might not even realize he’s Jewish–and they invited him. My first thought was that I couldn’t go. For one, I’m Jewish. Also, I don’t have anything like the kind of dress I would need. Mordechai told me to forget about the Jewish stuff and then he showed me a gorgeous gown that I could wear. I’ll have to make alterations but, hey, like I’m going to a party at the palace, a real palace.
The party is next Friday night, but that doesn’t seem to bother Mordechai even though he’s Jewish too. When my parents were alive they were so strict about Shabbat. We had to follow all these stupid rules from the Torah about what to eat and what to do and what we could do on Shabbat. I mean, it was really, like, pointless. We couldn’t do anything fun or go anywhere or do anything. Mordechai says he cares about Shabbat and all that Jewish stuff, but he says we can break the rules this time. I won’t argue. Sometimes he acts just like the Persians. I can’t believe it.
Anyway, I can’t write any more. I have to get to work on this dress. It has gold and silver threads running through it. You won’t believe how beautiful it is. Oh, and I’m not supposed to tell anybody around here about what we’re doing. My mouth is sealed, Diary, except for you of course.
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Dear Diary,
The party at the palace was incredible!!! We were standing around in this big marble hall. The King made an appearance. Suddenly a bunch of guards rushed in and it sounded like they were blowing a million trumpets. Anyway, the King swooped into the hall along with Queen Vashti. She looked so beautiful, just as you would expect. She was wearing a dress made completely of strings of beads and jewels and when she walked it swished and you could really see her body, almost like she was naked. I don’t think she was wearing underwear or anything. I could never do that; I’d, like, die of embarrassment. But then, I don’t look anything like Vashti. She’s gorgeous. Some mean looking guy followed right behind them. Mordechai said the guy’s name was Haman and he was just promoted to some senior minister job. Mordechai said Haman is a real asshole. Supposedly the King doesn’t even like Haman but he got the job because the King owed some favor to someone who did like Haman.
The King stopped and turned to the crowd. Everybody suddenly kneeled. We were standing way in the back where you could barely see. I didn’t know what to do so I kneeled too. Mordechai didn’t kneel. He just stood there way in the back. I don’t think the King even noticed, but Haman did. Haman glared at Mordechai before he rushed after the King. What the hell are you doing, I asked him after Haman left and everybody stood up again. Jews don’t kneel to people, he replied. Yeah, but Jews aren’t supposed to even be here, I told him.
I really felt kind of awkward being there, especially as a Jew. I mean I never liked following all that Torah stuff or cared about anything Jewish but it’s kinda different when you’re here among all these non-Jews. As we approached the palace earlier in the day–on the way to the party–some old Jewish women who were loaded with packages of groceries and stuff were rushing to get home by Shabbat. All of a sudden, Queen Vashti with a bunch of soldiers following her came riding around a corner and almost hit the women, but she brought the horse to a stop just in time. Then, she took her riding crop and lashed out at the old women knocking them down while she yelled, get out of the way you old Jewish hags or I’ll have the King kill all of you. She was so mean. It was, like, really scary. I told Mordechai that maybe we shouldn’t go, you know, being Jewish and all. He hugged me and said not to worry about it, nobody will ever guess I’m Jewish, we’ll blend right in. And then what does he do? He stands up when everyone else is kneeling. Duh, like who’s going to stand out now.
Then he said something about how important it is to get somebody Jewish into a high position in the palace, close to the King. That really bad things were, like, going to happen to the Jewish people in Persia and somebody had to be in position to protect them. Anyway, he was trying to think of a plan. If you think you’re going to be that person, don’t count on it, I told him, especially if he keeps pissing off powerful people like Haman. Sometimes I don’t understand him. But the party was really fun even if a lot of the food was really yucky–stuff I’d never even seen before, like a whole pig with its head sitting right on the plate. It was gross.
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Dear Diary,
Mordechai came today and told me the weirdest news: Queen Vashti has been thrown out of the palace by the King. She’s been sent away forever, maybe even killed. Nobody really knows. And it was all because she refused to dance at some special dinner the King was giving for some really powerful old men. Do you believe it? Just dancing at a party doesn’t sound bad to me. Actually it sounds like fun, more fun than I’ll ever have around here. Then Mordechai said she was supposed to dance naked, maybe even have sex with some of them. Now that’s completely different. Anyway, she refused and I don’t blame her; she said she was tired. The King was going to just forget about it. He seems pretty easygoing. He has a big harem so he could just get some other girls to dance naked. I’ve seen them. They are, like, all beautiful. But then the men who were there told the King that if he let Vashti get away with being insolent and not doing what she was told all the men in Persia would have trouble with their wives once word got around. So he kicked her out. Isn’t that mean?
I didn’t know what to think. I mean I kind of felt really sorry for Vashti, and it seems so unfair. But then, she also wasn’t exactly a nice person, like that time she whipped those old Jewish women before the party. Then Mordechai came up to me and started playing with my hair and looking me all over. What are you doing, I demanded. You know, he said, this might change a lot of things over at the palace, and a girl like me might go real far. Then he started to unbutton the top of my blouse so you could see part of my boobs. I, like, couldn’t believe what he was doing, but I was starting to get pretty turned on. I mean I had been dropping hints and coming on to him for weeks, but he was, like, oblivious. Anyway, I had never let any of the Jewish guys in this stupid town touch me like that before. They are all dorks who want nothing more than to go to some stupid yeshiva and sit around listening to some old fart. Anyway, Mordechai says that if I was willing I might score big; we both could. It is all part of some sort of plan of God’s. I wasn’t sure what he meant. God’s never done anything for me before that I know about. Anyway, I suddenly wanted Mordechai to scoop me into his arms and smother me with hugs and kisses. He just gave me one little kiss and rushed out saying he was going to look into some things.
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Dear Diary,
There is going to be a big contest to find a new queen to replace Vashti, and Mordechai wants me to enter. He says he’ll sponsor me. At first I was excited when he told me, but then I didn’t think I wanted to do it. I mean, if I won, which I certainly wouldn’t, but if I did, I would, like, have to be the King’s wife and sleep with him and maybe have sex with other people too if he ordered me to, just like Vashti. This is just too weird.
So I told Mordechai, no way. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer and we got into a big fight. I kept telling him that I was Jewish, and the King would never pick a Jewish girl as queen so it was a waste of time. And if he did pick me and they found out I was Jewish, they would kill me. Come on, Mordechai knows how they treat Jews around here–like shit. Mordechai insisted that I didn’t look Jewish and since I didn’t have any Jewish family left alive, nobody at the palace would ever find out. And since when, he argued, do I care about being Jewish so much. I don’t care about being Jewish; I’d give it up in a second if the rest of the world would let me. It’s a drag being Jewish. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t convert to something else anyway. We might be God’s chosen people, but what has that ever gotten us. Most Jews I know are, like, happy if they just let us live in a filthy stinking ghetto and don’t persecute us too much. Who needs it?
That’s the point, Mordechai shouted. I could get away from being Jewish forever if I won the contest. Of course, Mordechai as my supposed guardian could live near the palace and he’d do even bigger deals and I’d keep the King happy and we’d all get rich. Since the King is so much older than me, he’d die pretty soon anyway and I would still have, like, my whole life left. Well, I finally agreed, but I didn’t tell Mordechai the real reason why, but I will tell you, Diary. I want Mordechai to live near me in the palace. If I can make the King happy, maybe I can get Mordechai a position inside the palace where he can be important and powerful and we can really be together, you know, like real lovers. Mordechai thinks he and God are the only ones with plans, but I’m starting to get plans of my own. Of course, the chances of my winning the contest are about one in zillion. OK, I have a nice figure, and Mordechai thinks I’m really good looking, but c’mon, being good looking is one thing. Being beautiful like Vashti is something completely different. It’d take a fucking miracle.
But at least Mordechai thinks I’m beautiful. I just wish he’d do something about it, like come on to me, but he keeps holding back. He wants me to save my virginity. What the hell for?
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Dear Diary,
The contest was a disaster, a sheer disaster! I should have, like, guessed when Mordechai brought me the so-called fancy dress I was going to wear. It was a stupid kid’s dress. Sure, it had a deep V-neck that really showed my boobs, hugged my waist, and had slits that showed off my legs, but the colors and the material really were what you would use to dress up a kid. The King’s looking for a fucking Queen, not a daughter, I shouted. The King has an eye for young girls, Mordechai insisted. He doesn’t want another Vashti; she was too much for him to handle. He’s going to want somebody young, sweet, virginal, and innocent who is still sexy. Virginal, innocent and sexy–boy, there’s an easy combination. At least I’m still a virgin, no thanks to Mordechai. This is going to take more than a miracle, I told him.
Anyway, when we arrived at the palace, we were, like, all herded into this huge room with tons of bright, colored silk tapestries hanging on the wall. They were gorgeous. The place was filled with all these beautiful girls and their mothers. They all wore dresses that really pushed up their boobs, and they all wore their hair piled on their heads in these fancy swirls. And into all this strolls stupid Esther, looking like a schoolgirl. Mordechai insisted that I let my hair hang down in a braid in the back and tease out my bangs in the front. He even put a ribbon in my hair! I haven’t worn a stupid ribbon in my hair since, like, I was ten. I’m surprised he didn’t give me lollipop to suck. I felt like a kid among all these beautiful women. You should have heard the sniggering when I walked by.
Then, we all had to line up. The King walked down the line looking at each of us. I sneaked a glance down the line and all you could see was this row of big boobs pushed out. Mordechai wouldn’t even let me wear a bra. Mine were just dangling there. The King paused for a second in front of me and whispered something to some guy who was following him. Then he just moved on. I felt like an idiot.
After that the King went to sit on this gold and marble throne with all these big purple pillows all over the place. Each girl had to walk up a few steps and kneel in front of the king and then get up and walk away. There must have been a hundred girls in the line. Anyway, by the time my turn came I was really nervous. As I started to climb the little steps, I stepped on the edge of my dress and fell right at the feet of the King. A lot more of my leg was showing through the slit in my dress than I intended, but what could I do? So much for being virginal and innocent. Then the King reached over with his hand like he was helping me up. So I took his hand and saw that he was peering down the V-neck of my dress. That was when I noticed my boobs had just about fallen out of the dress. I jiggled a little bit to get them back in place. The King was still holding my hand. Boy, I’ve already blown it I thought, so, like, what the hell; I took his hand, turned it over, gave a little suck and nibble on his index finger, which had this humongous ring on it. It all, like, happened in a second. Then, some guy standing next to the King was telling me to move on.
Anyway, when I got out of the room, Mordechai was waiting. I told him what happened. Innocent, I told you to be innocent, he kept saying. Well I tried, but when I tripped, I figured if I’m going to be klutzy instead of innocent, I might as well try to be sexy. What do I know? Anyway, I never really had a chance, I told him, especially when he dressed me up like a schoolgirl. Diary, you should have seen some of those girls.

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Dear Diary,
Queen Esther, Queen Esther, Queen Esther, Queen Esther–that’s right, Diary. I am to become Queen Esther. I can’t believe it. I won. I won the stupid contest. Mordechai was right. Innocent and sexy, I guess that’s me. I’m going to be queen. Goodbye Jewishness, goodbye ghetto, goodbye ugly old clothes, goodbye dorky Jewish guys. I’m moving into the palace with the harem tomorrow to start my training. I don’t even have to pack anything, except you Diary, of course. They are giving me all new clothes and perfumes and lotions and hair things and everything, and I will have wonderful oil baths every day. It will be so awesome. And Mordechai already has a line on a place to live right nearby. We’re going to be together, sort of. Maybe not right away, but we will soon enough. In the meantime, I hope the King is nice. He’s kind of old but he seems nice enough.
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Dear Diary,
I gotta tell you; being Queen is nothing like you ever imagined it. First, a lot of people are waiting on you day and night. You never have to pick up your clothes or clean anything or cook. They bring you anything you want and everything is really the best stuff around, stuff from all over the world. That’s the good part.
All you’re supposed to do is, like, be a friend to the King, kind of like always going on dates with him. Sometimes you’re just joining him for dinner. Other times you’re going someplace else with him, which is a whole big production. There is usually some kind of banquet or party, and you’re expected to make conversation. There really isn’t much to say, believe me. All these people talk about is the price of olive oil or gossip about all these noblemen and the ladies who make up the court. I just usually listen and say uh huh or sure or yeah or OK every now and then. They probably think I’m dumb, but like, what else is there to say? I don’t give a damn about the price of olive oil or who some rich lady is sleeping with. Then, you’re expected dance for the audience. You’d think that would be fun, but sometimes you have to, like, take off all your clothes when you dance and that’s kind of weird. Still, you get over it quick. Just remember Vashti.
The King is a really old guy. He could probably be my grandfather. He’s kind of nice in a pathetic sort of way. Often he calls me and just wants me to sit with him. Sometimes he asks me to take off my clothes, so of course I do. Half the time, he doesn’t even touch me. He’ll just look at me, maybe ask me to pose. Sometimes he’ll kiss my boobs. A couple of times he asked me to, like, give him head. It was gross, but I did because I didn’t think I had any choice (and I was trying to imagine it was Mordechai all the time). You know, even then he had trouble getting it up. I think he has some kind of problem or maybe he’s just old. Then, he always tells me that I can ask him for anything I want. Mordechai keeps telling me to cool it and not ask for much, to save the big favors for when we really need them. But the King really seems to want to do things for me so I sometimes ask for little things that I don’t even really want just because it seems to make him happy, things like a new gown or a horse. He’s got a ton of horses. Now I gotta learn to ride a stupid horse, but I’m sure not going to wear the kind of outfits Vashti was wearing on horseback and, like, have every pervert in Shushan staring at me when I ride by.
The other people around here are pretty awful. Everyone seems to hate Jews, and they hardly even know any Jews. I wish I wasn’t Jewish so I didn’t have to keep pretending. Haman, that stupid minister guy, is probably the worst, but he isn’t the only Jew hater, that’s for sure. He keeps asking me really prying questions about my parents and my childhood and all that. Sometimes I think he suspects I’m Jewish so I am real careful with everybody around here. Other times I think he’s trying to hit on me, which is, like, really stupid because trying to put the moves on the King’s number one girl can probably get you killed real fast around here.
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Dear Diary,
You won’t believe the shit that’s going down. Mordechai came to me yesterday–I actually don’t have much time to get together with him, but as my guardian he’s allowed to come see me almost any time. Anyway, he came to me with this incredible information he overheard. He was standing near the palace gate when he heard two of the King’s eunuchs–these weird guys who guard the harem–planning to kill the King. So Mordechai came and told me all about it: when, where, who, everything. He insisted that I tell the King right away, which isn’t exactly easy to do. You can’t just go knock on the King’s door, even if you are his number one queen. Anyway, Mordechai thought that by telling the King we’d be, like, saving his life, and the King would owe us big and that might come in handy later.
So, I went to Hegai, who is kind of the chief eunuch and supervises the harem. He’s kind of mean and strict. I told him I had something very important to tell the King. He said I’d have to wait until he called for me. Or, I could tell him whatever it was and he’d pass it on to the King. Of course, that would ruin everything; he’d tell the King and he’d owe a favor to him. Instead, I told him that if the King didn’t hear what I had to say right away directly from me, he would miss something wonderful and would be really mad at him when I explained why I hadn’t been able to tell him in time. Well, that got Hegai all anxious and he disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back, he said the King would see me right then.
Of course, I told the King everything Mordechai had heard and made sure he knew that it was Mordechai who uncovered the plot against him and told me about it. That way, the King would not only owe us both a favor but he would be happy when Mordechai visited me because he might be passing on more good information. Then the King had his security chief arrest the two eunuchs and sure enough, they were caught red-handed preparing poison and everything to kill the King. Then the King ordered the entire story, especially Mordechai’s role in discovering the plot, be like written down in the King’s special book. Anyway, the two eunuchs were hanged the next day while a bunch of other eunuchs were fired for not uncovering the plot sooner. Hegai ended up in really deep shit too. And you can bet my position around here has really come up a few notches.
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Dear Diary,
Haman is a mega asshole. He sucked up to the King and, like, managed to get appointed as the First Minister. Now he is strutting around here like he is God’s gift to the world and he’s even more insistent that everybody bow down to him. Of course, everybody bows down to the King, but until this jerk arrived nobody bowed down to the First Minister. A couple of people who didn’t bow down to him got flogged in the palace courtyard. It was really gross. Then a eunuch told me that Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman when they crossed paths right outside the palace. Everyone else bowed, but Mordechai just stood there. Haman, the eunuch said, is still enraged about the incident. I better warn Mordechai; the eunuch thinks Haman knows Mordechai is Jewish and is out to get him on the slightest thing. If Mordechai doesn’t watch himself, he may get us both killed. Sometimes I can’t begin figure out what Mordechai is up to. Most of the time, he acts like he doesn’t give a damn about being Jewish and then this bowing thing comes up and suddenly he’s a candidate to be the next Hebrew prophet. Maybe it’s some kind of guy thing. Anyway, things are really starting to go well. Mordechai’s got some nice deals cooking, and I’m really hitting my stride here ever since the murder plot. I’m afraid he’s just going to blow everything.
When the King told me about appointing Haman, I couldn’t believe it. He asked me what I thought, but it was clear he had already decided. I couldn’t very well complain that Haman hated Jews because everybody around here hates Jews and nobody knows I’m Jewish. So, I kind of hinted that Haman kept making passes at me. It didn’t seem to bother him. Oh, Haman’s just trying to be friendly; he’d never do anything disrespectful, he said. But, he added, if anybody ever makes passes at me, he’ll have them executed. So I ended up saying well, you know best. I also better warn Mordechai because now that I’m sort of set up here, we’ve been fooling around a bit. I guess we better cut it out for now.
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Dear Diary,
Well, the shit, like, hit the fan today. Haman drew up a royal decree ordering the killing of Jews everywhere in the kingdom–men, women, children, old, young, everybody–on the thirteenth day of Adar, a stupid day they picked by drawing fucking lots. And everyone could then plunder everything the Jews owned, not that they own much, I can tell you that. Anyway, Haman somehow convinced the King to sign the decree, the doddering old fool. When Mordechai heard about it he had a fit at the palace gate. The eunuchs brought him to me in my room because he was making such a fuss.
I tried to calm Mordechai down, but he wouldn’t listen to reason. Look, I said, you’ll be safe. I can protect you here in the palace with me. We can even bring in some Jews from home. But what about the other Jews, he kept ranting. All of a sudden you’re so concerned about the lousy Jews, I asked. You never gave a shit about the Jews. It was you who showed me how to live like a goy, to violate Shabbat, to eat non-kosher food, to marry a goy. That’s what you did, you know. You set me up to marry a goy. Some guardian you are! What the hell do you think I’ve been doing here? I’m stripping at parties and sleeping with the King, at least on those rare occasions when he can get it up. Now all of a sudden you care about the Jews. Gimme a break. Do you think I like what I’ve become? I’ve become a royal whore, and you’ve gotten rich making deals with noblemen because of me, so you’re, like, a royal pimp.
Then Mordechai confesses about his big plan: I, sweet beautiful Esther, was the Jew he wanted to get into the palace all along. He knew they would never allow a Jewish man in any position of real power, but if the Queen were a Jew, then that would be something else. It was a crazy plan, but it worked so far, he said. Now, I have to call in all the favors I have with the King.
Oh boy, that’s not so easy. He forgot one thing; I can’t just go strolling up to the King asking for a favor. I can’t even talk to the King unless he invites me. If I even tried, I could be killed. It’s a palace rule. Mordechai says don’t worry this is all part of God’s plan, but, like, I really have to think about this.
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Dear Diary,
This is a suicide mission. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Except maybe that I just don’t want the Jews to get slaughtered. They never hurt anybody. Mordechai keeps saying this is all part of God’s plan. You know, Vashti suddenly getting kicked out, me winning the contest to be the next Queen, saving the King’s life–God was behind it all. I mean, I thought it was all a crazy idea from the start. Maybe it really is God’s plan. We’d need a miracle for this stupid plan to work. If not, I’m dead and so is Mordechai.

Fortunately, we have some time. Here’s the plan: I’m going to attract the King’s attention and get him to ask me to speak. Then I’m going to invite him and Haman to a private party in my chambers. Then, if the King comes, he will surely reward me with another favor because he is always asking if I want anything and I’ll ask him to save my people. In the process, I’ll have to figure out how to get rid of Haman somehow. Sounds simple enough, huh? The eunuchs are going to help me. They’re preparing my most beautiful gown and tomorrow they are going to place me in a position where the King can’t miss me. I haven’t prayed to God since I was a child in my parent’s house, but I’m going to pray to God tonight. Mordechai insists that I fast too just to show God how serious I am. Seems kind of dumb but, hey if that’s what gets God’s attention, I’ll do it. And Mordechai says he’s going to get all the Jews of Shushan to fast too just to make sure God’s listening. It sounds kind of far-fetched but, like, what have we got to lose?
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Dear Diary,
It worked! I can’t believe it. The King and Haman were passing through the inner courtyard of the palace where the eunuchs had told me to stand in my gown. The sun was shining through just perfectly, making my hair sparkle. I must have looked like an angel from heaven. The King saw me and raised his scepter, which was the signal that I could approach. Then he asked if I wanted anything and I invited him and Haman to a party. He agreed and ordered Haman to come too. It was that simple.
At the party, I kept generously pouring some outstanding wine the eunuchs brought me. The King was getting pretty tipsy. I pretty much ignored Haman but he seemed thrilled just to be there. Every time I leaned over to pour more wine he kept trying to peer down my dress to see my boobs. I let him see just enough to drive him crazy.
As I expected, the King insisted on doing a favor for me. This time I played coy and asked him to attend yet another feast I was giving the next night, and he should make sure Haman came too. At that feast, I teased, I would let him know what favor he could do for me and, picking up his hand and putting it on my boobs I hinted at all the favors I would do for him in return. The old fool got the message. From the look on Haman’s face, I thought he was, like, about to cum all over himself.
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Dear Diary,
We blew it. Damn it, damn Mordechai, damn Haman. I had it all set up. It was working great but we blew it. Haman unexpectedly bumped into Mordechai outside the palace. Of course Mordechai didn’t bow to him, especially knowing about the decree to kill Jews. Anyway, they exchanged words and Haman stalked off madder than ever. But now a eunuch tells me that Haman has ordered a 50-foot high gallows be erected in the courtyard near his house. He’s going to ask the King to hang Mordechai on it before our feast tomorrow. And now it’s too late for the eunuch or even Hegai to get me in to see the King. The old fool has gone to bed already. Shit, we’re screwed. God, oh God, please help us.
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Dear Diary,
A miracle! It’s a fucking miracle! The eunuchs told me all about it. The old fool couldn’t sleep last night so he got up and started reading his damn book where he records all the things that happen that he likes. And what page does he turn to? The page where Mordechai reported the plot to kill the King. He then tells the servants Mordechai has to be rewarded right away.
First thing this morning, Haman came in all set to request Mordechai be hanged on the gallows. But before he can get a word out, the King asks him what he should do to honor someone special. The fool Haman stupidly assumes the King is referring to himself and suggests dressing the man up in royal clothes and letting him ride around on a royal horse while wearing a crown. OK, says the King. Honor Mordechai exactly as Haman just described. Damn, I would have loved to see Haman’s face at that moment.
Anyway, Diary, I don’t have time to write much. I have to put my own ass in gear. The King and Haman are coming to the banquet I promised this afternoon. We’re still not out of the woods by a long shot. In fact, Diary, the hardest part–convincing the King to rescind his stupid decree–is yet to come, and the damn thirteenth of Adar is coming up fast. But at least I’ve got Haman where I want him. Still, this is going to take a miracle. Hey, God, are you listening?
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Dear Diary,
Am I sharp or what? You won’t believe the trap I sprung, and stupid Haman walked into it better than I could have ever imagined. First, I put on my absolutely sexiest clothes–almost no clothes at all. That little slinky jeweled half top with thin straps and a bead skirt that reveals just about everything. Haman and the King were drooling from the moment they saw me.
Then, as I expected, the King was so happy he insisted that he do a favor for me. So, I put on my poor little defenseless damsel act and told him that someone was going to kill me. The King immediately jumped up and demanded to know the story. Then I told him about the plan to kill all the Jews and how I just happened to be Jewish. Of course, I added that I would most likely be the first to get killed. The King immediately demanded to know who was responsible for this terrible thing. Well, Diary, you should have seen Haman. He knew what was coming, and he was just about shitting on the floor. I cannot tell a lie, I said; it was Haman. Then I collapsed on the bed crying in despair. The King was furious and dashed out to get guards.
As soon as the King left, Haman started groveling on the floor, pleading for his life. I could hear the King returning with the guards, so I motioned Haman to come up on the bed where I was lying No sooner does the stupid fool get on the bed and start begging again then the King storms in. I start to yell like I’m being attacked. I even tore that little top I was wearing–I am so so bad. The King hits the roof. Do you mean to ravish my Queen in my own palace?, he screamed. God, it was perfect.
Haman could barely speak. Then one of the guards said that there was a big gallows built right next to Haman’s house. It was the gallows Haman intended to hang Mordechai on, but I jumped up and said that was the gallows Haman was going to use to kill me. The King spun around and glared at Haman. Hang him on those gallows, he ordered. And the guards dragged Haman away.
Later, after I told the King that Mordechai was my relative and reminded him that Mordechai was the guy who had been so loyal when the eunuchs planned to kill him, he gave me all of Haman’s property and put Mordechai in charge of managing it for me. Well Diary, I am one rich Jewish girl. You can’t believe all the wealth that Haman had grabbed through intimidation and murder. He was one mean murdering asshole.
We were just about to start celebrating when I suddenly remembered the stupid decree. I reminded the King to rescind the decree about killing Jews that Haman had tricked him into signing, but he said he couldn’t, by law. Can you believe that, Diary? He’s the stupid King and he can’t rescind the fucking decree! But you’re the King, I said. Still, the way Haman wrote the decree meant that he couldn’t rescind it. This looked real bad because there are a lot of people eager to murder Jews.
Then Mordechai came up with a brilliant idea; he suggested the King write another decree warning the Jews about the attack and allowing them to arm themselves and defend themselves. And, the new decree would say if anyone attacked the Jews, the Jews could kill them and plunder their possessions. So, it would be a stalemate and nobody would attack anybody, I hope. Mordechai wrote up the decree in fancy legal language and the King signed it and ordered it sent to every province, city, town, and village in the country immediately. The King also appointed Mordechai as a special minister of government, which gives him lots of power.
It’s incredible, Diary. It really is a miracle, a real miracle. I didn’t think much about God before, but Mordechai insists this was all God’s work. He says God always manages to take care of Jews although sometimes it sure seems like God is working against us. At least it looked that way to me. But this was so crazy and it looked so bleak that God had to have had a hand in this. Otherwise, we’d all be, like, toast.
===========================
Dear Diary,
There’s so much to tell you. As soon as we got past the thirteenth of Adar, things really started to settle down at the palace. There was still a bunch of killing, but it was the Jews doing the killing for a change. Mordechai became the King’s main man. I also sat down and had a long talk with the King. I told him that I could be a great queen for him, but we had to change a couple of things. Mainly this dancing and stripping in front of other people just wasn’t right, especially for a queen. It was so uncool and made him look real sleazy. I said I would always be happy to strip for him and, like, do whatever turned him on in private. But when he wanted to give his pals sexual thrills, he could send the harem girls. That’s what they were there for. And you know what, Diary? He agreed! So now I feel like I really am the queen.
I still see Mordechai all the time around the palace, but we’ve completely stopped fooling around. Since the King decided to respect me, I decided to act like his wife for real. He won’t live forever. After he dies, if Mordechai and I, like, decide to get it together, nobody will be hurt or bothered.
And I’ve gotten back into being Jewish. After seeing what life is like among the palace court and the nobles all those rules in the Torah don’t seem so stupid. OK, so you don’t party and, like, do lots of fun stuff on Friday night or Saturday, but believe me, I’ve done all that stuff and it’s not so great. And anyway, God saved my Jewish ass. If God wants me to follow all these rules, then what the heck.
Oh yeah, one more thing; I’m pregnant. Can you believe that? The old King, like, really did get it up–that’s either another miracle or I’m the sexiest girl around. So now he is going to have a Jewish child, and I’m already making plans with Mordechai to make sure the baby is raised as a Jew. And the King’s so thrilled that he was able to father a kid that he goes along with anything I want. I am pure gold around here. You know, Diary, someday they ought to write a book about all of this, but no one would ever believe it.

Love and Respect (for mature teens)

Note: This story addresses an abusive relationship and portrays sex in a way that may not be comfortable for some readers

She pleaded with her eyes, don’t do this to me, don’t make me do this. Why did he get like this sometimes? He could be so nice, but then this.

“Do it. Now,” he demanded, unzipping his fly and pulling out his penis. She reluctantly started to take it in her hand. “With your mouth, you stupid, ugly slut,” he shouted. He grabbed her by the hair and yanked her down to where she was on her knees. With his hand on her head, he jammed her face against his penis. She opened her mouth and took his penis inside. With both hands on her head, he started thrusting. She gagged and thought she would choke. It took about a minute, then he came. She gagged again on his sperm and tried to spit it out. “Swallow it, you fucking fat dumb cunt,” he ordered, and pushed her on the floor. “I’m going out to have some beers,” he said, zipping his fly, throwing on his jacket, and slamming the door to her dorm room as he left.

Rebecca slowly got up. Why is he like this? She couldn’t understand. He used to be so nice. When she and Tommy started going together, he made her feel great. He gave her silly little gifts and they laughed and cuddled. And when they made love, it was like heaven. Then the gifts stopped; the cuddles stopped. And he could turn so mean and nasty. It frightened her. What had she done wrong? She couldn’t figure it out.

She had tried to break it off with him. Twice they had broken up. Each time he came back pleading how much he loved her and swearing he would change. It would be just like it had been before, he promised. And it was, for a short time, but then he would start the nasty name calling and the slapping and hitting and the ugly, mean sex. He blamed her for everything, even things she had nothing to do with. Maybe it really was her fault, she wondered. Sometimes Rebecca thought she was going crazy.

Rebecca wished she had somebody to talk with, but somehow in going with Tommy she had cut off her friends. He was so demanding. He didn’t like her doing things without him. And he didn’t like her friends. He wanted her to be ready for him whenever he called or came by. When she tried to see her friends, it would only get worse. He would get sullen or morose or violent, like tonight. Even if she had somebody to talk to, what could she say? Could she really tell them about the blowjobs he forced her to give, the names he called her, and the hitting? It was so embarrassing; she wouldn’t know how to say the words. She even thought about suicide, not seriously really but just in case things became impossible.

Rebecca Smith was a junior at college. She had a single room in the dorm; Tommy could come any time he wanted. Her family lived 1000 miles away. She used to talk with her mom every week by phone, but her parents were so absorbed in their own lives. Rebecca was their youngest child. With her away at college her parents felt liberated and seemed eager for Rebecca to be completely on her own. She didn’t want to burden them. Now she just sends them email, telling them about her classes. At least her grades are still okay. She hadn’t actually talked with her mother for weeks, maybe a few months.

So, she was surprised when the phone rang and it was her mother. Her grandfather, whom she called Zadie, had died. He was old and had been sick for a long time. Her grandmother, Bubbie, was taking it very badly, Rebecca’s mother told her. Rebecca should come home right away for the funeral, her mother insisted. Jews bury the dead very quickly. Rebecca’s parents were as non-observant as you could be, Jewish only in name and not even that since her father had Americanized his family’s Jewish sounding name, legally changing it from Smoller to Smith. Zadie was her mother’s father. Zadie’s funeral would be tomorrow afternoon. There was a late flight that evening, and her mother had already made reservations for her. Tickets would be waiting at the terminal. She should leave for the airport right away.

Tommy will be furious when he comes back and I’m gone, she thought. She hesitated. “What’s the matter?” her mother asked. “If the school or your professors have a problem, I will let them know there was a death in the family. They will understand,” said her mother, sounding almost impatient. “Take a cab to the airport. Don’t worry what it costs, we’ll pay for everything,” her mother added.

“I’ll be there,” said Rebecca. She hung up the phone and started throwing some clothes and things into a suitcase she pulled from the closet. Tommy will go crazy if I’m not here, she thought again. She decided to write a note and leave it on the door. All it said was my grandfather died suddenly. I’ve gone to his funeral. She thought she should say something about when she would be back, but she didn’t really know. Then she thought to add something like I’ll call you, but she didn’t. She taped the note in the middle of the door where he couldn’t miss it even if he came back drunk, which was quite likely, and left quickly.

It wasn’t until she was on the plane that Rebecca had a chance to really think about her mother, Zadie, Bubbie, and Tommy. Bubbie and Zadie were very observant, orthodox Jews. Growing up, Rebecca saw very little of them, usually only at Passover. Zadie’s Seders went on forever, she recalled. Her father used to complain whenever they had to go. She didn’t really know much about Zadie except that he and Bubbie had lived in different places, usually fleeing Nazis or anti-Semites of one sort or another. Other than the long, boring Seders, he seemed sweet and kind, always having a treat of some sort for the grandchildren. She was the only granddaughter. Her older brothers and cousins would always win the race to find the Afikomen, a special piece of matzo hidden during the Seder, but Zadie always had a special treat for her anyway. Still, she didn’t really know him at all and didn’t feel his loss. She was going to his funeral simply because her mother told her to. Did she always do what people told her to do, she wondered? That thought bothered her.

And why was her mother so insistent she go to the funeral? Her mother never got along with Zadie and Bubbie that much Rebecca knew. They didn’t like her mother’s non-Jewish lifestyle at all. They wouldn’t eat at Rebecca’s home or even eat food her mother had cooked and brought to them, unless she brought it already cooked straight from a kosher place, still wrapped and everything. They really disliked her father, especially when he changed their name, which happened before Rebecca was born. She couldn’t imagine her mother broken up over Zadie’s death, and her father certainly couldn’t care. Sometimes her father referred to Zadie as that old Yid troublemaker, but Rebecca didn’t know what he was referring to. Probably he blamed Zadie for trying to create trouble between her father and mother or not approving of the marriage in the first place.

Rebecca always remembered Bubbie, a squat woman, in a plain housedress and apron and wearing a scarf over her hair. She seemed to spend her entire life in the kitchen boiling food in gray enamel pots. She didn’t really like Bubbie’s cooking–boiled, stringy meats covered with smelly gravies, boiled potatoes, and overcooked vegetables. One of her mother’s favorite jokes was she never ate in restaurants that advertised home cooking because her own mother’s cooking was so awful. But Bubbie did bake wonderful cookies and cakes and sweets of all sorts and she had such a sparkle in her eyes as she gave them out to her grandchildren. When Rebecca visited as a child Bubbie would give her lots of hugs and kisses and sweets, but she never knew much about Bubbie, she realized.

Then Rebecca thought about Tommy. She couldn’t imagine ever bringing him home. First, he wouldn’t come. Second, her parents wouldn’t like him because of his language and his drinking. They would go crazy if they knew about the sex, but she’d never let on a thing about that no matter what. She could imagine how furious Tommy will be when he gets back tonight expecting to have sex and she’s gone. At least he probably won’t have a clue how to reach her at home although it wouldn’t be hard. Then a funny thought crossed her mind and she smiled; it is sad that Zadie died, but she likes getting away from school and the dorm and Tommy, even if it is just for a few days. A shudder suddenly passed over her: Tommy will go crazy when she comes back, and she was afraid.

Her mother was waiting at the airport. Rebecca gave her mother a small hug and a kiss on the cheek. She looked very sad. “I’m sorry about Zadie,” Rebecca said. Her mother smiled weakly and squeezed Rebecca’s hand.

They walked slowly out of the airport. “I’m sorry too, I guess. You never really knew him. I didn’t mean for us to drift apart the way we did, but with your father and all…Well, it’s too late now,” said her mother. Rebecca could feel her mother shiver. “Your Zadie was really a pretty remarkable man, especially as a younger man before I was born. Maybe Bubbie will tell you about him, but she’s pretty upset now. Anyway, I sort of feel like I messed up a lot of things.” Rebecca wondered what her mother was referring to but didn’t think it was the time to ask.

Instead, they rode to the house pretty much in silence, except to mention trivial things. Rebecca’s mother would point out a new store or development that had popped up since the last time Rebecca was home. She asked a few standard questions about school, and Rebecca gave brief, vague answers. Her courses were okay; she was working hard, the usual stuff.

The funeral took place the next day in an old funeral home. The mourners sat on ugly vinyl chairs. Dull faded green wallpaper covered the walls. A worn out, drab orange carpet ran down the center aisle, otherwise the floors were scuffed linoleum. The place was utterly depressing even without a funeral. Her Zadie’s casket, draped with an Israeli flag, sat on a rolling cart in the front. The room was filling up with old people mostly. The few younger people looked like religious Jews. “I guess all the frummies will turn out. They never miss a free meal,” sneered Rebecca’s father. He called every observant Jew a frummie in the most derogatory tone of voice. He had always shown contempt for observant Jews, for any Jew. Rebecca wondered how her mother felt. Did she agree with him?

In a small room off to the side, the immediate family gathered around Bubbie, who was wearing a shapeless black dress and a black hat with a little veil. She carried a small black handbag that seemed to hold nothing but tissues. Bubbie was one of those short busty little old ladies. Rebecca hadn’t seen her for a long time, several years at least, and Bubbie now looked so old. As children, she and her brothers took great pride when they grew taller than Bubbie. Now Bubbie’s entire body seemed to droop in sadness. Pretty soon, it seemed, she would become nothing more than a black puddle on the floor. Rebecca slid through a crowd of cousins and aunts and uncles. Bubbie turned to her and gave Rebecca, her only granddaughter, a tremendous hug. “Oh my Rivka, my pretty sweet Rivka. I’m so glad you came,” she said. Rivka was Rebecca’s Hebrew name; only Bubbie and Zadie ever used it. She didn’t even use it for her bat mitzvah, which took place in a reform synagogue to Zadie’s great disapproval, but it was the most her mother could get her father to accept.

“I’m so sorry about Zadie,” said Rebecca, keeping an arm around Bubbie. “I came as soon as Mom told me.”

“Zadie was asking about you, even at the end. He was always thinking about you, his pretty little Rivka,” Bubbie continued.

Rebecca gave her another hug, surprised that she would have been in Zadie’s thoughts or anybody’s thoughts for that matter. “I thought about him too,” she said. She wasn’t really lying she told herself; she had thought about him on the plane at least. By then, others were eager to see Bubbie. Rebecca kissed her again and slipped away.

By the time Rebecca and the rest of the immediate family entered the main room with the casket, every seat except those reserved for the family was filled. People were even standing along the walls. “Frummies, frummies everywhere,” muttered her father.

“Put this on,” Rebecca heard her mother say to her father. Then she saw her mother reach up and put a kippah on her father’s head.

“I’m not wearing this stupid beanie,” her father insisted.

“Yes you are. Show some respect for someone else for once in your life,” hissed her mother in a tone Rebecca had never heard her mother use with her father or anyone else. Her mother glared at her father, who sullenly let the kippah stay on his head.

A young rabbi stood up and recited a few Psalms in Hebrew. Then a parade of Zadie’s friends came up one by one to give the eulogy. “Boy, this is gonna take forever,” whispered her father as he glanced at his watch.

Rebecca expected to be bored stiff, but when the eulogies began she actually found herself intrigued. She didn’t really know her grandfather as anything but a frail old man who spent his days reading the Forward, a Yiddish-language newspaper, and going to synagogue. She didn’t really know what kind of life he had lived, what kind of interesting things he might have done. Now these people were making references to things she never would have associated with Zadie. One talked about his fighting as part of the Jewish partisan resistance against the Nazis. Another talked about his efforts to recruit Jews in Europe for Jewish settlements in Israel before World War II. One old lady recounted how Zadie organized a big labor strike in the United States and was instrumental in winning the passage of some key labor laws. Rebecca was stunned; she never ever in a million years would have imagined that Zadie did any of this. The funeral service ended, but Rebecca wanted to hear more. After a very brief service at the grave, Rebecca was surprised to see these old people step up to the edge, take a shovel, and throw some dirt into the grave. Her brothers and cousins left town shortly after they returned from the cemetery. Rebecca planned to stay overnight.

The next morning Rebecca stood before the mirror in her room in her parents’ house. She had put on a gray blouse and black pants. She pulled her dark brown hair straight back and tied it in the back with a silver scrunchie. She studied herself in the mirror. She had nice, firm boobs, not nearly as big as Bubbie’s but big enough, she thought. Still, she wondered if she really was fat, too fat–Tommy said so often enough–although in truth she had quite a trim, muscular figure. She had played a lot of soccer in high school and still liked to play tennis and squash, although since she started going with Tommy she hadn’t done much of anything.

Was she pretty? She didn’t really know anymore. Bubbie and Zadie obviously thought she was pretty. In high school people must have thought she was pretty. She went on dates and had a couple of boyfriends. But Tommy kept calling her fat and ugly. Had she really turned fat and ugly? Not many boys had taken much interest in her in college, except Tommy. The face she saw in the mirror looked sad. She tried to smile but it was difficult.

Her bedroom was still the room of a child with posters of cartoon characters and horses on the wall. She had school soccer awards and tennis trophies on top of a bookcase. She moved some books; a picture of David Merkin fell out. David had been her first boyfriend in high school. He was a nice boy, she recalled, gentle, sweet, funny. She had thought the same about Tommy too at first. Boy, was she ever wrong about that. She wondered what David was like now. She picked up the photo. On the back he had scrawled the words you are beautiful, I love you. Would he think that now, she wondered?

Rebecca heard a knock on the door and her mother entered. “Hi, I’m going over to Bubbie’s to help get the house ready for the visitors who will come by later. Why don’t you come with me? I know Bubbie wants to see you.”

“Sure,” said Rebecca. “Is Dad coming too?”

“Your father? You must be kidding. He wouldn’t be caught dead over there, and frankly I don’t want him there,” her mother said.

Bubbie’s house was filled with big stuffed furniture covered by an assortment of spreads and protective coverings, although Rebecca could never understand what Bubbie was protecting the furniture from. No cats or dogs ever lived there. End tables and coffee tables were scattered about; on every surface was a doily or two with vases and various knick-knacks set on top, things her grandparents had picked up from different places–little candy bowls, exotic figurines, spice boxes, music boxes, sealed bottles with scenes that snowed when you shook them—worthless tchotchkes her father called them. When she was little, Rebecca loved shaking the bottle with the New York City skyline and watching the snow drift down.

When Rebecca and her mother walked in every mirror in the house was covered with a sheet or towel, customary for a Jewish house of mourning. Her grandmother was sitting on a little footstool, another Jewish mourning custom. “Mom, you don’t have to sit on that now. You can sit on it when the visitors come. Here, sit in a regular chair,” Rebecca’s mother said, taking Bubbie by the arm and guiding her to a stuffed chair. “Talk with Rebecca. I’ll get you some tea,” said her mother.

Bubbie seemed to just notice Rebecca and a smile suddenly brightened her sad face. “Rivka, my sweet beautiful Rivka, come sit with me,” she said. Rebecca kissed Bubbie and pulled up the footstool.

“So my darling, it has been so long. Tell me about yourself. You’re still in school?” Bubbie asked.

“Yes, but I took a few days off to be with you,” Rebecca said.

“And you have a boyfriend? A pretty girl like you must have lots of boyfriends,” Bubbie continued.

“I sort of have a boyfriend, but it is nothing serious,” Rebecca answered. The last thing she wanted to bring up was Tommy. “Tell me about Zadie,” said Rebecca, determined to steer the conversation in another direction. “I heard so many fascinating things at the funeral. I never knew he was a partisan or a labor leader or any of that. What was he like?”

“Oh, your Zadie was more than fascinating. Did you know he rescued me?

“Rescued you? No I didn’t know,” said Rebecca.

“Well, not rescue, exactly, but that is how I always thought of it. You know, back in the old country my family was very, very religious, and my father was very strict. He was going to marry me off to an old widower who had a lot of money–we were very poor. I didn’t love the man. In fact, I hated the man, but my father didn’t care. I had already worked in the widower’s house for over a year doing cooking and cleaning. He was mean; sometimes if I didn’t cook and clean just the way he wanted it, he would hit me or kick me and swear at me. And not just me. He would hit and swear at his children for the littlest things. I complained to my father, but he wouldn’t listen. Then just before the wedding date, your Zadie arrived in our village. He was young and so handsome and had modern ideas, things like choosing who you marry and marrying for love–things girls like you take for granted today. He was a Zionist and was recruiting Jews to go to Israel, but we called it Palestine then. I was quite attracted to him. He saw what was happening with me and my father and he guessed what the widower was like. When I told him about it–and I remember his exact words to this very day–he said nobody who loves you ever hits you, not ever. Later on I saw lots of marriages where husbands beat their wives or abused them in other ways too, but I never forgot those words. I always thought about what Zadie had said to me. My father hated your Zadie and his modern ideas and speeded up plans to marry me to the old widower. I was brought up to do what I was told, but this was something I didn’t want to do. Still, I didn’t know what else I could do, but your Zadie had an idea.”

Rebecca’s mother returned with some tea and then sat down to listen too. Bubbie told the story of how she eloped with Zadie in the middle of the night, how her father and the widower sent men from the village after her but it was too late. How she returned with her new husband a week later, and there was nothing her father or the widower could do. And then Zadie still tried to convince people to go to Palestine. “You never did get to Palestine, did you, Mom?” Rebecca’s mother chimed in.

“Not then. We didn’t get there until it was already Israel and then only to visit. No, your father had too much to do trying to rally people in Europe to the Zionist movement. We went from town to town. I read everything there was about Palestine and Zionism and when we got to a town, Zadie would talk to the men and I would talk with the women. We convinced a lot of people to go. As it turned out, it saved their lives, but we didn’t know that then. We were a real team,” Bubbie continued.

“Wow, that’s so romantic,” marveled Rebecca.

“You think that’s romantic? That’s not the half of it,” Bubbie continued. She told about their great love for each other, how they scrounged for food and often slept outdoors. Zadie always showed her the greatest gentleness and respect, looking away to protect her modesty, she reported. “But he didn’t look away so much. It was a miracle I didn’t get pregnant,” she added, her eyes suddenly sparkling at the memories.

Bubbie went on talking, seemingly oblivious to who was there. Although they sent people off to Palestine, Bubbie and Zadie never got there before World War II began. Then Bubbie went into hiding with partisans while Zadie joined other Jews fighting the Nazis. Bubbie learned some first aid and nursing by helping an old doctor and would care for injured partisans, Jews and non-Jews alike. It was dangerous and often she had to sneak away to another hiding place during the night. Zadie would always find her, returning as often as he could. “Then we would have to rig up a sheet and try to stay as quiet as we could,” Bubbie said with an embarrassed giggle. To hear Bubbie tell it, the biggest problem wasn’t hunger or cold or the danger, although those were constant but the lack of privacy for their lovemaking.

Rebecca couldn’t help herself. “How did you not get pregnant?” she blurted out.

“Rebecca, that’s not something to ask,” her mother immediately admonished her. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“No, it is a good question, especially from a beautiful girl her age living on her own. Rivka, all I know is that God must have been taking care of us. We didn’t have any of the precautions you girls have today. As soon as the war ended, though, I got pregnant with your mother and then your uncles followed right after. God did the right thing for us; I don’t know why we should have been so blessed. But you can’t count on God for this; you and your boyfriend should take precautions.”

Now it was Rebecca’s turned to be embarrassed. Her face instantly turned bright red. Still, she wanted to hear more about Bubbie’s life with Zadie, but other visitors, the frummies, started to arrive carrying trays of food and cakes. Rebecca started taking visitors’ coats, bringing tea, and assuming other chores all the while carefully listening to anything her Bubbie was saying. Slowly it dawned on her that Bubbie wasn’t just the little old lady in the kitchen, but was a real participant, a player in what she imagined a great adventure and some kind of hot lover too, it seemed. Half a century later Bubbie still warmed to memories of lovemaking with Zadie in dangerous woods. Sex with Tommy, Rebecca thought, was not something she much cared to remember, more like a nightmare better forgotten.

After a few hours, the stream of visitors stopped and the last one left. Bubbie went to her bedroom for a nap while Rebecca and her mother cleaned up. An hour later Rebecca heard her Bubbie stirring. Her mother sent her to Bubbie’s room with some fresh tea. Rebecca knocked on the door and entered. She found Bubbie sitting up in bed reading a book.

“Mother sent up some tea. What are you reading?” Rebecca asked.

“Rivka, come sit next to me,” said Bubbie, motioning her onto the bed. “I’m reading a prayer Zadie sang every Friday night, from the Book of Proverbs, Eshes Chayil. Do you know it? A woman of valor who can find/ For her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Ask your mother about it. As a child she used to call it the mommy prayer. Here, read it yourself.”

Rebecca looked at the page and started to read aloud: “Her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Her husband puts his confidence in her, and lacks no good thing.” She read ahead quickly to herself. It spoke of the woman planting vineyards and spinning cloth and helping her husband. “This is kind of corny today,” she said finally.

Bubbie took the book and began to chant very quietly from memory in Hebrew, closing her eyes as the words drifted out of her mouth from someplace far away. Rebecca tried to follow along in English: She is clothed with strength and splendor; she looks to the future cheerfully. Her mouth is full of wisdom, her tongue with kindly teaching. Her husband praises her. Many women have done well but you surpass them all. Grace is deceptive; beauty is illusory. Extol her for the fruit of her hand, and let her works praise her in the gates.

She opened her eyes and turned to Rebecca. “Yes, I guess it would sound kind of corny to young women like you. But when I was your age, women weren’t respected. They didn’t have any rights. Many men treated them worse than animals. Jewish tradition requires that women be treated with utmost respect, even in, you know, bedroom matters. I know young women today think that Judaism treats women as second-class citizens, but that’s no so. Your Zadie sang this prayer every Friday night praising me to God. It was one of the ways he let me know how much he appreciated me and respected what I did, even though it was different than the things he did. Love and respect, if you have that, you and your husband can do anything, survive anything. Believe me, I know.”

Tears formed in Rebecca’s eyes. “I wish a man appreciated me and treated me with that kind of respect,” she sobbed. Bubbie reached over and pulled Rebecca to her breast.

Observant Jews observe shiva, the immediate period of visits to the mourner, for a week. Rebecca joined Bubbie every day. When there weren’t visitors around, the two of them would sit and chat. Sometimes they would take a walk around the block, always talking as if Bubbie needed to pour a lifetime of what she had lived and learned into this young woman. Bubbie talked about their life in the US. She told of labor strikes over the sweatshops in New York; once Zadie pulled her out from the middle of a riot during which she had been badly injured and nursed her in a dingy tenement, afraid to take her to a hospital for fear the police would find her. Another time she had to bail Zadie out of jail. Years later, they were both given a plaque by a U.S. Senator honoring their work in the union movement. The plaque is still hanging on the wall in the living room, Bubbie pointed out.

Rebecca listened eagerly, soaking up every word. Sometimes she disagreed with Bubbie, usually about the way Judaism treated women. “That’s not so,” Bubbie would counter each of her objections. “Yes, in synagogue women may be what you call second class, but at home, women make the rules,” she pointed out. She knew the Torah and explained how God, through Moses, gave women property rights from the start. She cited the Talmud about women’s rights in what she referred to as bedroom matters. She even pulled out her Ketubah, her Jewish marriage license. “It is all there in writing, even about love making,” Bubbie declared proudly.

They talked about violence too. Rebecca marveled how Bubbie had been right in the middle of the partisans fighting the Nazis and later on the picket lines with the strikers when riots broke out. “But you and Zadie are so gentle. It so not like you,” wondered Rebecca.

When you are threatened, Bubbie explained, you have to protect yourself. And, there are certain things that are worth fighting for, like human dignity. Even the Torah describes how Jews fought to win the Promised Land. But when it comes to personal relationships, you can never be violent, not if you love the person. “Don’t get me wrong. We sometimes argued. I could get really mad at Zadie and he would get mad at me too. But we never hit each other. Remember, nobody who loves you ever hits you, not ever. We didn’t even use nasty words to each other, like you hear people use today. No, even when we fought it was always with love and respect.”

Bubbie’s words made Rebecca shudder thinking about her relationship with Tommy. Then she thought about her mother. Did Rebecca’s mother know all of this, she wondered? “No, I could never get your mother interested in Jewish things. She would make faces when Zadie would chant Eshes Chayil. I think she was embarrassed. It is my greatest regret, my only regret that I couldn’t get her interested in Jewish things. I don’t know what I did wrong,” said Bubbie sadly. “But you, you understand these things, I can tell.” Rebecca wished she understood, but she really felt confused. When she thought about Bubbie and Zadie and then thought about Tommy, it just seemed so crazy.

“When do you plan to return to school?” Rebecca’s mother asked one morning toward the end of the week of shiva.

Rebecca had so enjoyed these days with Bubbie and so dreaded going back to school. Well, not school exactly but Tommy. She couldn’t imagine facing Tommy, his rage, his violence, his humiliating demands and behavior. It was just too much. “I might not go back,” Rebecca blurted out unexpectedly.

Her mother was stunned. “But you’re doing so well. I thought you loved it. Something’s the matter, isn’t it?”

Rebecca hadn’t intended to say that and now she didn’t know how to explain. How could she tell her mother about Tommy?

“It’s that boy, isn’t it? Tommy,” her mother said for her.

Rebecca nodded. “How did you guess?” she stammered.

“He called here,” her mother said.

Rebecca felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. “Here? You talked to him? When? What did he say?” said Rebecca, shocked that Tommy would even find the phone number, although it wasn’t exactly a secret.

“You were at Bubbie’s, and I was out. He left a message on the machine. I saved it. You can hear it for yourself,” she said, adding quietly, “It’s disgusting.”

Rebecca, in horror, could immediately imagine the message. Tommy was probably drunk and gross. She walked to the answering machine rewound the tape and listened. It was Tommy all right. “Where the fuck is Rebecca, that fat, ugly fucking slut? Well, tell her Tommy called and she better get her fat ass cunt back here right away or…” Rebecca hit stop.

“There’s more,” her mother said. There was both anger and sadness in her voice.

“I don’t need to hear more. I’m sorry,” Rebecca said and started to cry. Her mother hugged her for a long time and then led Rebecca to the sofa. “Now you know why I don’t want to go back to school. He’s awful, horrible. He’s been a terrible nightmare,” she said through the sobbing. Slowly, she told her mother the entire story of Tommy. How what seemed like a wonderful romance quickly turned into a mean, nasty relationship that she couldn’t seem to get out of.

Her mother cuddled her and rocked her. “My precious darling. You’ve been living this hell and I didn’t even sense anything was wrong. Nobody can handle things like this alone. You’re not alone in this. I’m with you, and your father is behind you all the way.”

“Daddy knows? Daddy heard this?” Rebecca asked, amazed and horrified.

“Your father wanted to immediately call the police, but I talked him out of it for now. We might yet. It depends on how we all decide to handle it. Whatever we do, we’re going to do it together.”

“Oh God, Daddy knows,” Rebecca moaned.

“Daddy is on your side. Look, he may not be the most sensitive man and sometimes he is not even very nice and we certainly have our problems like every other couple, but when it comes to protecting his daughter, he is right there,” said her mother.

“Please don’t tell Bubbie. She’ll be so ashamed of me,” Rebecca began sobbing again.

Rebecca’s mother called the university administration. Security officers met Rebecca and her parents at Rebecca’s room, which had been trashed by Tommy in a drunken rage. The bureau and desk overturned, lamps smashed, clothes and books strewn all over the room. In surprisingly quick action, the University expelled Tommy, and under the threat of criminal charges he agreed to leave the state and never go near Rebecca again. Rebecca also took out a restraining order against him although she didn’t think that would stop Tommy. Once he was gone Rebecca quickly reestablished friendships with her former girlfriends and moved into a dorm suite with two of them.

It didn’t take long for Tommy to figure out where she’d gone–he still had his pals on campus–and start calling. First the calls were angry, nasty. She hung up on him immediately. Her roommates hung up on him too. Then the sweet, apologetic calls started coming. The promises, his pleading–he would change, it would be different, it would be like it was at the start–tugged at her emotions as he knew it would. She hung up the phone without saying a word, but her heart ached. Gifts started arriving. First flowers, then fancy candy, cute stuffed animals, even jewelry. Encouraged by her roommates, she immediately threw it all in the trash. Her roommates let Tommy’s friends know his gifts were immediately trashed, including the jewelry.

Then Tommy showed up at her dorm suite door. One roommate, Sarah, opened the door at a gentle knock. She was shocked and angry to see him there. “Get out. You could be arrested for being here,” she informed him. He tried to push his way into the room. Sarah threw her full weight against the door catching Tommy off guard and slammed it shut, throwing the bolt and slipping on the chain lock in a fast, smooth motion.

“Not until I see Rebecca. I love her. I won’t leave until I see her,” he insisted from the other side of the door.

Reluctantly Rebecca came to the door, the portable phone in her hand. “Go away. You don’t know what love is,” she called through the locked door.

Now Rebecca and Sarah heard a new sound, soft whimpering. “Is he crying?” Rebecca asked.

“If he is, it’s just another of his manipulative tricks,” Sarah said quietly, and then shouted through the door. “Go away or we’ll call the police.”

“I’ve changed. Really, I have. It will be all different, I promise. I swear it,” Tommy pleaded, whimpering like a scared puppy.

Rebecca felt truly moved by Tommy’s tears. “I can’t believe he’s crying. It’s so not like him,” she whispered to Sarah. “Maybe he really has changed?”

“In a couple of months? Don’t kid yourself. He is the same monster he always was,” Sarah insisted. “Just think of the things he did to you.”

Rebecca was torn. She thought of what he did to her, but she thought of those early, good moments with Tommy too. Then she thought about Bubbie. Nobody who loves you hits you, not ever–the words reverberated in her mind. With newfound determination she called through the door: “Go away and leave me alone. I don’t ever want to see you, talk to you, or hear from you again. Not now, not someday, not ever.” Tommy’s sobbing grew louder.

Sarah opened the door just a crack, as far as the chain allowed. “Get the hell out of here or I’m calling the police. I mean it.” Rebecca stood to the side, out of Tommy’s sight.

“Stay the fuck out of this, you stinking cunt,” he hissed.

Rebecca stepped into Tommy’s view and pressed some buttons on the phone. “This is Rebecca Smith in 324 Sykes. Tommy McCrory is banging on my door in violation of a restraining order.”

“Don’t do this to me, Rebecca. Please, won’t you just…” This time it was Rebecca who threw her full weight against the door, slamming it shut. A minute later, Sarah and Rebecca looked out the window as a patrol car, its emergency lights flashing, pulled up and two burly campus security officers got out. Moments later, the local police drove up as well.

Rebecca never heard from Tommy again. She went on to date other men. With some she had serious relationships for a while. Some even wanted to marry her. All promised her love, but she wanted something more. With Bubbie’s words always in her mind–nobody who loves you hits you, not ever–she insisted on respect along with love. Eventually she did marry a nice guy; a passionate yet sensitive lover, maybe not the smartest or the most handsome or the best athlete or the one with the biggest salary or most important job but the one who showered her not only with love but with respect.

They would light candles on every Friday night, bless their children, and say Kiddush. He never chanted the mommy prayer and she didn’t ask him to. It really was too corny, she decided, although she loved the idea of it. Instead, she would close her eyes momentarily and hear Bubbie chanting it as she had done that day in her bedroom. As her children grew older, Rebecca would tell them more and more about their great grandparents and someday chant the mommy prayer for them. Everybody, she believed, deserved love and respect and must never accept anything less.

New Beginnings (a Tu B’Shevat story)

If you ask Allie, things started going downhill after what everyone now refers to as ‘the scandal.’ But things weren’t going well for her even before the incident. She had trouble fitting in at school and out of school for that matter. Yes, she participated in activities at school, such as the orchestra, where she played cello, and she played on the soccer team, at least until the scandal, but she was actually quite shy, maybe even a bit of a loner. At the least, she had an independent streak. She didn’t have many friends and no close friends, and certainly none among the popular crowd. The boys weren’t terribly interested in her, but that seemed fine with her; she didn’t appear very interested in them. That’s another thing that makes the incident so puzzling.

Some people think the whole thing had to do with her looks; that she really longed for boys to be interested in her and thought this was how she could be attractive to them. You know, putting out to win attention. But I think those who say that are underestimating Allie or don’t really know her. Sure, she didn’t think she was pretty and, maybe she didn’t have the right look in the eyes of the popular kids who thought only girls who were blond and ridiculously thin but still had big breasts were pretty. Allie was tall and lanky with somewhat small breasts. (Ironically, she has grown into a striking, tall, shapely young woman, but that came a few years later.) Her hair is black and naturally frizzy, which caused her endless fits along with her thick dark eyebrows and large, dark eyes. Her mom suggested more than once that her kind of hair would look better cut short, but long hair was the look everyone wanted. So Allie wrestled with various combinations of braids and ponytails and different hair clips and scrunchies to tame her unruly hair. I prefer to think her hair reflected her spirit and her attitude–independent, daring, bold, obstinate, even wild and barely contained. In that sense, he hair explains the incident as much as anything else, but people scoff if I suggest it. No, they’re convinced she was just desperate to attract the interest of the popular guys who otherwise only looked at the prettiest girls.

The scandal actually wasn’t a very big thing, but the newspapers got hold of it and then TV news reporters showed up with their cameras and microphones. At that point, the whole thing blew up into this huge circus with investigations and finger pointing and hearings and everything. All the hoopla probably scarred Allie and the others more than the actual incident. But maybe that’s what some people intended; that it would teach all of them a lesson. Don’t get me wrong. I think what she did was atrocious, lewd, and frankly, pretty dumb. It reflected incredibly poor judgment, and I was extremely disappointed in her.

The whole thing happened on a school bus returning from a soccer game. Allie played on the varsity soccer team, not a star but a solid contributor. The boys’ and girls’ soccer teams had games with the same school on the same afternoon, an unusual scheduling occurrence. After the games (the girls lost, the boys won) the kids piled onto the buses to return. Usually the boys and girls teams travel on their own buses but this time the boys’ and girls’ teams mixed it up for the ride home. Allie and some of her teammates ended up sitting in the back of one bus with a bunch of boys, several of whom were stars on the team and were very popular. I guess the boys were really pumped from their win. Someone, it was never clear who, suggested a dare game. First one of the girls was dared to kiss one of the boys and she did. A boy was dared to squeeze another girl’s breast and he did. Then someone suggested a girl give one of the boys a hand job. It was Allie’s turn.

At first she was reluctant, but the other kids in the back of the bus started shouting and egging her on. Then a boy dropped his shorts and held his penis out. “I’ll get it started for you,” he said. Meanwhile everyone was shouting and cheering. Whether Allie was baffled or confused or simply shocked by this behavior, she reached over, put her hand around his penis, and started stroking it. I gather she wasn’t very accomplished and experienced at this task, for which I am happy, and after a minute or so nothing happened. She let go of his penis. He pulled his shorts back up. Suddenly everyone seemed embarrassed. The incident could have ended then and there, but it didn’t.

No sooner had the kids gotten off the buses and into the cars of their parents waiting in the parking lot then word of the incident spread, getting wildly exaggerated in the process. Before long people were buzzing about the consensual intercourse that had occurred right on the bus. Although the media did not use the names of Allie or the boys or the other girls because of their ages, everyone soon knew exactly who was involved. Parents were justifiably outraged. The school administration, the league, the school committee, and the police all became involved.

The official fallout from the incident was predictable. All the kids who were in the back of the bus, girls and boys, were barred from playing any school sports for the rest of the year. Allie, the two other girls directly involved, and the three boys who directly participated also were suspended from school for three days and put on probation for the rest of the year. It wasn’t clear what the exact charges were, but everyone agreed that some rules must have been broken and some punishment was required. The school and the community had to make a clear statement that this kind of behavior was totally unacceptable and would not be tolerated.

The unofficial fallout, however, hit Allie but not the others. According to the buzz, she was the instigator. She was a slut. She had been throwing herself at these boys all along. It was her only way to get any guy to pay attention to her. She had been giving hand jobs to boys and doing much, much more all along. And, of course, she was blamed for the subsequent poor play of both the girls and boys sports teams since key athletes had been barred from competing for the rest of the year. None of this was true of course. Not a single word of it. While she was far from an innocent victim in this affair–she didn’t deny her involvement–she certainly wasn’t the instigator. School had never been fun for Allie, although she was an excellent student. As I said, even before the incident she had never really fit in. Now, she was clearly on the outside and an object of ridicule. Kids who had been friendly toward her avoided her. Even kids in the orchestra shunned her and whispered behind her back. She put up a brave and dignified front, but I think she was miserable. At this point, however, I will turn the story over to Allie and let her tell it her own way.

I hate high school. They treat you like a child. I hate the ridiculous games you have to play, like turning in stupid math exercises. If I get an A on the test, why do I have to turn in some stupid homework exercises? Same with papers. Why does the teacher need to see the outline? If I write an A paper, what does the outline matter? That’s what I mean by ridiculous games–all the stupid shit you have to do instead of doing the real work, the only work that should count for anything. This isn’t new. This didn’t just start after the big goddamn scandal. It’s always been like this, just stupid, ridiculous games.

And then there are the kids. Did you ever see the kids here? They all look like they walked out of a Gap or Abercrombie clothing catalog, a whole goddamn Abercrombie army. They wear the same tops and the same jeans and the same jackets and have the same straight hair and stupid hairstyles. And they think the same way, or don’t think might be a better way to put it. Do they think about the environment? No. Do they think about racism? No. Do they think about violence or war or anything important? No. All they think about are the latest CDs and MP3s and cable TV shows and clothes. The guys are worse. If it doesn’t have to do with sports or cars, they’re clueless. The only ones with any brains are the geeks, but all they think about are computers. Even the kids in the orchestra are assholes. I can’t wait to get to college and get away from these zombies.

Anyway, I don’t really know why I touched that kid’s dick. I thought he was one of the most stuck up, full-of-himself assholes on the soccer team. Maybe I should have just yanked it off. You know, I’d never seen a dick before for real. I mean I’d seen pictures and maybe I’d inadvertently glimpsed my father naked for an instant once. Of course, I diaper Nathan, my baby brother, but he’s just a little baby (my father calls him our unexpected gift from God). Anyway, he doesn’t count. So maybe I was just curious. I don’t know. Now they call me a slut. Who are they kidding? Some of these girls are having sex every week. I have been kissed once, two years ago at summer soccer camp by a guy who lives three hundred miles away. But suddenly I’m this big sex maniac who is after every stupid guy in this school. And they all know it’s a big fuckin’ lie.

I mean these kids are such jerks. They can’t seem to let it go. I was, like, walking by this one kid who recently broke up with his girlfriend and you can bet they had sex. He was standing around with a bunch of his pals. “Hey, how about servicing me?” he called, pretending to unzip his fly.

“I’d like to but I don’t think I can,” I purred as sweetly as I could. “Susan said yours is so small she needed a magnifying glass just to find it. I guess that’s why she stopped going with you.” Really, who needs this kind of shit?

So now I’m just, like, counting the days until I get the hell out of here and go to college, but that’s gonna be another year and a half. As far as having a life, I didn’t have a life before and I have even less now. A few kids used to talk with me during the day. I would sit with a couple of girls in the cafeteria, but that’s all over. The day after our suspension ended, I went to my usual seat in the cafeteria and they got up and walked away. Well, pardon me. One of those girls was on the bus. In fact, she was the next one in the dare game; she was ready to kiss his goddamn dick. But now she isn’t going to sit with me any more. Fuck her.

My parents. Oh God, where do I start with my parents? Actually, they have been pretty good about this whole thing. They even believed me, believed that all I did was touch it with my goddamn hand. You couldn’t guess all the stupid parents in this town who thought we had, like, full intercourse; that we actually fucked on the bus. How stupid can you be? Have they ever been on one of those buses? The seats are barely wide enough for your butt. I guess they thought we must have done it standing up. I used to do some babysitting, but I guess I can forget about that, except for my baby brother of course. Anyway, my parents can’t understand why I did it, why I didn’t just turn away from the whole thing. “It is so not like you, Allie,” my father kept repeating, shaking his head as he would say it. I guess I haven’t been very helpful in explaining it because, like I said, even now I’m not sure why I did it myself. I know it was stupid. At one point, my parents even hired a lawyer to help me with all the investigations and hearings. I don’t think the lawyer really did much, but I appreciated that she was there. Actually she was pretty nice. Maybe I’ll become a lawyer and try to help kids.

Now I feel my parents are always watching me. They used to be fine letting me alone. I’d spend time in my room or go for long walks by myself or just kinda veg out in front of the TV and they’d be cool. But now they keep asking how I am, what I’m doing, do I have any plans, what happened in school–all that kind of stuff. Believe me, you don’t want to fuckin’ know what happened in school, I want to shout at them.

The only thing we regularly fight about is synagogue. They are pretty observant. I had to go to Hebrew school until I had my bat mitzvah. My bat mitzvah was OK, but I hated Hebrew school. Nobody, like, wanted to be there, all the kids were always acting out and causing trouble, and nobody learned anything anyway. It was a huge waste of time. When I was little, they took me to synagogue almost every Saturday. They loved it. They would sometimes lead different parts of the service. They would hang around with their friends during kiddush or get into discussion about the weekly parsha, the week’s stupid Torah reading. But I hated it. It was boring, and I never made any friends there. People tried to be nice and friendly, but I don’t know. I just never got into it. I mean, like, I can see that there is good stuff there and maybe it will mean a lot to me when I’m older, but I just never got into it. As soon as I had my bat mitzvah, I told my parents I’m outta here. Every now and then they insist I come with them, usually at holidays or if one of them is doing something special, like reading the Torah.

At least the people at the synagogue don’t treat me like I’m some sort of scum. Most of their kids go to Hebrew day school or Hebrew high school so they don’t really pay much attention to what happens in the public high school. The few that do go to public high school are even bigger losers and more out of it than me so they don’t count. Also, everybody there respects my parents and probably believes the truth about what happened. I went with my parents shortly after the whole thing exploded–they insisted I come and I didn’t feel like fighting with them. Everyone acted like nothing happened. Well not exactly like nothing happened; they came up and just said they were glad to see me. Even the kids who were there acted pleasant enough. At least nobody asked me to jerk him off. That alone was a big improvement.

So I spent Christmas vacation pretty much by myself. I went skiing for a couple of days with my family. My mom found a babysitter she trusted at the ski lodge so she was able to ski with my dad and me some of the time. That was the most fun I’d had in months. For New Years Eve our family always goes out to dinner with another family. This year my parents brought along the baby, but he mostly slept. I hate going out to dinner with my parents, but what else did I have to do on New Year’s Eve? It’s not like anybody was asking me out on a date or inviting me to a party. After dinner we went home and, like, watched videos until midnight when we watched the ball drop in Times Square. Whoopee.

The real problem is coming up next week. My parents are going out of town for some kind of convention. My mom is a social worker and they are having a conference. They do this every year. I wanted to stay home for the weekend, but they said no way, especially after all that’s happened. They want me to go with them, but I refuse. I went in the past. It is always at the same place, a crummy hotel in some nothing city. It’s not even in the city but at an interstate highway interchange outside the city. It has an indoor swimming pool that smells funny. I’m not going to hang around a smelly pool all weekend, that’s for sure. So basically, I’m fucked.

OK, you get the picture. Allie is a very unhappy camper. You can see that as well as I can. Maybe you’ve guessed by now that I’m her father. Well, we’re certainly not going to leave her home, and she doesn’t want to come with us. That’s a problem. If she had a good friend who we trusted, we’d arrange a sleepover or invite the friend along and the two could hang out by the pool. Believe me, the only smell is chlorine. But whatever friends she had have disappeared since the incident. I didn’t know what to do, so I talked with our rabbi. The people at our synagogue have provided the only emotional support we’ve gotten through all of this. I don’t know what I would have done without them. I went to the rabbi, but I wasn’t expecting much, mainly because I knew Allie resisted anything having to do with the synagogue. I can’t even blame her; I hated everything having to do with being Jewish until I went to college and found myself in the most goyish place you could imagine. The nearest Hillel was 120 miles away. One day I realized that my best friends were the few other Jews there. Subconsciously, I guess, we all tried to connect to Jewish things. So I understood Allie’s rejection of anything having to do with the synagogue. When she gets older she will change, at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

The rabbi actually came up with a suggestion. That very same weekend was Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of Trees. It began in Biblical times as a way of determining the age of a tree for the purposes of giving its first fruits as offerings to God and for knowing when you were entitled to harvest the fruits for yourself. The synagogue’s high school youth group was going away to a rustic camp for a weekend-long Sabbath encampment that coincided with the holiday. It would be a Shabbaton, a Shabbat celebration that included music and dancing and sports and games along with prayer and study. Part of the celebration would be a Tu B’Shevat Seder, a special meal featuring all kinds of exotic fruits from Israel. I asked the rabbi a few questions. Who would be attending? Who would be supervising? The usual things any parent wants to know. For myself, I would love something like this; at least I would now. But you couldn’t have paid me enough money as a high school student to attend something like that. I knew what Allie’s reaction would be without having to ask.

The blowup came a few days before we were to leave. “Have you figured out what you are packing for the conference this weekend?” I asked Allie.

“I’m not going,” she declared.

“What are you going to do instead?” I asked, forcing myself to be calm.

“I haven’t decided. I’m staying here,” she said, her voice quavering.

“That’s not acceptable. We don’t leave 16-year-olds home alone for a weekend,” I replied quietly.

She blew up: “Just because of some stupid thing. It wasn’t, like, even my fault! You trust me to take care of Nathan. Why can’t I stay alone? What do you think I’m going to do? Do you think hordes of sex-crazed boys are going to descend on this house? Do you think I’ll invite motorcycle gangs here for orgies? Do you think I’ll invite the hockey team over for a gang bang? Do you…”

She was screaming and shaking with rage. I grabbed her and tried to hug her tightly but she struggled and continued screaming. She is a pretty strong girl and an athlete so it took all the strength I had to hold her in a bear hug. “It’s OK, It’s OK. I love you. I love you,” I kept repeating to her as quietly and calmly as I could while we were flailing around on the sofa. Finally, she stopped struggling and fell into quiet sobbing against me. Only then did I relax my grip a bit.

In desperation I said, “The high school kids at synagogue are going away this weekend to a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton. If you want to go there instead, you can.”

I expected her to tell me to drop dead. There was a long silence. “What’s a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton?” she finally asked, almost in a whisper. I explained it to her.

“Will I know anybody there?”

“David, the youth director, will be leading it. You know him. Otherwise, it’s a lot of the same kids from the synagogue,” I said. She closed her eyes. She didn’t blow it off immediately anyway. At least she was thinking about it. I decided to just keep my mouth shut. God, I prayed silently, please help her.

I can’t believe I let my father talk me into going to this stupid Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton–the New Year for the Trees. Oh great, another New Year celebration. It must have been because I had such a great time celebrating the regular New Year. But faced with the alternative, what else could I do?

We all piled onto the bus–a real bus with a restroom and TV screens, not a crummy yellow school bus like at the high school. We threw our sleeping bags and backpacks underneath. I took a seat by the window. Some girl who I vaguely remembered from nursery school took the seat next to me. She said hi, and I smiled back. David had loaded the bus with a bunch of snacks for the trip–chips, soda, pretzels, candy. He started walking up and down the aisle of the bus tossing stuff to the kids. I don’t know why, but I said I didn’t want anything. The girl sitting next to me, Talia, took a bunch of things. Then she started trading stuff with the girls across the aisles and some boys sitting behind us who I vaguely knew from bar and bat mitzvah classes. Packages of snacks started flying all around the bus. I was sure one of the chaperones would yell at us to stop, but no one did. “Are you sure you don’t want something?” Talia asked, holding out chips and a package of peanut butter crackers. What the heck, I took the chips and thanked her. A moment later one of the guys behind us leaned over the seat and passed me a can of soda.

Then they started, like, showing a movie. It was a pretty lame story about some really popular girl who actually is a real bitch. She had a spell put on her that turned her into a middle age guy. As a guy, she acted like a real obnoxious asshole. In the end, the girl learns what kind of bitch she really had been. Anyway, I’m always happy to see some popular bitchy girl get what’s coming to her but overall the movie sucked. It showed a lot of pushy, obnoxious behavior. Maybe it just reminded me too much of the jerks I knew from school.

And maybe that’s what inspired one asshole who started walking down the aisle shouting hey, who wants to play a dare game like the soccer team at Washington. That’s the name for my school, George Washington High. I was tempted to shout whip it out you asshole and let everybody see how little you got. At that moment, Talia turned to me. “Ignore him. He’s an asshole.” She must have, like, read my mind. A chaperone stood up and told him to shut up and get back in his seat. Well, I guess everyone knew about me. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Anyway, we arrived at the Shabbaton, which was, like, being held at a summer camp that had a couple of cabins and some other buildings you could use in the winter. All the girls went to one big cabin along with the women chaperones and all the boys went to another with their chaperones. I felt like everybody was looking at me. I just wanted to go home. Instead, I took the bed next to Talia. Then we were told to get ready for Shabbat. Suddenly all these girls were running around getting into their best clothes and doing up their hair. My mom had me pack one synagogue dress. It was a little shorter than what most of the other girls were wearing and had short sleeves. Everyone else wore long sleeves. I felt a little funny and besides, it was cold. So, I put on a long-sleeved sweater too. My hair is always an incredible hassle, and they didn’t give us near enough time. One of the girls had an extra scarf that was pretty nice. She loaned it to me and showed me how to tie up my hair so it actually looked almost decent.

Boy, I was really out of it at the Shabbat services and the singing they did for the evening activity. I mean, like, I had my bat mitzvah, but I don’t really know the prayers. And since I stopped going to Jewish summer camp when I started going to soccer camp I don’t know the songs and dances. So I was kind of out of it during the Friday night activities. A couple of girls pulled me into a big circle dance. The boys had their own circle going, sometimes they would circle the girls and sometimes they’d be off on their own and sometimes we would all mix it up in one big mess. The loudmouth asshole from the bus was there but I avoided him. Mostly I stood on the side. Just keep telling yourself: this has to be better than being at that social worker conference. But I wasn’t convinced.

Services on Saturday were not nearly as bad as I expected. Since kids were leading it and doing everything, there was a lot more fooling around, but it was still pretty respectful. I refused to lead any prayers. I’m just not familiar enough with that stuff. But they kept offering me honors. Finally, one boy said, “You have shishi.” At first I couldn’t figure out what he meant or if I even heard him right. I almost thought he was saying something dirty to me, you know some sexual thing. I must have looked confused. “The sixth aliyah. You have the sixth aliyah, shishi.”

What does he expect from me? I can’t count in Hebrew. “I can’t. I haven’t done that since my bat mitzvah. I’ll make a fool of myself,” I protested.

“No you won’t. Anyway, nobody’s judging style points or keeping score. The only important thing is to try. You’ll be great,” he said, and turned away before I could say no.

So I managed to get up to the bimah at the right time and clunk my way through the prayers before and after the aliyah making only a couple of mistakes. Nobody seemed to care. When I left the bimah people gave me high fives. Of course they gave anyone who did anything high fives, even idiot-proof things like just opening the Ark, but who cares. It kinda felt good.

They had a bunch of Torah discussions planned for Saturday afternoon, stuff my father would have liked. I didn’t want to go. Some guys put together pickup basketball in the rec hall. Talia and a bunch of other girls, like, decided to skip the discussions and go for a walk since it wasn’t very cold. They have a bunch of walking trails around here. Talia invited me to join them. We ended up not walking very far. Mainly they just talked about stuff–clothes, parents, their school. I didn’t have much to say. Then they started talking about boys. I especially didn’t have much to say. Really, what the hell do I know? Then one of them turned to me and asked: “What is it like to touch a boy’s thing?

I was shocked. I should have guessed this was coming, but I had kind of forgotten about it. Like, I was about to tell her to fuck off. Then I thought I’d give her a smart-ass answer, like it’s not as much fun as handling a cucumber. But all of them seemed so sincere and interested and nice, and there was no hint they were judging me or pulling any of that catty girl shit you see so much at school. So, I told them the real story of the incident, more actually than I ever told anyone, including the lawyer, the stupid investigators, and even my father. When I was finished, Talia hugged me. Then the others hugged me too. Real hugs. We walked back with our arms linked. The loudmouth asshole from the bus was coming out of one of the Torah discussions and saw us. He made some stupid comment about our skipping the discussion. I turned around and gave him the finger. Then we laughed and kept going.

Saturday night was the Tu B’Shevat Seder, which turns out to be just a meal with a lot of weird fruits and nuts and berries that you eat in a specific order. It’s all supposed to be stuff they have in Israel. You’re supposed to have different wines too, red and white, but because we’re just in high school, they served white and purple grape juice. I’m not surprised they wouldn’t serve us real wine, not that I even like wine. Anyway, you sit in a circle and someone explains each thing and throws in stuff about symbolic this and symbolic that. Then someone else talks about Israel. Then you recite a bunch of blessings thanking God for the different foods we have been given. The whole thing is supposed to be about new beginnings because it’s the New Year for the trees. The new blossoms are first appearing on the plants in Israel at this time of year although there is snow on the ground here. The natural cycle is starting fresh again. OK, new beginnings, I get it. Enough already.

Anyway, you are supposed to try all the different foods. I’m, like, your classic picky eater. My parents keep trying to push weird food on me at home, stuff like tofu, but I like normal food. Well, at a Tu B’Shevat Seder you have to at least try everything. You’re supposed to give new beginnings a chance. So I tried pomegranates, dates, figs, and a bunch of other stuff, even tropical stuff like mangos and papayas that had nothing to do with Israel. The pomegranates had all these seeds and were hard to eat. The dates were sticky, but the figs weren’t too bad.

Something, however, didn’t sit in my stomach too well. After sampling a bunch of things I suddenly felt very hot and my throat and chest felt real tight. One kid was talking to me and stopped in mid-sentence. Then he asked if something was wrong. I couldn’t speak. Everyone else sitting around in our circle looked at me too. I didn’t know if I was choking or what. Then, I jumped up and dashed for the door, not taking a coat or anything. I barely got outside when everything I had eaten in my whole life shot right out of my mouth. It hit the snow immediately outside the door–green, orange, yellow, pinkish, reddish, brown, the whole stupid rainbow–it really looked gross. But I immediately felt better, except my mouth tasted like shit. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Talia.

“Are you OK?” she asked. Then she noticed, “Yuck,” she said, but I already knew that.

“I’m OK now, but I feel really stupid. I have to go back to the room and brush my teeth or wash my mouth out or something. I’m sorry,” I said. Talia grabbed our jackets and went back with me.

After the Tu B’Shevat Seder, there was a regular dance. Everybody was being especially nice to me, but I felt really stupid and had to keep telling people I was all right. Anyway, this time they had a bunch of decent CDs and it was just like any high school dance except smaller. A couple of guys came up to me and started talking about soccer. It turns out they knew the boys involved in the incident from soccer camp and always considered them to be obnoxious assholes. I wasn’t sure what that meant they thought of me, but I just went along. Then one of the boys asked me to dance a slow dance if I promised not to throw up on him. I promised; what the hell.

When I picked Allie up at the bus, I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst, that the Shabbaton had been a disaster. She didn’t say much, which I decided to take as a positive sign. She seemed to be thinking as we drove home. Finally, she said, “Most of those kids are OK.”

Back home I noticed the phone started ringing again. Most dads complain that their teenagers spend inordinate amounts of time on the phone. Allie never spent very much time on the phone, and since the incident almost nobody has called for her, except prank calls. Now the phone was ringing repeatedly. I made a point to answer the phone a few times. When the caller asked for Allie, I innocuously replied, “May I tell her who’s calling?” I recognized the names. It turned out they were girls from the synagogue. One time it was a boy, also from the synagogue.

Tu B’Shevat signals new beginnings. It is a time to start fresh. Here in America, even though we are still in the deepest, darkest part of winter, Tu B’Shevat reminds us that the long, cold winter is coming to an end and a fresh start soon awaits us. You can’t imagine how hard I prayed that Tu B’Shevat would signal a new beginning for all of us but mostly for Allie. One evening, after a couple of phone calls, Allie came downstairs and asked if we were going to services this Shabbat. “Of course,” I said, “want to come with us?” I don’t know how many times I’ve asked her to join us in the three years since her bat mitzvah. She always says no. This time she said yes and turned back to her room. I returned to what I was doing and prayed silently: thank you God for a new beginning.

It’s a good thing that God grants us new beginnings because we all make mistakes. We might be able to patch some things up but we can’t really go back and undo what we’ve done, much as we’d often like to. But God gives us lots of opportunities to start fresh and move forward from there.

For Allie that Tu B’Shevat was indeed a new beginning. She never went back to the high school soccer team. Instead she threw herself into a whole new set of activities involving the kids at the synagogue. Later she went on to an excellent college, spent a year studying in Israel, and now works as a Jewish youth education director, even organizing events like a Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton. And, as I mentioned earlier, she has grown to be a confident, attractive young woman with a bright future. She is even seeing a very nice young man. They are bubbling over with plans–marriage, travel, adventure, living in Israel, children.

I want to believe that God cares about each of us and steers our lives in ways we may never recognize or understand. I like to think God is with us, at least when we most need it. Allie was very unhappy before the scandal. I could see that but was powerless to help her. What does a father of a teenager know anyway? The scandal changed everything. It forced Allie to start fresh. And what a difference it made.

Dating

If I lift my eyes away from David’s bandaged face, away from the tube going into his nose and the wires attached to the monitors and the bag dripping fluids into his arm I can see out the window to the Mediterranean Sea. Palm trees frame the view of bright blue ocean and deep, clear blue sky, both so blue and bright you can barely tell one from the other. I can’t see the actual beach, but I know it is there, a gleaming ivory strip of pristine sand.

David and I were lying on that beach yesterday, at least I think it was yesterday. I was modeling a bikini he had bought for me from Victoria’s Secret as a honeymoon present. He was nearly panting with excitement when he saw me in it. I felt awesome. Although I enjoyed his excitement, I felt more exposed than I like in public so I wore a long white gauzy blouse as a cover up most of the time. Was he disappointed? I’m not sure; he didn’t say anything at least.

We have been married for what, four days now, maybe five? I’ve lost count. I don’t know today’s date. I couldn’t tell you the time of day except that the sun is high in the sky. David and I came here, to Israel, for our honeymoon. We were married last Saturday night. I’d known David since I was a child, but I only realized how much I loved him and wanted him in the last year or so.

This past year, smothered in his love, has been the best year of my life. He’s wanted me for longer than that, but I spent a lot of time holding him at arm’s length, not letting him get too close. I’m not sure why, and already I feel the regret surging through me. How many more delicious years like this past year would we both have had if I hadn’t been so stubborn and foolish? If David doesn’t pull through my remorse over this alone will kill me. And he might not pull through; the doctors won’t give me any odds. All they say is they are doing everything they can, and I don’t doubt it. I pray it is enough.

I won’t even get into the guilt I will feel if he dies. We were safely in our hotel, making love and then resting. I remembered I had run out of sunscreen earlier. David, who doesn’t rest for long under any circumstances, jumped up and announced he would go to what looked like a pharmacy across the street from the hotel and buy some more. He also wanted to get more film. “To take private pictures of you in your new bathing suit,” he said with an impish, mischievous grin as he left the room.

Five minutes, maybe ten minutes later I heard a huge explosion. Even the hotel seemed to shudder. At first, I couldn’t think what it might be. Work at a construction site maybe? Moments later I heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles. Then I realized. Instantly I leaped up and pulled on the clothes I’m still wearing right now, pulled them on as fast as I could and dashed downstairs. I didn’t wait for the elevator; I just ran down the stairs taking them two or three at a time.

The hotel’s big glass front windows were shattered. You could see mayhem in the street. Bodies and parts of bodies and blood and pieces of metal and glass were everywhere. And then I heard the screams and awful terrified wailing. Police and emergency personnel already were dashing back and forth. Hotel security guards tried to keep us inside the lobby, away from where the door and windows had been.

“My husband is out there!” I screamed and frantically pushed past the guards. They couldn’t stop me. Out on the street I couldn’t tell one person from the next. Everyone looked bloody and dirty and tattered and burned. Then I saw David on the opposite curb. They were already putting him on a stretcher. His beautiful curly brown hair was matted with blood and I don’t know what else. His new designer eyeglasses, a recent gift from me, lay twisted and shattered on the pavement. He had been walking out of the store as the bus drove by. It had just passed him when a suicide bomber aboard the bus exploded his murderous package.

I don’t remember the hours that followed. Somehow I managed to call my parents and David’s. They are flying over here, but I don’t even know when they will arrive. And I don’t much care; there is nothing any of them can do to help David. “Pray to God,” I told them. David used to pray; he actually likes going to synagogue. I never used to pray much. I don’t think I’ve stopped praying since I saw David lying bloody on the street.

When I’m not praying, I sit here holding David’s hand and think. And do you know what I think about? I think about dating. I think about all the stupid guys I dated when I didn’t date David, all the years I spent going out with guys who really meant nothing to me when the one guy who means everything was there and willing and I knew it but wouldn’t admit it.

I never considered myself very attractive. My earliest memories are of my father, a doctor, kissing me on the head and murmuring that I was his smart exotic beauty. He has always done this, since I was a little child. He did it just a few days ago, before he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. “You are my smart, exotic beauty; I love you more than you can ever know,” he whispered. My younger sister is a striking blond with blue eyes and lips that are naturally deep red. He calls her his shana punim, Yiddish for a pretty face.

I’m definitely not a pretty face. I have long, jet-black hair and thick black eyebrows that I can barely manage to keep from joining into a single long eyebrow like some sort of broad black marker line drawn above my eyes. My eyes are large and dark brown, almost black, with long lashes, and my complexion is dark. I seem to have inherited my mother’s Sephardic coloring and my father’s lumpy Ashkenazic nose. I learned how to use makeup and a little eyebrow plucking in high school to make the most of what God gave me and discovered that many men find me strangely alluring.

In college, one French exchange student I dated for a while kept whispering that I was his dark Jewess when we made love and how much my exotic looks turned him on, not to mention my big boobs or long legs. At first I thought the Jewess thing was so sophisticated in a retro kind of way, so European. It should have tipped me off. Anyway, he’s the one I lost my virginity for. Can you believe it? What a waste. It took a few months for his veneer of French glamour to wear off.

After the glamour fell away that was left was a self-centered, self-important condescending, petulant schmuck and a closet anti-Semite too. That came out at the very end. He had made some vicious, nasty anti-Semitic remarks about a study group leader in an economics class we both were taking. The kid was just another student, a smart Jewish guy who admittedly wasn’t very cool but at least could explain the stuff coherently, better than the professor in some ways. When I defended the guy and said I was offended by his utterly uncalled for remarks, my so-called boyfriend snarled under his breath, “fuckin’ Jews, you all stick together.”

“What did you say?” I asked, not wanting to believe what I heard, not wanting to believe any of it.

“Nothing, it was nothing,” he mumbled.

What a weasel, what a coward and a creep, I thought. That’s when I decided to end the relationship. A few days later, just before my French Lit class, I told him it was over. That brought on another onslaught of anti-Semitic invectives. But before it all came to its sudden end he had taken me to some pretty wild Euro-trash parties where he could show off his dark Jewess with a hot body.

I guess David was the first man — other than my father, who is completely biased — to find me alluring, but I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time. For a really dumb USY Purim dance when I was in middle school they ran this really stupid Queen Esther contest, which all the girls treated as a big joke. I didn’t actually participate much in USY stuff — USY stands for United Synagogue Youth, the youth group affiliated with our synagogue, but it is pretty much the same as B’nai B’rith Youth Organization or Young Judea or any of the ton of Jewish youth groups — but for some reason I took part in this event. I don’t remember why, maybe my parents made me. All of us went out of our way to put together the stupidest Queen Esther outfits and then we paraded around in them. David, a thin, nerdy kid who still wore glasses that curved around the backs of his ears, was an officer of the USY group, probably because he was one of the few kids who actually took it seriously.

Well, David came up to me after the Esther parade and told me I was the most beautiful Esther of the bunch, prettier even than Rebecca Schwartz, who was the reigning super model of our bar/bat mitzvah class. At first I thought he was joking, then I realized he was serious, then I thought I should be insulted because the whole idea was to try to NOT be beautiful. And then I concluded that he was just a fucked up dork who could easily be ignored.

David went to nursery school with me at our synagogue so that must be where we first met, but I don’t remember him from there. Over the last year we’ve looked at old photos each of our parents have saved. Sometimes we’re both in the same nursery school photos, but we’re never together. My best friend in nursery school was a boy named Adam. He lived next door and we played together a lot. He moved away when I was in the third grade, and I’ve never heard a word about him since. David doesn’t remember Adam at all.

I went to public school. My parents were obsessed that I only date Jewish boys. But then they go and send me to public school. Who did they think I would meet? Either they had some liberal Jewish public school egalitarian thing or they were just too cheap to send me to private Jewish day school. I could never decide which, but I was glad; I didn’t want to go to Jewish day school. There was a huge number of Jewish kids in our public school, but I managed to be friends mainly with the non-Jewish kids. For a long time my best friend was Christine, whose family belonged to some fundamentalist Christian group.

Christine’s parents made her go to church every Sunday and sit through long boring services and sermons. My parents made me go to synagogue almost every Shabbat. So we became close friends, joined initially in our hatred of going to religious services on weekends. She also liked hanging around at our house because my parents were a lot more relaxed about things like watching TV and listening to pop music — stuff her parents thought would lead right to the devil. But her parents liked me, even though I was corrupting their daughter. I think they saw Jews as a big milestone on the way to the next coming of Jesus. My parents liked Christine because when we got to high school she dated Jewish guys. They must have thought it would rub off on me.

It’s not that I wouldn’t date Jewish guys. The truth was that not many of them asked me out. I was a jock in high school and played varsity soccer and basketball. I hung out with the jock crowd, which was not very Jewish at my school. In fact, my parents had a real thing about Friday night basketball games and lodged a big complaint that went all the way to the school committee. It actually was pretty embarrassing. I wanted my father to just drop it, but he didn’t.

You see if you were on a team you had to be at every game. If you missed too many games you were kicked off the team. My father wanted me home for Shabbat dinner on Friday night. My family made a big deal about Shabbat dinner. My father would go to services, and we’d all have this big dinner when he got home. Finally there was an accommodation with the school; some Friday night games were shifted to other days and team members could miss games for religious reasons without it counting against them.

My parents still make a big deal with Friday night dinner. In the last year David and I would spend some Friday nights with my parents. Actually I love Friday night Shabbat dinner now, especially when somebody else is cooking, but I hated it then.

This Friday night thing really cramped my social life in high school. After the games all the kids would go out to a pizza joint and then there would be parties. Friday night was the big high school date night in our town. I argued with my parents about this constantly. My sister, who was younger, backed me up. She was hoping I would set some kind of precedent for her. My mother, who under her maiden name writes books about women and Judaism, might waver, but my father wouldn’t budge. At least they held some school dances on Saturday night when I could go.

So at one point I was sort of going with a guy named Lawrence Jones, a forward on the boy’s basketball team. He was black but if you heard him talking to anybody but his black buddies, he didn’t speak like a black dude. He was tall and his body had these long, smooth rippling muscles. I would touch his skin and think it felt like the smoothest black velvet. I longed to wrap myself in it. He also was pretty smart and had great taste in music and could talk about things other than sports and cars.

Even the supposedly nice, smart Jewish guys I knew in high school had trouble getting beyond sports and cars. Lawrence was the only guy I knew of in high school who could talk about politics and not sound stupid. He should have been on the debating team. My father might even have liked talking with him about the battle with the school committee over Friday night sports, but that was a thought I wouldn’t dare go anywhere near.

We got together mainly at school dances. We clutched each other and danced slow grinding. Hey, it was a high school romance. He’d throw his arm around me in the school hallway. We’d go out for pizza after basketball games and he’d always have me home before my curfew. My parents knew I was seeing one particular guy. Since we never really went on an official date, I never had to confront them with it. So it was like don’t-ask-don’t-tell. All they wanted to know was where I would be and when I would be home. And because we weren’t actually dating he didn’t even have to pick me up at home, so he never met my parents.

My parents are very liberal, really typical liberal Jews. They’re all for gays, they’re all for blacks. They just don’t want any blacks or lesbians dating their princesses.

Then Lawrence invited me to go with him to his sister’s engagement party. It sounded like it was going to be a way cool party. It was on a Friday night in the spring, after the basketball season. I asked my father if I could go just this once. The party wouldn’t even start until 9 pm. “I will still be home for kiddush and for dinner,” I pleaded.

“Who is this boy?” my father asked.

“Lawrence Jones. He’s in my AP history class,” I replied emphasizing the AP, which meant advanced placement. That’s an honors course; my father would be impressed.

“Jones, Lawrence Jones, that doesn’t sound Jewish. Is he Jewish?”

I was sorely tempted to say forget about Jewish, ask me if he is white. But I was too much of a coward. I knew all hell would break loose, and I really wanted to go to this party. The way Lawrence described it, I was expecting quite an event; it was definitely not going to be some Jewish country club engagement party. “No, he isn’t Jewish,” I admitted, realizing that I was going to lose anyway. Sure enough, my father refused to allow it.

“Is he the boy you’ve been seeing?”

“Yeah, I guess. I really don’t see him very much. I mean, it’s not like we’re serious.”

“Even if he was Jewish I wouldn’t allow this. Not on Shabbat,” he added.

Lawrence had suggested plan B, just in case. This called for me sneaking out carrying my party dress and shoes. He would borrow a friend’s car and be waiting for me around the block. I would be able to change at his sister’s apartment. Could you imagine a Jewish guy suggesting something like this? I couldn’t, at least not in my high school. Just the thought of it was exciting. I had never ever done anything like this and I was really nervous, but I agreed.

After we turn the clocks ahead in the spring, sundown, when Shabbat begins, comes later, something I had forgotten. My father got home from services an hour later than I expected. We sat down for dinner late. I had planned to sneak out the back door after cleaning up the kitchen with my sister. My parents would be sitting in the living room in the front of the house, probably reading. My sister would retreat to her room where she’d watch TV — definitely not allowed on Shabbat but, hey, don’t-ask-don’t-tell. My parents must have known what she was doing although they obviously preferred to think she was reading. Anyway, now everything was really delayed.

It was close to 10 pm when I finally slipped out of the house. Lawrence would have been waiting for me for over an hour. I hoped he was still there as I scampered through our neighbor’s yard like I used to do when I was a little kid. As I approached our meeting spot, I saw a car and two police cruisers. Lawrence was standing and leaning with his hands on the roof of the car. The police were frisking him. I was outraged. What could he have done? He was just waiting for me, for Chrissake.

“What’s wrong?” I demanded, running up with my dress across one arm and holding my shoes in my hand. “He is just waiting for me. We’re going to a party,” I said.

One of the policemen turned to me. “Stay out of this,” snapped Lawrence.

It was too late. The policeman asked me my name and address. He immediately realized I wasn’t being picked up in front of my home. Uh oh. They called my father, who does answer the phone on Shabbat because he’s a doctor. Damn. He stormed out of the house to get me.

It turned out the police noticed Lawrence sitting in the car for what they considered an unusually long time and ran a check on the license plate. The car was unregistered and uninsured. Lawrence actually got off pretty easily while his friend, who supposedly owned the car, was hauled into traffic court. C’mon, how petty can you get? My father was furious with me.

“It’s not that he is black. It’s not even that the police were there. It’s because you lied to us and snuck out of the house,” said my mother, as calmly as she could. My father was too livid to even talk. I think that was half true. Yes, I lied to them and snuck out of the house. But if Lawrence had been Jewish and the police hadn’t been involved, I still think they would have responded a whole lot differently.

My parents grounded me like forever. Although Lawrence was cordial in school, whatever we had was over. He wasn’t going to ask me out again. At first I blamed my father for being so damn rigid. I couldn’t wait until I turned 18 and went off to college and got out of his house and didn’t have to follow his stupid rules. It was so unfair, I thought.

My next boyfriend in high school was Brian McCarthy. We met in band. I played clarinet and he played trumpet. He had brown hair cropped pretty close and a narrow mouth that curved in a smile that almost looked like a sneer except that his real sneer, I later discovered, didn’t look anything like a smile. He had green eyes that narrowed to the merest slits when he laughed. He had a reputation for being bad and cultivated a tough guy attitude. Everyone knew he drank and sometimes did drugs. Christine thought he was really cute and scary. I thought he was dumb — half his courses were remedial courses — and he was headed at best for the Army or, more likely, jail, but certainly not college like all the Jewish guys I knew. However, I agreed with Christine; he was kind of cute and really sexy, with a sort of devilish twinkle in his slit eyes, but I didn’t mention the devilish thing to Christine. She took the devil pretty seriously. Like I said, Brian wasn’t Jewish. Even if he were, my father would be appalled if I dated a boy like Brian. That alone was enough to get me interested.

Our school held a lot of dances. I guess they thought it kept us off the streets. I danced with Brian a few times at dances. Then he asked me to the movies. It was a Saturday night. I asked my father and he reluctantly agreed. “Why don’t you date Jewish boys?” he asked angrily.

“They don’t ask me,” I replied flippantly.

“You must be sending the wrong signals. What about David Erhlich? He’s called here a few times.” my father persisted.

“He calls to get me to attend USY things. He’s not interested in me, except to show up at stupid USY events,” I said. David had grown up some since that Purim dance when he thought I was more beautiful than Rebecca Schwartz, who had moved beyond super model to full anorexic, even bulimic. I was sure she was throwing up after every other meal. I didn’t know David very well since he now went to Jewish High School. I saw him around the synagogue on occasion, usually when my parents forced me to go. He had grown tall and his voice had deepened. I had heard he was a good tennis player too, getting all the way to regionals in one tournament. His sandy brown hair was curly and fell halfway over his ears. However, he still wore ugly glasses, although at least he no longer wore the kind that curled around the back of your ears.

“You know, it is as easy for you to fall in love with a Jewish boy as with a non-Jewish boy,” my mother chimed in.

“Who said I’m falling in love with anyone? It’s just a date. We’re going to the movies. We danced a few times at school dances. We went and got a soda. He’s cute. He’s nice. He’s fun. He says funny things. And he wants to do things with me. That’s all,” I snapped back.

“It’s never that simple,” my mother added. I knew what she was thinking: if only I would date one of the nice boys from the synagogue, from USY. But those boys are so boring, so predictable. Besides, they weren’t banging down the doors to date me. David, I had heard at one of the few USY things I attended, even had a girlfriend so he wasn’t available anyway, not that I cared.

My father reluctantly allowed me to date Brian. We could go to movies or school dances. Sometimes after school we would get a soda or hang out at the pizza shop. On dates Brian would come to the door to get me. My father would tell us when he expected me home. Brian hated meeting my father each time, and my father clearly disliked Brian. My parents never said anything against Brian, but it was obvious they didn’t like him or my seeing him. “What do you have against Brian?” I asked one evening after he dropped me off, just before curfew as usual.

“He is not the right boy for you,” said my mother.

“You mean he’s not Jewish,” I corrected her.

“It is more than that. Even if he were Jewish he wouldn’t be right for you. He’s trouble,” she said. She was right. He had that aura of trouble. I thought it was more of a carefully cultivated attitude than real, but it was kind of exciting, edgy. Maybe that’s what I liked about Brian.

Brian and I didn’t do too much of the sexual stuff, not as much as he wanted anyway. About the most we’d do is make out in his car. He wanted to do much more and his hands were all over me. I liked the making out part except when he tried to go too far. Then I would stop him and he would pout. He really was bad and unlike his previous girlfriends, I didn’t let him go any further than I was ready to go, which wasn’t all that far. That’s the stuff we fought about most.

But it wasn’t just Brian; Christine had the same trouble with the nice church boys her parents fixed her up with or even the Jewish guys she sometimes dated. They wanted to get into her pants just as much as Brian wanted to get into mine.

Now, I knew I wasn’t going to be a virgin forever and I didn’t believe in saving anything for marriage. Heck, I knew my mother wasn’t a virgin when she got married just from some of the things she’d published; my father probably wasn’t either. And what if I never married? However, it still had to be the right guy at the right time in the right place. I wasn’t sure what any of that would be, but Brian McCarthy probably wouldn’t be in the picture. I liked him and I loved the attention he paid to me in his tough ass kind of way but this romance wasn’t going anywhere. I think we both knew it.

One night he picked me up to go to the movies. When we got in the car, however, he headed off in a different direction. “Where are we going?” I asked.

“To a party. A friend of mine is having a party. His folks left for the weekend.”

“That’s not what we told my father,” I said, suddenly concerned.

“Don’t worry about it. He said to be home by midnight and I promise you’ll be home by midnight. In the meantime, we can have some real fun.” He flopped his right arm around my shoulders as he drove and pulled me toward him. To get closer to him I scrunched over to the left, as far as you can go anyway in a car with bucket seats separated by a console. This is wrong, I thought. I was wearing a low cut top that was pretty revealing, at least for me. His fingers gently played around on top of my boobs. Then again, this might be fun.

I lost track of where we were driving. Finally, we pulled up in front of a large house. It was filled with high school kids, but I didn’t recognize most of them. Many of Brian’s friends went to a parochial high school. Some music was playing. Brian and I sat on a couch in the corner. There were other couples around. Brian started to kiss me and make out. His hands were all over me. “Not with everybody here,” I whispered. He got up, took my hand, and led me upstairs into a bedroom. He shut the door and started to unbutton my blouse. I was scared and thrilled. He took off my blouse and bra. I removed his shirt. Then we just stood there pressed against each other as if we were slow dancing. We gently swayed to music no one else could hear. He nuzzled my neck and kissed my shoulders and boobs. It was heaven. I don’t know how long we stood that way. Then he led me to the bed. On the bed he started unbuttoning my jeans. I pushed away his hand. “No, not tonight,” I said quietly.

“Yes tonight. This is our only chance,” he insisted.

“I’m not ready. There will be other chances,” I pleaded.

He started tugging at my pants. “No, I’m ready. I’ve been ready for weeks, you fuckin’ tease,” he said angrily, more angry than I had ever heard him. I started to push his hands away. He fought off my hands and started tugging again at my jeans.

“No!” I screamed and sat up. “No! No!”

He slapped me hard across the face. “Shut up you stupid cunt. You’ve gone this far. You’re not stopping here.” That’s when I saw his sneer; it was mean and nasty, slicing across his face like a jagged knife. He pushed me down on the bed. I started kicking at him like mad. He punched me hard; I could taste blood in my mouth. “Don’t you touch me,” I screamed.

Somebody suddenly started knocking on the door. Brian jumped up, grabbed his shirt, and stomped out of the room. Another couple was at the door; they poked their heads in. “Are you all right? Do you need help?” the girl asked.

“I’ll be OK,” I muttered. They left. I must have been dazed. Slowly I picked up my blouse and bra and put it on. Then I staggered into the hallway and wandered a bit until I found a bathroom. In the bathroom I found a towel and started dabbing my mouth and nose, both of which were bleeding.

I stayed in the bathroom for a long time trying to figure out what to do. I had to leave and get home, but I didn’t know how. Brian was downstairs someplace. I didn’t want to see him again. I certainly didn’t want to ride in a car with him. I decided to call Christine. She had her license; maybe she could pick me up.

Somebody who needed to use the bathroom started knocking insistently on the door. I unlocked the door and went back to the bedroom. I flicked on the light and saw a phone on the night table. On the bureau was some mail, including bills. I looked at the address and called Christine’s house. Her mother answered the phone: “Oh she’s at the church. I don’t expect her until late. Is that you Miriam? Are you all right?”

I remember mumbling something vaguely intelligible and hanging up. I was desperate and couldn’t think of anyone else to call so I called my parents. My mother answered the phone. I told her I had to get out of there and gave her the address. “Go outside onto the sidewalk. Your father will be there in a few minutes,” she said calmly, reassuringly.

As I slipped down the stairs and out of the house, I noticed Brian drinking with a bunch of other guys. He didn’t notice me. My father pulled up a few moments later. “Are you hurt? I will take you to the hospital,” he said quietly.

“No, let’s just go home. I’ll be all right.”

At home I briefly recounted what happened with Brian, leaving out the parts that I enjoyed at the beginning, of course. When I finished, I added: “The same thing could have happened with a Jewish guy, you know.”

“I know,” said my father sadly. Then they each hugged me. “You did the right thing to call,” added my mother. No lectures, no tirades, no I-told-you-so. I appreciated that.

Although I knew of David since nursery school, our paths only crossed at the synagogue. Like I said, he went to Jewish Day School and then Jewish High School. I saw him at USY events sometimes. Once we even worked on a mitzvah project, a reading thing with an inner-city elementary school not too far away. Some of the USY kids tutored there after school, which mainly consisted of reading to the youngest children and helping older ones read by themselves. I only tutored in the spring when I wasn’t playing soccer or basketball.

David was great with the little kids he tutored. To help them read, he would come up with all kinds of neat games and puzzles involving words and letters. He’d write a simple word on the blackboard and the kids had to read it and do it, like jump or fall. The kids loved it. They would jump and run and shout. David would put up words faster and faster. It got really crazy, but the kids loved it. Where did he come up with that stuff? Thinking back now, he truly was amazing and what he did with the kids was awesome. Maybe I even thought that at the time.

I hung out a little bit with the USY kids at that time but only saw David as part of the group. Everyone said he was really smart with computers, but he didn’t seemed at all like the geeks I knew at school. He actually could string together sentences without speaking techno-babble like virtual this or virtual that or SSL or GNU, which I stupidly thought was some kind of animal like a moose.

David actually was pretty popular among the USY crowd. He had grown tall and good looking, except for those stupid glasses. Somebody should have told him or something. Anyway, sometimes he had a girlfriend, but it never seemed to last long. In between girlfriends he asked me out a few times. I only remember one date. When I told my father, I thought he was going to have an orgasm. They knew David and his parents from synagogue and thought he was perfect.

We probably went to a movie or something, I’m not sure. I guess I had a good time, but my parents were ready to start planning the wedding. David asked me out a few more times but the basketball season had begun and between that and school I became very busy. Anyway, it was a good excuse to put him off. How could I date a boy my parents so approved of? They were disappointed. Too bad for them, I thought.

Throughout that afternoon I sat thinking about all these stupid guys I had dated and about David. I would lean over him, give him the kinds of fast little kisses he loved so much –machine gun kisses, he called them, because they came in rapid succession — and whisper to him that I was there and would never leave him. Sometimes he would stir a little. I would moisten his lips and eyelids with a damp washcloth.

And I would pray and pray and pray. Dear God, please make him well. God, I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll keep even more kosher. I’ll go to synagogue more (although David and I already went almost every week). I’ll send my children to Jewish day school. I’ll follow all the commandments, any commandment. Just save him. Please God, save him.

Nurses bustled in and out of the room. They would say hello but pretty much ignored me, which was OK. They would change various bags and bottles and check things and write on a clipboard. Once I asked if he would make it. The nurse gave me some hopeful but evasive answer, something dumb like we hope so. Duh. As far as I could tell, nothing had changed. At least he didn’t seem to be getting worse; no alarms had gone off on any of the monitors. I kept praying.

The sun was setting. Israel lies on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It catches the most beautiful sunsets over the ocean. The water actually turns pink as the sun, a blazing red ball, sinks below the ocean horizon. David and I oohed and aahed over it the first night we were here. We sat on the hotel balcony drinking wine and watching the light show. At home the sun rises over the ocean but David and I never got up early enough to see it. The sunset probably was equally beautiful tonight but I barely noticed.

“You should get something to eat,” said a nurse, who entered the room. “You probably haven’t eaten all day,” she added.

“I’m fine. I’m not hungry,” I insisted. It was true; I didn’t feel hungry. Besides, I didn’t want to leave David. It was enough when I left once to go to the bathroom.

“Do you have anybody in Israel, anybody who can be with you?” she asked.

“What does it matter? How can they help him?” I asked dejectedly.

“They can help you. Sitting here alone is very hard,” she replied.

I thought about it; sitting here was hard, but there was nothing else I would even consider doing. David and I had the names of some people from home that had moved to Israel or were here studying for a year. Both sets of our parents pushed pieces of paper with names and addresses on us before we left. But we had no plans to call anybody. Hey, we were on our honeymoon. I don’t even know where we put those names and phone numbers. Maybe we left them back home. “No, there’s nobody I care to call, nobody who could help me. My parents are on the way. So are David’s,” I said.

“I will bring you something to eat. You should eat something,” said the nurse. She returned a while later with a falafel sandwich, an Orangina, and a cookie. I drank the Orangina and nibbled at the sandwich, but I wasn’t really hungry. I did eat the cookie.

David went to MIT for college. I guess he’s a geek after all I thought when I heard about it, but at least he’s a smart geek. I ended up at Georgetown. I wanted to study something to do with economics and international relations, but mainly I wanted to be in the DC area because it seemed so exciting and I thought Georgetown was the best school there. Christine, by the way, got into Brandeis, her first choice, but her parents insisted she go to some fundamentalist Christian college down south.

Of course, Georgetown is a Catholic school. My parents were not happy, but given my strong interest in economics and international studies Georgetown had a good reputation for that. When we visited the school my father saw that it had a really big Jewish student population and a very active Jewish Student Association and a lot of Jewish programs so he was sold. I didn’t intend to get involved in the Jewish programs, but I didn’t tell him that. Anyway, Georgetown is where I met my anti-Semitic French boyfriend.

But he wasn’t the only stupid boyfriend I had during those four years. First there was the frat boy, Marty. He went to American University, which was in DC too. And he was actually Jewish. My father would have been happy if I had ever told him, which I didn’t. Marty boasted to me that he was the first Jewish guy in his fraternity, not that there was anything outwardly Jewish about him that I could tell or that he cared at all about anything Jewish. If anything, it looked to me like he spent most of his time hiding his Jewishness. I guess I did too. I certainly didn’t think about his Jewishness or lack of it. It didn’t matter to me in the least. Anyway, he tried to teach me to drink beer, which I detest. Our dates consisted of going to his frat house, drinking beer, dancing to CDs, and drinking more beer. Then I would throw up and insist he take me home. After a few dates, he didn’t call me anymore. I guess I flunked beer drinking.

Then there was Gregory, my WASP boyfriend. He was really stuck up, but he was British so it was OK. We went to the typical college parties and rock concerts and movies. I worked very hard at trying to hide my Jewishness. Although my first name is Miriam, my last name is Wilson, something my family picked up when they passed through Ellis Island a couple of generations earlier. My grandfather’s brothers and cousins had come before him and adopted the Wilson name. So my grandfather got the Wilson name too. That made me Miriam Wilson; it didn’t sound like an obviously Jewish name. In fact, in my high school there was another Miriam Wilson who was black, except she spelled it Miryam with a Y. So, I tried not to let on I was Jewish.

At one point, Gregory’s parents planned to visit. We had been dating each other exclusively for a few months by then. We weren’t living together or anything like that but it seemed pretty serious to me. They offered to take Gregory and his girlfriend — me — out to dinner at one of Washington’s fanciest restaurants, the kind of place where high priced lobbyists wine and dine senators. It’s not my style, but I admit I was excited by the prospect, at least for the novelty of it. I even had brought one nice dress, I mean a knockout dress, to school with me.

Gregory seemed a little nervous as his parent’s visit approached. He didn’t want me to join him when he picked them up at the airport. He didn’t want me to meet them at the hotel. He didn’t want me to spend any time with him and his parents except for the fancy dinner, which we couldn’t avoid since they specifically asked that he join them with his girlfriend. So, he must have at least told them he had a girlfriend, but I was getting a little suspicious.

Finally, I decided to bring up the issue directly. “Is there something up with your parents? You know, something you don’t want me around for?” I asked. Bingo, I scored a direct hit. Usually so cool and collected and reserved, Gregory suddenly looked considerably uncomfortable. “I mean, I can disappear for the weekend if you prefer,” I offered, although I really was looking forward to going to that restaurant and wearing my nice dress — I looked like a killer in that dress. I knew every man in the restaurant who had any testosterone in his blood would be looking at me.

There was a long pause. Clearly he was trying to figure out how to put into words whatever it was he was going to say. “They’re not going to be happy with me because of you,” he finally said.

I tried to figure out what he meant. He didn’t say they wouldn’t be happy with me but with him. Now I must have looked baffled.

“They hoped I would go to school in the US and meet someone from the American upper class, from the elite. They never thought I would get involved with a Jew. They would never say that, of course, but they won’t be happy,” he explained. He sounded sad, almost pathetic.

Now I was even more confused. We had never talked about religion. I never told him I was Jewish. I was like Marty; I had submerged my Jewishness for all practical purposes. I didn’t keep kosher. I ate moo shi pork in Chinese restaurants, gobbled up shrimp at department receptions for visiting scholars, and deliberately avoided participating in most activities of the Jewish Students Association. OK, I went to High Holiday services but that was before I met Gregory. “How will they even know I’m Jewish? I’m not going to wear a Jewish star or sprout horns?” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Are you kidding!” he laughed. “Anybody can tell you are Jewish in an instant. You act Jewish. You look Jewish. You would look Jewish even if you were wearing a cross around your neck. You talk and think like a smart Jew. That may make you attractive to me, but they will see it immediately,” he said. “And they won’t be happy with me,” he added sullenly. I was shocked. I had worked so hard at not appearing Jewish. I mean I deliberately worked at it. And to learn that all my efforts were a failure. Well, that really was a shock and later it started me thinking about a lot of things.

Actually, I was kind of insulted too. Remember, I was my father’s exotic beauty with my mother’s Sephardic looks. “What do you mean I look Jewish? You could just as easily say I was Iranian,” I argued, trying to keep the pouting out of my voice.

“Yeah, an Iranian until the first time you open your mouth,” he countered.

Anyway, we went to dinner with his parents, and I did look awesome in that dress. Everyone watched me as we walked across the dining room to our table. The static that crackled across the room was sheer lust from the glances of all the men; even Gregory’s father couldn’t take his eyes off me. His parents were polite, courteous, pleasant, and cold, exactly as Gregory had predicted. After dinner, they sent the two of us back to campus in a cab. The food, by the way, was terrific. I’ve never had a meal that good or that pricey before or since.

My romance with Gregory quickly ended after that. We talked about it, but he wasn’t about to go against his parents’ wishes. For now they controlled the money and the trust funds and the inheritances that would all be his, which I gather were considerable. A middle class American Jew, even an upper middle class one whose father was a doctor with a thriving practice and whose mother was a published author and lecturer, was absolutely not in their game plan for him in any way, shape, or form.

I encouraged him to fight his parents on this on principle because I thought his parents’ anti-Semitism and class attitudes were despicable and outdated. “C’mon, this is the 21st century. We’re supposed to be more enlightened,” I argued. But the truth was I didn’t love Gregory so I didn’t push him very hard. He was fun and pleasant and interesting, but I couldn’t imagine a lifelong relationship with him. I couldn’t see him as the father of my children. I couldn’t imagine sharing my life with him. Our values, our world views, in the end just seemed too far apart. Marrying him would be like condemning myself to a lifetime of pretending to be something I wasn’t. And despite my best efforts, my pretending hadn’t even been very successful.

Maybe if I really, really loved him, but even then I doubt it would have worked out. Like I said, I didn’t love him and he didn’t really love me, at least not that much. We parted ways amicably. Eventually he started going with the daughter of a Congressman. A Congressman wasn’t exactly the American elite but close enough for his parents. She also was Irish Catholic, which was very bad — what did they expect him to find at Georgetown University — but not nearly as bad as a Jew. I wish him well.

The whole thing with Gregory made me think about what would happen if I came home with a non-Jewish guy I wanted to marry. I knew my parents would be upset, but I didn’t think they would disown me or sit shiva or any of that kind of stuff. I guess I always thought if he was a nice guy and loved me and I loved him, they would come to accept him. You know, the liberal Jewish thing. And since I’m Jewish my kids would always be Jewish no matter what.

But what I now was just beginning to realize was that I might not be happy marrying a non-Jew either. I had always rejected pressure to marry Jewish on principle: I wanted to follow my heart, marrying whoever it would lead me to and not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, or national origin. That’s the American way, right? Except after my experience with Gregory and my efforts at trying to not be Jewish, I was starting to question that principle when it came to relationships and marriage and it bothered me.

During the years I was at college I saw David a few times. Not during the summer, which is what you might expect. That’s when I took a counselor position at the same Jewish overnight camp I went to growing up. So I didn’t get to spend much time at home in the summer. But occasionally I crossed paths with David when we were both home during school vacations. At those times, my parents were eager to get us together. “David’s dad tells me he’ll be home next week too,” my father would say with a feigned casualness. Once they went so far at one of those rare times we were both in town to invite David’s family to join us for Shabbat dinner. Now that’s really pushing it, I thought.

I actually liked David when I saw him. And we got along great. I could talk comfortably with him. We laughed and joked around. We liked some of the same music. Once he invited me to play tennis. He killed me, and he wasn’t even trying. He actually felt bad about it. I’m a good athlete and an OK tennis player, but he is great.

Anyway, I might even have gotten something going with David then except for the feeling that my parents were really manipulating this. David came with my parents’ Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, which immediately made him suspect in my mind. I knew it was a stupid reaction. Still, it held me back. I tried very hard not to see him in a romantic way although I knew he looked at me that way. Could a guy my parents like so much really be my lover?

The last romance of my college years was Kin-Leong Tay, who everyone called KL. KL was thin and pretty tall for a Chinese guy. He was almost as tall as me so I made a point of wearing flat shoes when we were together. He had a very boyish look, sort of like David now that I think of it, but he had straight black hair and not a trace of facial hair. We met while working on a team project for an international economics class. He was American born and raised but spoke fluent Chinese. And he knew from the start that I was Jewish. “Jews and Chinese are very similar. Both are family-oriented and emphasize education,” he said on several occasions.

“And food. Both Jews and Chinese love Chinese food,” I would always add jokingly. He would laugh, especially because his favorite meal was a burger and fries and a shake, which he could eat every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

KL was sweet and thoughtful and serious. We had long discussions about international affairs and followed the twists and turns of international diplomacy like other people follow sports. He was quiet, but when he was angry or excited he could be quite forceful. I saw that during some heated debates at school. He also could be very funny and silly, especially when we were alone. He was very concerned about his public image, however, feeling that he was representing the Chinese American community in everything he did.

We became lovers. I was the one who seduced him. He couldn’t resist the dress, which I wore to a fancy department reception for some big shot that spoke on campus. KL was an attentive and serious lover but never spent a whole night with me. He felt he had to be in his room in the morning, which was when his parents might call. And they called a lot, even though it must have been pretty early for them since they lived in California. He was very respectful of his parents, which I found endearing in an odd sort of way. I mean I love my parents, but I would never act so deferential to them. They’d think I was sick or something.

KL and I would study together. We took a few of the same classes. We went to lectures on campus by famous speakers. On weekends, when we weren’t studying, we might hike in some of the wooded areas around DC. I taught him about basketball and we went to Georgetown basketball games and we made love. But one thing we never talked about — the only thing we never talked about — was our relationship and any future together. Maybe we understood without saying anything specific that we had no future together. He would marry a Chinese girl. I wasn’t sure whom I would marry although the Jewish or non-Jewish thing increasingly crept into my thoughts whenever I was with KL.

By the way, my sister, who was in college by this time, ended up not following in my steps. She dated a string of Jewish guys and is even talking of eventually going to the Jewish Theological Seminary to become a rabbi. My parents are thrilled. Meanwhile, here I was plunging into the goyish world of international economics.

As seniors we had begun thinking about what we would do next. KL knew exactly; he was going to Stanford for graduate studies. He had been accepted. His parents expected him to go there and to do great things. Besides, his parents lived nearby and there was this huge Chinese community there.

I wasn’t sure where I would go or what I would do. I too had some interesting possibilities in California, which seemed attractive, especially the weather. I had never been to California. A think-tank in Boston, however, had offered me a chance to work on a big international economic study they were starting. It would lead almost automatically to a prestigious graduate school program if I wanted it. They would even subsidize the tuition. And my family lived near Boston. KL seemed ambivalent about where I went. Although he wasn’t actually discouraging me he clearly wasn’t encouraging me to join him in California.

Then one day in the spring David called. We had been in touch a little bit, indirectly, mainly through a USY email list-serve that kept everyone up to date on what other people were doing. I didn’t post anything to it, but I saw messages other people posted. A few were about David. He actually had gotten involved in some leading edge kind of project; something to do with organic computers and non-deterministic systems — really advanced, heavy stuff that I certainly didn’t understand. One of his professors traveled around to different conferences and David often went with him as a research assistant. He would post a message about where he was going and try to connect with any USY friends who were nearby. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he called. He was in DC for a conference. Maybe I missed that USY message. Anyway, could we get together?

As I said, I was still dating KL pretty seriously at that time. But KL sometimes went to his brother’s house on weekends. He had an older married brother nearby and visited regularly, especially when other relatives passed through. And his relatives seemed to be always coming through the DC area. Sometimes he took me along so I didn’t feel that he was trying to hide me from his family, something I was wary about after Gregory. Everyone was pleasant, even friendly, but I clearly felt like an English-speaking outsider in a Chinese world. Still, the Chinese food at those gatherings was awesome. How KL could prefer burgers was beyond me.

David and I got together for coffee at the conference hotel in Washington. David looked great, not at all like the typical computer nerd I would see around Georgetown. He had put on a little weight so he no longer looked scrawny. I playfully pinched his lean, hard stomach. “I’ve been able to play some tennis. It’s enough to keep me in shape,” he said by way of explanation. He also had new glasses, not great but a big improvement. I immediately felt comfortable with David.

The conference would conclude with an awards ceremony and fancy banquet on Saturday night. Top officials from the government would be there. David’s professor was getting an award, and David was invited to come with a guest. Would I join him?

I’m the kind of girl who can handle only one relationship at a time, and I sort of had this thing going with KL. But, this was different, an old family friend, I thought to myself. And, I knew KL would be at his brother’s house for the entire weekend. And most importantly, I already had a dress. “Sure,” I said, and kissed him quickly on the cheek.

“Not so fast,” he said, pulling me up against him. He gave me a long kiss on the lips. Right there in the hotel lobby. Uh oh, I thought. This could get complicated. But I didn’t care; I would gladly deal with any complications later.

The banquet indeed was a glittering Washington social event. David and I stood in a corner during the cocktail hour and played the celebrity and big shot spotting game. At one point, the vice president even blew through. The actual awards part was pretty boring. David and I sat at a table far in the rear with other research assistants.

It was a black-tie kind of event. David wore a dark suit. “It’s the only thing I had,” he said. He looked handsome in a chief executive sort of way, not like a geek at all. When I took off my coat and he saw me in the dress, he literally staggered. And unlike with KL, I didn’t have to wear flats with David. I had on some killer spike heeled shoes. “You’re beautiful, more beautiful than I remembered,” he sputtered.

“More beautiful than Rebecca Schwartz,” I teased, her name suddenly popping into my head.

“Who? Oh, her. You kidding, far more beautiful than she could ever hope for,” he assured me. I could feel myself blushing and buried my face on his shoulder.

We talked all through the awards and the speeches. Nobody cared. We were so far in the back. We talked about stuff back home. David had stayed in touch pretty well. I knew only what I heard from weekly phone calls and email from my parents. We talked about economics and international affairs, my supposed specialty. We talked about computers; David actually made them sound interesting and understandable. We talked like old friends, close friends, even intimate friends. I felt completely at home with him; I told him things I thought about and dreamed about, things that I had never told anyone, not Christine, not KL or anyone else. And he was the same with me. We talked right through the dancing. I was so absorbed I forgot completely about showing off my dress on the dance floor.

Only when David invited me up to his hotel room did I hesitate. “I’m kind of seeing somebody,” I said, without much conviction.

“Is it serious? Are you engaged?” David asked.

“We’re not engaged. He’s Chinese. I don’t think the relationship will go anywhere. His parents would never accept me, and he couldn’t disappoint his parents,” I said.

“Do you want the relationship to go anywhere?” David asked, emphasizing the you.

I thought about KL for a moment trying to imagine a long-term relationship with him and couldn’t see it happening, even if his parents approved, which they would never do. I couldn’t imagine KL as the father of my children any more than I could Gregory. I couldn’t imagine him sitting at a Seder with my family and tons of aunts and uncles and cousins or lighting Chanukah candles. And I already had been to KL’s family gatherings at his brother’s house so I knew what it felt like to be an outsider. As polite as they were to me, it wasn’t hard to imagine being a permanent stranger within his large, close family all chattering away in Chinese. “No,” I said with assurance, “I don’t want that relationship to go anywhere.”

Up in his room my black dress didn’t stay on very long. David swept me into his powerful arms and held me for a long, deep kiss. Actually lots of kisses. My fingers ran through his curly hair as I kissed his face and neck and chest, a rapid machine-gun fire of little kisses. We made love over and over again. I didn’t want the night to end.

David flew back to MIT the next day with his professor. KL returned from his brother’s house and immediately sensed something had changed although, as usual, we didn’t talk about it. During the few weeks that remained of our last semester we stayed friends but there was no passion or commitment. Our relationship was over. I think we were both relieved.

My parents, of course, came for my graduation. They were stunned and thrilled to see David there. He had come a few days earlier. He would graduate the following week and I would be there. We loaded up my parent’s station wagon with most of my stuff and sent them home. I drove back with David in a car he borrowed from his parents.

We went straight to David’s apartment in Cambridge. His roommate had already moved out; he would start a graduate program at Caltech. David was remaining at MIT to continue his research with the professor. I had taken the think-tank position. I moved in with David that day.

Our parents were a bit shocked at the arrangement, or at least the suddenness of it. They had no idea we had connected. And my parents disapproved of our living arrangements.

“But isn’t this what you have been pushing me toward for years?” I pointed out.

“Yes, but,” stammered my mother, the published writer now at a complete loss for words. It was all token resistance. They had wanted me with David for years. They had won although not exactly the way they expected. Too bad.

Of course we would get married eventually, just not now. Right now David and I only wanted to enjoy being with each other. We didn’t want to get bogged down in planning a wedding. He had spent years longing for me while I had spent years holding him at a distance. I felt driven to make up for lost time. Now we just wanted to enjoy each other completely, thoroughly, and without distraction. We had a glorious summer and the months that followed were a whirlwind of romance and love and play along with the most exciting work either of us had ever done. Sure, the apartment was a bachelor student dump, but we could change that at some point. Later, we started planning the wedding.

It had turned to night. A bright moon perched above the ocean. There were stars in the sky. A different nurse came into the room. She fussed with David’s bandages. He stirred slightly. I jumped up and again moistened his cracked lips with a damp cloth and wiped his face and eyelids, those beautiful eyes. And I gave him lots of those little kisses.

Usually I sat next to his bed, held his hand, prayed, and whispered a quiet stream of encouraging words, as much for myself, I guess, as for him. At some point I leaned forward and laid my head on his bed next to his arm.

I must have dozed off because the next thing I remember is hearing some soft murmuring and quiet commotion in the room. A hand touched my cheek. “Miriam, we’re here sweetheart,” my mother said softly. Startled, I sat upright. My father was there too. He kissed me, surveyed the scene, and immediately began reading the clipboard the nurses wrote on. David’s parents also were here. They crowded among the machines on the other side of the bed. His mother bent over and gently kissed him and whispered more encouraging words.

They had flown over on the same flight, the first flight leaving Boston after my phone call. “Have you eaten anything?” asked my mother, glancing at the barely touched falafel sandwich.

“Not much. Have you?” I asked standing up.

My mother stood facing me and wrapped her arms around me in a great hug. “We’re here with you now,” she said quietly. That’s when I began to cry, first a little sob and then real crying. I cried for David and for me and for everything I feared we would never have or do. My mother sat me down on a small sofa on the other side of the room. I hadn’t even noticed it before. I cried in her arms and she rocked me and stroked my hair almost as if I were a baby. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I kept whimpering over and over again.

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” she said quietly and continued to stroke my hair. She didn’t know. She didn’t realize. She could never know. I had so much I was sorry about but how could she ever understand. As I had been doing since the moment I saw David lying bloody on the sidewalk, I silently prayed to God: let him live, just let him live, make him be well again.

David’s mother sat where I had been sitting. His father stood by her. My father slipped out and returned a few minutes later with a nurse and a doctor. They stood in the doorway and talked quietly. My father would know what to say and what to do, I thought.

After a while they stopped talking and my father walked into the room and addressed us. “They seem to be doing all the right things, and his condition appears to have stabilized. That’s a good sign,” he explained. “David’s pretty lucky; it could have been much worse. We have good reason to be hopeful.” From the doorway the doctor nodded in agreement.

Sleeping with Strangers

Waking up with Claire on weekend mornings was a sweet pleasure. We would cuddle like spoons in her bed. I would caress her heavy, round breasts, and she would purr in a contented way, slowly opening her large, dark deep eyes. I knew I could run my hands along her milky white thighs and quickly get her excited. She would whisper something about not now. If it was Sunday, she might mumble about going to church. Forget about church, I would say. Let’s make love. She always forgot about church. But not today.

“It’s Easter,” she exclaimed, lurching up. “We have to go to church.”

“It’s too late,” I replied, gently tugging her back down.

She struggled back up. “I’m serious. It’s Easter. I have to go to church. What would my parents say? Come with me.”

“Are you serious? What’s a nice Jewish boy like me going to do at church on Easter? Forget it,” I laughed, trying to pull her back down. Claire had been my girlfriend for six or eight months, I wasn’t keeping count. It started in the fall after I’d moved into an apartment down the hall from her before I began graduate school in Boston. I don’t recall her ever going to church in all that time. She talked about going on Christmas, but we went skiing instead. Most Sundays we went off to do something fun or just lazed around. Now she was suddenly insistent on going to church and dragging me along.

I, a Jewish boy, medium height and build, dark curly brown hair and brown eyes, lumpy nose, had never set foot in a church. It was enough that I joined my parents in synagogue for the High Holidays twice a year. Other than that, I joined my older brothers with their young children for a token celebration of Chanukah and attended family Seders at Passover. In short, I was a typical modern American secular Jew. Claire, suddenly wracked by her French Canadian Catholic guilt, insisted we go to church. She didn’t even know where the nearest Catholic Church was. I suggested we go to a hockey game instead, but she didn’t find my little joke funny.

So, about an hour and a half later I found myself standing in the only suit I own on the steps of some crumbling Boston inner city Catholic Church near our apartment building. Claire is wearing a gorgeous pink dress that shows off her figure in the most delightful ways, not exactly what I would consider totally appropriate for a family holiday like I thought Easter was, but remember, it was short notice. I can’t help but pat her rear end as little Hispanic girls in frilly white dresses and little boys imprisoned in blue suits and ties race past us into the church. “Behave yourself,” she hissed, but she seemed to enjoy it. What do I know about proper behavior in church?

The actual service was a blur. Claire pulled me into a pew in the back. I sat there thumbing through what looked like a book of hymns. Every now and then Claire and everyone else in church would kneel on little pads attached to the pew in front of us. I tried to slouch down and make myself invisible.

After the service Claire wanted to make a grand Easter dinner, just like she remembered from home. Of course, she hadn’t thought about any of this in advance and so hadn’t prepared anything. Claire is impetuous, which is probably one of the things that endeared her to me. She will suddenly get some idea and assume that she will be able to pull it off. Often I was the willing accomplice, who would pull the required rabbit out of the hat. Maybe that is why she stuck with me.

Claire was some sort of hospital administrator. I’m still not exactly sure what she actually did, but she worked long hours carrying a clipboard around. At least she didn’t have to wear a beeper. Because of the long hours, she didn’t do a lot of cooking or food shopping. We ate a lot of takeout. As an MBA student, I spent a ridiculous number of hours pouring over computer spreadsheets and case studies. My idea of cooking at home is to pour some water into one of those instant cup-of-soup products and zap it in the microwave or throw some slices of leftover pizza in the toaster oven.

So now Claire insists on making a traditional Easter dinner–no takeout, no dashing off to a restaurant. “That’s not Easter,” she insisted.

I trudged down the hall to my apartment, but I wasn’t hopeful. I opened the refrigerator door and noticed a bunch of things wrapped in aluminum foil. How could I have forgotten? It had just been Passover and I went home for a Seder. I invited Claire to join me, but she begged off citing work commitments. Anyway, my mother sent me home with a ton of leftover turkey, matzo balls, roast potatoes, some brisket. Presto! An instant Easter banquet. I dashed back to Claire in ecumenical triumph.

An hour later the two of us were sitting across from each other at Claire’s candlelit dining table. She had pulled out her fancy tablecloth and best china. She opened a can or two of soup in which to float the matzo balls and heated up some rolls. She magically pulled out cranberry sauce and mixed up some instant gravy. We opened a bottle of wine. Claire was beaming; she had her Easter dinner, an Easter dinner even a rabbi could love. It looked more to me like Shabbat dinner, and I felt a sudden urge to say the motzi. Claire looked beautiful, her Easter triumph radiating in her eyes and smile. In a flash, we were naked in her bed. The dishes would wait. It was the nicest Easter I would ever have.

Claire and I met at a meeting of all the tenants in the building. I hadn’t lived there long before the tenants got notified that the owner intended to file plans to convert the building into a condominium. Flyers were stuffed under doors calling tenants to different meetings. Some tenants wanted to organize against the condo deal and keep the building as rental apartments. Others wanted to negotiate to get the best insider price for tenants.

I came to Boston for my MBA after spending a couple of years after college working as a programmer at an Internet company. It was an incredible time; I was making amazing amounts of money. But I didn’t want to remain a programmer forever and was lucky enough to cash out and head off to graduate school with a pretty fat bank account before things turned bad for that industry.

I didn’t much care about the apartment one way or another since I figured I wasn’t going to stay after my program ended. I planned to pack up my car and head off to wherever my next job took me. I would have skipped the meetings after the first one except Claire, with her hot body, deep dark eyes, and long straight black hair, became very involved in the process. I found her incredibly sexy. Until then, we had only exchanged casual greetings in the hallway. Now, she was eagerly coming up to me to talk about this or that relating to the building or finances and stuff like that.

I was happy to play the role of involved tenant if it allowed me to get close to Claire. I had broken up with my previous girlfriend over a year before and hadn’t had great success meeting women lately. There weren’t too many eligible women in my MBA program and the ones there were didn’t seem particularly interested in me for whatever reason. Now I gladly sat through boring tenant meetings just to see Claire jump up wearing a tight tank top that showed off her large, round breasts and insist, in her French Canadian accent, that something was stupid, which came out sounding like styuupeed. I could listen to her call the property owner or his lawyers styuupeed all night long.

After one meeting, I invited Claire to go out for a cup of coffee. We ended up at a neighborhood bar that sometimes featured local bands. As it turned out, we both liked garage bands and movies and a couple of the same obscure authors. Neither of us played tennis or golf or any of those social sports, but we liked walking and hiking, skiing, and canoeing (except neither of us had a canoe). We quickly discovered we had a lot of interests in common. I could feel the start of a fine romance. A few days later she invited me over to share a takeout dinner. I stayed the whole night.

Our romance blossomed that fall and grew through the winter. By spring we were almost living together. Easter seemed to seal the deal for Claire. She was mine and I was hers. In my mind, however, this remained a romance, not a relationship. I hadn’t yet started to think of Claire as a long-term, lifelong partner. But what a romance it was!

With Claire the summer exploded into the kind of summer of romance people make schmaltzy movies about. We would picnic at outdoor concerts, spend evenings tracking down garage bands or foreign films in Cambridge, or go hiking or canoeing in New Hampshire. I was happy to let myself drown in Claire’s deep dark eyes. We reveled in each other’s bodies. Everybody should have a summer romance like this at least once in his or her life, and the best thing about this one was that it continued after Labor Day.

Except for her occasional urges to attend church on Sunday, which she never followed through on, except for that Easter, religion never came up. Did she know I was Jewish? Undoubtedly, but it wasn’t something we ever discussed. I didn’t keep kosher. I didn’t run off to shul on Shabbat. We didn’t talk about Israel or the Palestinians or the Mideast although they were in the news all the time. Somewhere inside me I cared about Israel and cringed at each suicide bombing but other than making an occasional contribution to some Jewish or Israeli cause, I wasn’t actively involved. Of course she knew I was circumcised although that doesn’t prove anything these days.

My mother once gave me a set of wine glasses with the Hebrew blessing for wine written on them–borei pri hagafen. Her plan, I suspect, was if I ever invited a girl to my apartment and served wine, the girl would immediately know I was Jewish and steer clear if she wasn’t Jewish herself. Of course, I could just as happily drink wine out of a beer mug, which Claire and I sometimes did. My mother’s wine glasses never came out of the box. Besides, we usually ate in Claire’s apartment, and she had perfectly good wine glasses.

I guess I was sleeping with a Moabite or a Midianite or whatever they are called in the Torah. When I was forced to go to Hebrew School, my prudish, politically correct teacher kept referring to them as strangers. The Torah, he insisted, “prohibited us from associating with strangers.” He meant sleeping, cohabitating, fornicating, fucking but he wouldn’t actually say those words. I can’t for the life of me understand why he couldn’t just name these strangers; they’re named in the Torah. Did he think any Moabites today would come out to protest or hunt him down?

Anyway, he nearly choked when we got to Numbers (B’midbar), 25:1-9, “…the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women…” There it was in black and white, but this idiot wouldn’t say it out loud. The people, of course, are us, the motley crowd of stiff-necked Jews, and God tells Moses to take a bunch of those doing the most whoring with these non-Jewish women and impale them on spears. Jewish guys, it seems, have been sleeping with non-Jewish girls for a long time; I was just the latest in a long tradition.

Of course, I hadn’t started dating yet when we read that in school. I probably would have thought sleeping with strangers meant taking your teddy bear and going nighty-night. When I finally did start dating, I dated a lot of so-called strangers and would have slept with any of them if they would have me. Claire was simply the most recent in a long list of non-Jewish girls I dated and one of the few who actually allowed me into her bed. So, finally, I was sleeping with a stranger regularly, profaning myself by whoring with a Moabite woman, so to speak, and having a great time doing it. And you know what? God did not strike me with a plague or have me speared. At least not yet.

By now it was September, and the High Holidays were approaching. As I said before, I was a twice-a-year Jew. I came out of the closet for the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I dutifully joined my parents at their synagogue in a town about 100 miles from Boston for the holiday meal and accompanied them to services. My brothers would come with their families as well. We all would put in a token appearance at synagogue, arriving late and leaving before the end. Even then, my brothers and I spent most of the time lounging around on the steps catching up with old friends who had also returned to join their parents for the holidays. I rather enjoyed it, at least the socializing part. It was more like a high school reunion. The Jewish spiritual content, however, was minimal.

The big question I faced was whether to invite Claire to join me. My two older brothers had married Jewish girls who, in a reasonable amount a time, delivered Jewish grandchildren. My parents were as non-observant Jews as I was, but they made it very clear they wanted their children to marry Jews.

Of course, their message, strong as it was, had an ambiguous twist. If I should show up one day with an orthodox girlfriend, one who kept strictly kosher and observed Shabbat and visited the mikvah and in every way followed the 613 commandments to the letter — not very likely, I confess — they would have been appalled. They were the ones who held my bar mitzvah reception at a non-kosher country club and served shrimp at the engagement party for one of my brothers. A truly observant girlfriend who became a daughter-in-law would really cramp their style. So their muddied message came through loud and clear: marry a Jewish girl but not too Jewish. Claire, however, was absolutely not Jewish, not even close.

My father really wanted grandchildren, particularly Jewish grandchildren. “If your grandchildren are Jewish then you have succeeded,” he would always proclaim as we were growing up in our assimilated lifestyle. Success under these circumstances seemed meaningless and, of course, he didn’t have any grandchildren at all at that point. On this issue, I considered him an outrageous hypocrite. He wanted Jewish grandchildren but he led an American, assimilated middle class life, not a Jewish life. He made his annual donations to Hadassah and the United Jewish Appeal, but he didn’t have a clue what was inside the Torah.

His own father was orthodox and observant to the very end of his life, but he certainly didn’t continue his father’s Jewish practices. He did one funny thing, however; he financially supported an ultra-Orthodox shul in our town although I doubt he ever set foot in the place. When I pressed him about it, he would simply shrug and say: “Someone has to keep the Jewish faith alive.”

Certainly I knew Jewish girls and had nothing against them. I had dated a few over the years and had known them when I attended Jewish summer camp, even kissed a few whenever one would let me. Maybe they weren’t attracted to me. Whatever the reason, since I went off to college, I ended up with a string of non-Jewish girlfriends. But I never thought of inviting any of them to my parents’ home for the High Holidays. I knew the relationships, however intimate at the moment, were temporary. My parents never realized this and believed I was one step away from a Catholic wedding and the confessional booth. Claire was different from the others and by now, after our glorious summer of love, I could actually envision myself possibly spending my life with her. I wasn’t quite ready to vow eternal love for her today but maybe someday in the future.

I broached the subject of going to my parents for the High Holidays with Claire one evening. She asked a few questions, mainly about my parents and family. I have to admit that I didn’t passionately press the invitation. I wanted her to feel included but not obligated. Maybe she sensed my lack of enthusiasm. Fortunately, the High Holidays fell during the midweek, which gave Claire a convenient excuse to stay in Boston. “I can’t miss work like that. So many of the Jewish staff will be out,” she said, her eyes sincere and her voice loving. We made love that night with extra passion. I felt more for her than ever before, but I also felt relieved. She probably did too.

The High Holidays turned out like nothing I expected. In the past, we hit the synagogue briefly the first day of Rosh Hashanah and spent the second day sitting around the house just eating and visiting. My brothers would be there with their wives and now the babies. It was nice. My brothers were at a different stage in their lives so we didn’t do much together anymore. They weren’t likely to leave their families behind and take off for a weekend of skiing or an overnight backpacking trip with me. So we all had begun to look forward to the second day of Rosh Hashanah as the only chance to hang out as brothers.

But not this year. My father had been asked and actually accepted the honor of opening the Ark containing the Torah at some point during the service on the second day. That meant he had to be there, and he strongly requested (actually insisted) that we all be there too, to witness it I guess. “Why didn’t you just turn it down like you usually do?” I asked in amazement. In the past he was always the first one ready to leave. He didn’t have high school friends there to chat with.

“The rabbi would be disappointed,” he said.

“Since when do you care what the rabbi thinks? Do you think he wasn’t disappointed when you held my bar mitzvah reception at a non-kosher country club? C’mon,” I protested.

Well, that was a different rabbi, and it turns out that my father had started taking an adult education course taught by the current rabbi. He started it last spring, after Passover –about the time I went to Easter services with Claire — and was continuing with the second session this fall, after the High Holidays. The course was on Jewish ethics. If my father was interested in it, the course must at least be about Jewish business ethics since my father didn’t have my interests outside of business and golf, and I was pretty sure the rabbi probably wasn’t teaching a course on golf ethics. Was there such a thing?

The course turned out to be about Jewish medical ethics — when to pull the plug on life support and stuff like that. My father didn’t seem inclined to elaborate any further; we all trudged off to synagogue the second day and sat through an interminable service to watch him walk up onto the bimah and pull a little string dangling by the curtains, which draws them aside to reveal the Torahs. As he returned to our seats, people I didn’t recognize jumped up to pump his hand and congratulate him as if he had just christened a battleship. He was beaming.

Returning to Boston loaded up with leftovers from my mother’s meals, Claire and I feasted for days on brisket and roast chicken rather than relying on our usual takeout. We did more of our usual whoring, as the Torah calls it. Nobody impaled me on a spear or struck me down with plague. I returned the next week for Yom Kippur. Again, Claire gladly stayed to cover at the hospital.

I actually like Yom Kippur with my family. Usually we eat a late meal on erev Yom Kippur, the night the holiday begins. In our house, your fast would begin as soon as you left the table so everyone hangs around the table talking and nibbling until 10 pm or so. It is a very pleasant time, something I look forward to each year. To end the fast, my mother lays out a lavish spread of bagels and lox, her awesome kugel, and a variety of fish and cold cuts at around 6 pm. It isn’t sunset yet, but we don’t care; we’re hungry after what we considered fasting all day. Following the rules exactly, as you can see, isn’t my family’s style when it comes to Jewish observance.

But again, my father changed our usual Yom Kippur routine. My mother served her typical lavish meal, but we sat down promptly at 4:30 pm and rushed through the meal to get to the synagogue in time for Kol Nidre, the evening service. “But we’ve never gone to Kol Nidre,” my brothers and I protested.

“The rabbi is expecting me, and I want my family with me,”

So we raced through this incredible meal, trying to pack hours of eating into about 45 minutes. Then my father, mother, and all three of us boys marched off to the Kol Nidre service. My sisters-in-law graciously volunteered to stay home with the babies and clean up. I would have gladly changed places.

Needless to say, my father also insisted we attend the concluding Yom Kippur Neilah service, which ends with a loud, long shofar blast to signal the end of the fast. All in all, I figured our usual fast was extended by about six hours, maybe more. I was starving by the end of the service and couldn’t believe how many people were there until the very end. Weren’t they hungry? We raced home to eat.

“What’s gotten into Dad?” I asked my mother later that night. Everyone else had wandered to their rooms and was going to bed. “Why is he suddenly so interested in synagogue and the rabbi? It can’t be one stupid adult ed class,” I continued.

“It’s nothing. He’s just getting older,” said my mother.

“C’mon, I don’t buy that. It’s not like him at all,” I insisted.

Well, it seems my father had experienced some heart fibrillations and the doctor did some stress tests. “It’s nothing serious,” my mother assured me, but he has to take some medication and watch what he is eating and get more exercise, she explained.

“And now he thinks he’s close to death and is suddenly getting religion,” I added.

“You can see it like that if you want. Maybe he’s discovering that there are things more important in this world and in our lives than business. Frankly, I’m pleased,” she said. Seen in that light, I guess I was pleased too. I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of my own life or if it meant anything at all. The next morning my mother sent me back loaded, as usual, with enough incredible leftovers to feed Claire and me for a week.

In the weeks that followed our relationship continued to grow. I concentrated on school and she concentrated on work. We spent every weekend together and most weeknights, except when I was studying late in the library at school with my study group. Before we knew it, Thanksgiving had arrived.

Claire wanted to go home for Thanksgiving. Canadian Thanksgiving takes place early in October, but there was no way Claire could get home because of work. She could, however, get a chunk of time off for the American Thanksgiving so she made plans to go to her parent’s home in Quebec. She really wanted me to join her. “It would mean so much to me,” she added in a pleading voice. Then she batted her beautiful eyelashes a few times to underscore her point. God, I felt torn.

“Sounds good to me,” I lied, “but lemme first see what’s doing with my parents before we firm up anything for sure.” That part was the truth.

Usually I go to my parents for Thanksgiving. In recent years my brothers would join their in-laws for Thanksgiving, leaving me as the only child home with my parents for the holiday. If I went with Claire, then my parents would be alone. It’s not that we made much of Thanksgiving, except as another opportunity for my mother to prepare a huge meal and pack us all off with leftovers. We didn’t watch football games or go shopping or do any of the usual things. Still, I wasn’t fully prepared to abandon them on Thanksgiving and run off to Canada to meet Claire’s family.

Complicating matters, I had never explicitly told my parents about Claire or the depth of my involvement with her. They knew I was seeing a girl. Once she even answered the phone in my apartment early on a Saturday morning. She wouldn’t normally do that except we were expecting a friend to call us about plans for later that day. So Claire unexpectedly found herself talking to my mother. She quickly handed the phone to me.

“Who was that?” my mother asked.

“A friend,” I said.

“Oh, she must be some friend to be in your apartment at this hour of the morning. Does she have a name?” my mother continued.

“Claire,” I replied, not wanting to get into a long discussion.

“Hmm, Claire, Claire what?” she pressed. I knew what she was getting at.

“Devereaux. Claire Devereaux,” I conceded, able to predict what was coming next.

“Deveraeaux, hmmm, Devereaux. That’s not a Jewish name,” my mother concluded.

“No, it’s not. Mom, what did you call for? What’s up?” I asked.

She called because my father had another bout of heart fibrillations, worse than before, and was going into the hospital for some more tests. No, they didn’t want me to come in. He wouldn’t be kept overnight. It was nothing, just enough to send me on a guilt trip. “Thanks for letting me know,” I said, and ended the call before we could get back to the subject of Claire.

“You never told them about me?” Claire asked in amazement. There was some outrage in her voice too.

“I would have if you came home with me for any of the High Holidays but you didn’t,” I stammered. “But I’m going to tell them now since I’m joining you for Thanksgiving,” I added, quickly realizing that I had just made a serious commitment as far as Claire and our relationship was concerned.

She was obviously pleased. I had agreed to go with her. Then a thoughtful, troubled look briefly flashed in those big, dark eyes I so loved. “They won’t like me because I’m not Jewish,” she announced.

“Will your parents like it when you bring a Jewish boy home? Do they even know?” I asked.

“Yes they know about you. Canadians are very open-minded. Anyway, that’s not the point,” she countered.

Of course, it was exactly the point, but I didn’t want to argue with her over this. “My parents won’t be happy at first that you aren’t Jewish, but when they get to know you they will love you,” I said, sort of believing it myself.

We embraced and kissed and made plans to go to Quebec for Thanksgiving. We’d take my car. (Claire actually didn’t have a car; we lived within walking distance of her hospital.) And I did tell my parents about Claire, at least the basic demographics. “Look, I’m not marrying her. She invited me there for Thanksgiving. It’s not a big deal,” I insisted. I also persuaded my oldest brother to invite our parents to join him at his in-laws, who lived nearby, for Thanksgiving. Everyone seemed to like that: my brother and his wife, her parents, and my parents. My mother could even cook up a few dishes to add to the feast. I was off the hook.

We didn’t leave for Quebec until the day before Thanksgiving. It was raining here when we left. Long before we crossed the border into Canada it had changed to snow. The driving was slow. We didn’t finally pull into the driveway at Claire’s parents’ home in some small rural town east of Montreal until late in the evening.

The first thing you need to know about Quebec is that Quebec isn’t exactly Canada and the more rural you get in Quebec, the less like Canada it seems. Also, although I took French in high school and college and even spent part of my junior year in France, I don’t speak French particularly well. I can read it fluently and even write it pretty well, but I can’t understand it when people speak French to me in their normal rapid-fire fashion. Also, people in Quebec speak French with a considerably different accent, which makes it even harder for people like me. I had never heard Claire speak French. Even when she talked in her sleep, which she sometimes did, mumbling a few words, she mumbled in English.

Another thing you need to know is that Claire and I never talked about national or international events and politics. Our political interests revolved exclusively around the organizing in our building in the face of the condo conversion. We never talked about the situation in the Mideast, Israel, Palestinians, terrorism, the UN, or things like that.

I’m neither a Zionist nor a pacifist; as a Jew I believe Israel must do what it takes to survive as a Jewish state among hostile neighbors vowing to annihilate it. Terrorism and particularly suicide bombings are utterly abhorrent to me, and I can’t believe they are not completely denounced as totally unacceptable under any circumstances throughout the civilized world. But they are not denounced. In countries like Canada, people regularly voice support for Palestinian terrorism and suicide bombings and actually denounce Israeli when it defends itself. Claire and I never talked about this. It never came up in the course of our relationship. Neither had Canadian anti-Americanism.

Claire’s family lived in a low, gangly ranch house at the end of a long dirt driveway. She is the oldest child of six, four younger brothers and finally a little sister. Her father, Claude, is a short, wiry guy, a mechanic. Her mother, Marie, is a buxom lady with deep dark eyes and straight black hair. That’s certainly where Claire got her looks. She introduced me to the kids but other than the oldest boy, who also was named Claude, I couldn’t keep any of the names straight.

They all congregated around us when we entered the house. The living room was stuffed with furniture. A big-screen TV stood against the center of one wall. Two couches and a couple of chairs were arrayed in a semicircle around it. I immediately noticed a couple of ornate crosses attached to various walls and a statue that I took to be the Virgin Mary.

Her father immediately offered me a beer and, speaking in English, mentioned that he understood there were a lot of Jews in my fancy MBA program. Whoa! I expected something like this but not so abruptly. Shouldn’t we talk about the weather or the drive first? Anyway, I managed to respond saying that there didn’t seem to be any more than would be expected. I added that I had known more Jews in my job as a computer programmer.

It already was pretty late, and I was beat from the long drive. Claire rushed over and suggested we all go to bed and catch up in the morning at breakfast. I was led off to her brother Claude’s room where I would be sleeping. Clearly Claire and I weren’t going to be doing anything intimate in this house, not that I was expecting to.

Thursday, Thanksgiving, was a normal workday in Canada. Claire’s siblings and father had to leave for school or work. When I stumbled into the kitchen dressed in the same clothes I wore the day before, not even having showered yet, everyone was already there. They were digging into mountains of eggs and bacon and ham and toast. Claire greeted me cheerily with a cup of coffee, some juice, and toast.

“Is that all he eats?” asked her mother in French, that much I understood. Claire rattled off some answer about that’s what we do in Boston.

“Do you speak any French?” her father asked me in French.

“Un peu,” a little, I replied in French.

“We always speak English,” Claire added in French. It might have been the first time I heard her speak French.

So the conversation ricocheted around the room, mainly in Quebec-accented French but occasionally in English. I could follow the gist of the French and most of the English but it required considerable concentration. I lagged behind the rapid flow of unfamiliar French and felt out of synch with what was going on.

Suddenly her father pushed a French language newspaper in front of me and asked, in French, what I thought of this. Prominently on the page was an opinion piece, an editorial, about an Israeli helicopter attack on several Palestinian cars. The attack killed a leading Palestinian terrorist as well as a few of his family members. Like I said, I can read French well and this story was so biased against Israel and blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-American all at the same time that I might have laughed if her father hadn’t seemed so serious about it.

“Do we have to talk about this now?” Claire asked in French.

“It’s OK,” I said to her and turned to her father speaking in my slow French. “If I read this correctly, the person killed was responsible for a number of suicide attacks on Israelis civilians. If that is true, then he got what he deserved. Israel has a right to defend itself, just like Canada or any other country. I’m sorry the others died with him.”

“He was a freedom fighter. He was fighting for his country,” said one of Claire’s brothers.

“So are the Israelis,” I pointed out.

Claire let loose a stream of rapid fire French that I couldn’t quite follow but it certainly sounded angry. Her father pulled the newspaper back and everyone quickly drifted out of the kitchen to get on with their day, leaving only me, Claire, and her mother. “I’ll help you clean up, Mama,” Claire said.

After Claire and I showered and changed (separately) into fresh clothes, Claire took me out to show me her village. We saw her school and the library and the local hospital and her church, the most imposing building for miles around. At one point, we parked the car and started walking up a hill, one of the few hills in a generally flat countryside populated mainly by farms. A few inches of fresh snow lay on the ground. We hadn’t yet talked much about the kitchen conversation, but I was about to change that.

“What do they dislike most, that I’m a Jew or an American?” I asked.

“Look around. You can see the whole district from here,” she said.

“It’s beautiful, flat but beautiful. That doesn’t answer my question.”

“They usually aren’t like that. I don’t know what to say. But you have to admit, the Israelis can be brutal and America supports them. It is terrible what is happening over there.”

“Yes, you’re right. What’s happening there is terrible,” I agreed. “Suicide bombers killing dozens of innocent people, bombs planted in college cafeterias killing and maiming dozens more, bombs packed with nails to cause even more pain and suffering. Terrorist hiding in ambulances. Palestinians dancing in the streets to celebrate each suicide attack, especially the attack on the World Trade Towers. You are right. It is an awful situation.”

“Don’t be like that. Suddenly you sound like one of those pro-Israel demonstrators. You aren’t like that in Boston,” she said.

“And you aren’t like this in Boston,” I said angrily. “Do you want me to just agree with everything your parents and brothers say about Israel and Jews and America? If that will make them happy and make you happy, I will. It won’t be true, but I will.” Suddenly, a thought popped into my head, something from Hebrew School or Jewish summer camp or someplace like that, shalom bayit, peace in the house. The idea is that you let go of your anger for the sake of peace in the home. There probably is more to it than that, but that was all I could remember. “Shalom bayit,” I said out loud, even surprising myself.

“What? Shalom byte? Is that some kind of computer thing?” asked Claire, surprised and confused.

“Shalom bayit. Peace in the home. It means trying not to do anything that will disrupt the peacefulness of the home. Let’s just focus on shalom bayit this weekend and try not start an America, Israel, Canada war.”

“Yes, the whole thing is so styuupeed,” Claire agreed.

We were standing at the top of the hill by now. I pulled her toward me, her deep dark eyes sad but beautiful. I loved hearing her say styuupeed. We kissed passionately, as passionately as you can when you are bundled up in layers of parkas, sweaters, and scarves. At the end of the kiss, she pecked me on the cheek, “When did I fall so in love with an American Jew?” Then she turned back down the hill.

That evening Claire’s mother served an enormous meal, in honor of our coming for the American Thanksgiving. The table was piled with high with bread and potatoes, overcooked canned vegetables, and huge chunks of baked ham and pork roast. Little diced pieces of pork were laced through everything — the vegetables, potatoes, even the salad. I didn’t grow up keeping kosher, but this was new to me. I don’t think I had ever eaten ham or pork except in a Chinese restaurant. And I admit a special fondness for spare ribs in black bean sauce. I dutifully took small portions and piled on the bread, which contained no little pieces of pork that I could tell. Shalom bayit, I reminded myself, and delivered frequent compliments with sufficient enthusiasm. In French, no less.

Claire must have said something to her parents and siblings because the conversation never turned to world events or politics. We talked about the weather and hockey and computers and Florida. I guess everybody in Quebec must spend time in Florida at some point during the winter. My parents had taken me to Disney World and the other big tourist attractions there as a kid, so I could participate in the conversation. Of course, I could talk about computers. Claire’s brothers were having problems with their computer. I promised to look at it the next day. Claire talked about the difference between Canadian and US health care systems, and her parents were more than happy to complain about Canada’s health care system.

Early the next morning, I sat down with Claire’s brothers before they left for school and straightened out their computer problems. They had screwed up some Windows DLLs and didn’t know how to fix them. It was easy for me, and they seemed sincerely grateful. Claire and I hung around throughout the morning revising our plans for the rest of the trip, her idea not mine, but I was delighted. After lunch, Claire announced that we were leaving that evening for Montreal for the weekend and then heading home. Her mother seemed disappointed but didn’t try too hard to convince us to stay. When her father returned from work, he shook my hand and advised me to drive carefully.

We spent a wonderful weekend in Montreal. We caught some movies, hit some clubs, and played around in the hotel room. Claire was warm and loving and enthusiastic. We didn’t talk about her family or Jews or Israel. It was like we were home or maybe it was just more shalom bayit, except that shalom bayit is supposed to be more than just superficially papering over disagreements. That was the least part of it. Shalom bayit, I remembered, was really about making the effort to listen to others and understand their concerns. It wasn’t about giving up or giving in or deceiving yourself or anyone else. It was about a willingness to grow and change, about communicating and coming to an honest understanding that all could accept even if it wasn’t exactly what you originally wanted. In the end you put the arguments aside because they didn’t mean anything anymore. On the long drive home Claire became very quiet and pensive. I didn’t mind; I had a lot to think about too. Although we were both thinking, I wasn’t sure we were communicating, and I wasn’t sure either of us was willing to make the changes that would truly bring us shalom bayit.

Back in Boston, we fell into our familiar ways. Still I felt an undercurrent of tension. Claire and I celebrated Chanukah in my apartment, giving each other silly presents and lighting the Menorah. I went home alone to my parent’s house for one night. Before Claire flew home for Christmas, I gave her a serious present, a sweater she had been long admiring. Then I drove her to the airport and picked her up a few days later. Her only complaint: the Canadian health care system was so overloaded that her father was having trouble scheduling some medical tests. We celebrated New Year’s Eve at a friend’s party.

This undercurrent of tension continued to surface now every time Israel was in the news, which at times was almost every other day. Other times it came out when we were ordering food. Suddenly she seemed very sensitive to what was kosher or not. Would I eat spare ribs in a Chinese restaurant? Would I eat shrimp at a seafood restaurant? “What’s with you suddenly?” I asked. “I eat all that stuff. You know that,” I finally said, venting my frustration. She also started going to church occasionally. She would invite me, but I would decline, joking that I only go on Easter. She never pressed the issue.

One day my father called. His father’s yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death, was coming up. It fell on a Saturday, Shabbat, this year. Would I join him at services and say Kaddish, a special prayer said in memory of a dead loved one, with him? I never remember him saying Kaddish for his father. He barely sat shiva, the weeklong period of mourning following his father’s death. I must have been in high school at the time. “Is this another thing the rabbi expects?” I asked somewhat insultingly.

“It has nothing to do with the rabbi. It is something I want to do. Will you come with me?”

Claire was surprised when I told her that I was joining my father at the synagogue the next Saturday. We didn’t have any plans. I would drive down early that morning and be back that evening. Yet, she was upset. “Look, I don’t complain when you run off to church, leaving me in bed,” I pointed out.

“That’s different,” she insisted.

I didn’t think it was different. We agreed to disagree, but we both knew things had changed between us. Why should that be? We were both the same people we had always been. Only now there was this thing between us, my Jewishness or maybe it was her Catholicness. I wasn’t any more Jewish than I had ever been before. I wasn’t a sudden advocate for Israel. And Claire was still Claire. I loved her for who she was, for the way she railed at people who were styuupeed. We were great together in bed and out of bed. We had loved each other. So why not now, dammit? Why had it changed? It shouldn’t have changed, but clearly something had. And I started to fear that I couldn’t change it back to the way it was without becoming someone I wasn’t. I could pretend or Claire could pretend, but neither of us could keep it going that way.

I picked up my father at the house, and we drove together to synagogue arriving in time for the Torah service. Unlike the High Holidays when the place was packed, today maybe seventy or eighty people sat scattered around the sanctuary. My father greeted many people as we came in and introduced me. I could sense how proud he was to have me with him. I started toward some seats in the back, way at the side. “Let’s go where I usually sit,” he said and directed me toward an area in the middle toward the front.

“You have a usual seat? How often do you come?” I asked, flabbergasted.

It turns out that he came almost every week. Usually my mother would come with him. “She’s home making a very nice lunch for us. Don’t eat too much at kiddush. And you’ll have plenty of leftovers to bring home,” he explained.

“But why?” I stammered. “What about golf? What about all the Saturdays you go into the office?”

“There is incredible richness in the Jewish tradition, in Jewish learning and values. Your grandfather understood that, but I was too smart or too busy to bother with it. Now I want to taste that richness, to experience it firsthand,” he replied. “For one day a week, business can wait. Anyway, so I tee off later in the afternoon, what’s the big deal?”

I looked around the congregation. None of my old high school friends were there although there were a bunch of people about my age plus a bunch more a bit older, young families with little kids. I tried to picture myself here with Claire, maybe with a child too. It was a nice thought but I just couldn’t make the picture work. For one thing, Claire would have to convert if our kids were to be considered Jewish in a congregation like this, and I couldn’t see her doing that. Her family would go ballistic. So I reversed the picture and tried to see myself at church with her and our children. Again, I’d probably have to be baptized or take communion or confession or something. I’m not sure I would do that; it would kill my parents and maybe me too. Anyway, it would all be pretending and, as I had already realized, that wouldn’t work for long.

Meanwhile, I was going through all the motions of the service on autopilot, standing up and sitting down, touching the Torah when it passed. My mind was busy trying to visualize these scenes with Claire. My father suddenly tapped my shoulder. “Mourner’s Kaddish,” he said. We rose and recited what I thought were ancient Hebrew words praising God. (It turns out they are Aramaic words.) It’s odd that the prayer we say for the dead never mentions the dead. Instead we praise God and ask for peace. Phrases that I had heard long before popped into my head and out of my mouth. I was surprised that I remembered so much of it. When we finished, we sat down. “Thank you,” my father said.

At kiddush afterward, we nibbled at the snacks, careful to leave room for the lunch my mother was preparing. My father got into conversation with some other men his age. I drifted over toward some men and women about my age. They were friendly. One woman introduced herself as Sharon. She was slim and attractive, with short, curly brown hair, brown eyes, and a wide smile. She didn’t look anything like Claire, but I found her physically attractive too. And she seemed very nice. Funny how you can be attracted to lots of different people. For the first time, I began to think about life after Claire.

My relationship with Claire limped along after I returned to Boston that evening, but we both knew it was ending. We just didn’t know how to end it. We were sad and afraid of hurting each other. She insisted my being Jewish wasn’t a problem unless I made it one. I said she was welcome to be as Catholic as she liked. Although each of us thought we weren’t committed to the religion of our birth — religions neither of us practiced much and barely mentioned — each religion already had become an integral part of who we were long before we met the other. It was part of our culture and our families and part of our selves. Maybe some people can step away from that part of themselves, or at least say they can, but I couldn’t and neither could Claire. We couldn’t do it and still be honest with ourselves or with each other.

In the end, our breakup was easy but unfortunate. Claire received a late night call from her mother. Her father had a heart attack and was being rushed to the hospital. I was sleeping in my own apartment that night, as I had been doing more often. Claire dashed down the hall and banged on my door. I pulled her in and comforted her, calmed her, and made arrangements for her to fly out on the first flight that morning. I stayed up with her all night, rocking her in my arms. Before the sun came up, I drove her to the airport.

She called a few days later to say her father had stabilized and would recover. A few days later she called to say she decided to move back home. She could get a job at the local hospital, the one she had pointed out during our visit. Later that month she arrived with her oldest brother and a rental truck. I helped them move her stuff out of her apartment. Before she got into the truck to leave, we embraced and kissed on the sidewalk. That was the last I saw of Claire.

I guess you go through something like a period of mourning when a serious relationship ends. In time I started socializing again, dating other women. I don’t think I made a conscious decision to see only Jewish women, but those were the only women I dated. I started visiting my father and joining him at his synagogue. And then I found a synagogue with a large group of young, single adults in Boston (actually, it was across the river in Cambridge).

In the process I gradually became a more aware Jew as I too, like my father, dug more deeply into the richness of my Jewish heritage and liked what I found. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but whatever it is, one thing I do know: my Jewishness will be a big part of it because it is an undeniable part of me. That means I probably won’t be sleeping with strangers anymore. Of course, if a beautiful shiksa wants to throw her body at me…well, who knows? But even if that should happen she’ll know immediately that she is throwing her body at a Jewish boy who intends to remain Jewish until the day comes that his child says Kaddish for him.

The Silver Bullet (a High Holiday story)

Mark knew he was really in trouble this time, more trouble, far more trouble, than he ever wanted. He had been getting into bigger and bigger trouble all year long without even really thinking about it. He just did things that got him into trouble, things he didn’t even particularly want to do.

It all began about halfway through the last school year. He started his bar mitzvah training at Hebrew school. It seemed that the idea of his bar mitzvah suddenly took over his parents’ entire lives. His parents were planning this humungous bash. It was going to be fancy beyond belief. They rented the fanciest place in town. They hired a big band that he and his friends didn’t even like. It was embarrassing. His parents thought he should be thrilled. “Why aren’t you excited?” his mom would ask each time she announced the latest twist. His dad was even planning to invite his customers from his business. Mark felt like throwing up.

And it was not like he asked for any of this. He would have been happy with a simple bar mitzvah. As far as he and his friends went, a pizza party with a DJ from the popular radio station would have been fine. But his parents wouldn’t hear anything of it. “This is an important event in your life, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Make the most of it,” his dad kept reminding him.

Anyway, Mark tried to simply tune it all out. Tune out everything. His schoolwork slipped. He start skipping school with some kids he hardly knew and didn’t even really like. He joined them on what they called adventures. This usually involved breaking windows or spraying paint on cars or buildings. Once they even went into a store and stole things. Mark knew it was wrong, and he felt bad. He didn’t want to do any of it, but he didn’t want to be called chicken either.

Teachers tried to talk to him. They kept asking if anything was wrong. What could he tell them, that he hated his parents’ plans for his bar mitzvah? He guessed he was supposed to be grateful, but he wasn’t. The more he thought about it, the more he hated it. The teachers sent him home with notes to his parents, but he just tore them up and threw them away.

Once a teacher even called his home and talked to his parents. Mark heard his mom tell the teacher that maybe his bar mitzvah studies were taking him away from his work, but he’d make it up. “Not a chance,” Mark thought. At that time, his bar mitzvah was still months away, after summer and the High Holidays in the fall. That was another thing: he had to study for his bar mitzvah over the summer.

But all that was nothing compared to the trouble he was in now. This was the worst trouble he could imagine, and he didn’t know how to get out of it. It happened when he arrived at the synagogue for his bar mitzvah lesson. The cantor had to cancel at the last minute. Mark was left standing around, and nobody was there. The place was deserted. Then he saw the silver ornaments for on the Torahs. The ornaments were spread out on a table. He remembered his mom saying that the silver was polished before the High Holidays. He didn’t want the stuff, but he grabbed a couple of the fanciest Torah breast plates, slipped them into his backpack, jumped on his bike, and left.

Mark didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do next. He was afraid to go back and return them because someone would likely be around by now. His new friends had told him about some guys who hung around by the industrial park at night and bought all kinds of stolen stuff. Mark decided he would stash the Torah ornaments someplace until he could take them down there. He’d give the money to the synagogue.

The next evening Mark saw his opportunity. His parents were going out and leaving Mark home alone, now that he was almost thirteen. Here was his chance to get rid of the Torah ornaments. As soon as his parents left, he hopped on his bike and headed for the industrial park.

The industrial park was deserted. It was getting dark, and really spooky by the time Mark arrived. He hid behind a trash dumpster near the place the kids had talked about. In a little while he saw headlights and a car pulled up. A couple of men got out. They were just hanging around.

Mark was about to come out of his hiding place when suddenly a man appeared from behind a building. “Police!,” he shouted. “Freeze and put your hands up.”

The two men pulled out guns and started shooting at the policeman. Mark, peering around the dumpster, saw the flashes of the guns and heard loud noises. The policeman crouched behind some barrels and fired back. The two men ran to their car, jumped in, and raced off. The car tires screeched, leaving smoke and an awful smell of burnt rubber. On the ground, even from where he was hiding, Mark could see black tire tracks burned onto the concrete.

The policeman pulled out a walkie talkie. “This is unit 7. They got away. They’re heading north,” Mark heard him say. Then the policeman started looking around and began walking carefully toward where Mark was hiding. Mark pulled back.

“Come out whoever you are and put your hands up,” the policeman ordered, still holding his pistol in his hand. Mark was frightened nearly to death, but he stepped out with his hands up, like he’d seen on TV. “You’re just a kid. What are you doing here?” the policeman asked.

“I was riding my bike and got lost. I just want to go home,” Mark stammered.

“What’s your name and where do you live?” the policeman asked. Mark told him. The policeman put his gun back in its holster and snapped a strap over it. In doing so, Mark saw a bullet fall out of the policeman’s holster. The policeman didn’t notice.

“Were those real bad guys?” asked Mark, timidly.

“They are called fences, people who buy stolen stuff. Someone broke into a synagogue the other day and stole some valuable items. We expected the thief to meet up with these two. We’ll get those guys yet, and the thief too, you can bet on it,” the policeman said. Mark thought the policeman could see right inside him and expected to be arrested on the spot. “Now get home fast,” the policeman ordered and told him how to get there.

Mark pedaled his bike furiously, but he had one stop to make. He rode by the synagogue. There were no cars in the parking lot. He rode up fast and dropped the Torah breastplates

that he had stolen at the front door. Then he raced home. Mark arrived before his parents returned and went straight to his room.

The next day Mark pored over the newspaper for the story about the theft of the Torah breastplates or the trouble at the industrial park, but there wasn’t a word of either story. “Did you hear any news about a theft at the synagogue or some trouble at the industrial park?” he asked his parents at dinner. They hadn’t heard anything either. Maybe it hadn’t really happened.

After supper he told his parents he was going for a bike ride and headed back to the industrial park. Where he thought he had seen the two guys and the policeman, there were no signs of anything. The tire tracks that had been so clear yesterday were gone. No marks at all, nothing. Then he saw a glint on the ground. He went over, spotted a shiny object, and picked it up. It was a bullet, a silver bullet. This must be the bullet the policeman dropped, Mark thought. In his room at home, Mark hid the bullet in the back of one of his drawers where he put his special things.

When school started, Mark, still shaken by his experience at the industrial park, decided he would never make trouble again. He stopped seeing the kids who led him into trouble. Instead, he threw himself into his schoolwork and bar mitzvah study. Sometimes he wondered if maybe he dreamed the whole thing with the policeman at the industrial park, but then Mark would pull out the silver bullet and he knew it really had happened.

The High Holidays arrived, and Mark sat with his parents in the grownups’ service, since he was just about to become a bar mitzvah. The rabbi gave a sermon, yakking on and on about spiritual life and material goods, whatever that meant. His parents seemed to take notice, but Mark wasn’t the least bit interested until the rabbi started telling a story about a guy who did bad things and was visited by the prophet Elijah, who appeared in many different disguises. Elijah visited people when they least expected it and taught them about doing good things and repentance and forgiveness. During the rest of the service, Mark thought about the guy in the story and felt really sorry for the bad things he himself had done. He asked God for forgiveness and vowed to God to never do those things again. He also thought about Elijah and his disguises.

“Did you hear what the rabbi said about material goods?” his dad asked at dinner that night. “I guess we went a little overboard making your bar mitzvah so fancy,” his dad continued. “That’s what the rabbi meant when he talked about spiritual values and material goods. I’m embarrassed.”

His mom took his hand. “Maybe that’s why you’ve been so unhappy lately. It’s a little late, but let’s see how we can make your bar mitzvah more spiritual,” she said.

“Fine with me. I’d like that,” Mark agreed. “You know I love you both,” he added. He had already forgiven his parents. Heck, anybody could make mistakes. Mark knew that he himself had a lot to be forgiven for. Suddenly, a funny thought occurred to him: he was acting like the guy in the Elijah story the rabbi had told. Then another thought crossed his mind: who really was that policeman he met at the industrial park?

Mark excused himself and rushed to his room. He went to the place where he kept his special things and reached for the silver bullet. But it wasn’t there. Instead, in its place was a beautiful silver mezuzah.

Mark’s parents readily accepted the story that the mezuzah was another of his many bar mitzvah gifts that were already pouring in. His dad put it up on the door to Mark’s room. Touching it every day, Mark thinks about repentance and forgiveness, about Torah and the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and about the policeman.

Acts of Loving Kindness

Marty knew he should be thinking about his father and his family, but all he could think about were himself and hockey camp. His father had been hurt last summer in an accident and hadn’t been able to work since then. He could barely move around the house, and then only with the help of crutches. Marty’s mom worked hard, but she couldn’t make enough money for the family all by herself.

Things hadn’t been too bad until this week when his dad’s disability payments ran out. Marty wasn’t exactly sure what that was, but his mom said it meant there would be even less money. Already, they had to cancel their cable TV to save money.

Hockey camp was out of the question now. It was too expensive, Marty’s mom told him. His little brother and sister also had to give up activities, but they were just little kids. It didn’t matter that much to them, he felt. His hockey, however, was a different story altogether. It was all so unfair.

Marty was 10 years old, and loved sports, all sports. He played sports and read about sports and star athletes whenever he could. Big, strong, and unusually well coordinated for his age, Marty was especially good at hockey, which his dad had taught him. He loved hockey and worked hard at it. He finally qualified for a special summer hockey camp taught by real NHL hockey stars, including one of his favorite players of all time. Every kid he knew wanted to go to this camp but only he and another boy among his friends qualified. Now, he wouldn’t be able to go. “I know how important it is to you, but we just don’t have the money, darling,” his mom had told him this morning.

If he could only get a job after school, Marty thought. He would earn money and pay for hockey camp himself, but he knew that was just dreaming. Who would hire a ten-year old? How much could he make? Sometimes he took care of neighbors’ pets when the people went away. The money was nice, but it didn’t amount to very much, a few dollars at best. For hockey camp, he needed over $1000–more money than he could imagine earning.

As he walked into Hebrew school, Marty was thinking about buying a lottery ticket and winning millions of dollars like he’d seen people do on TV. Of course, he knew that he was too young to buy a lottery ticket. It seemed to Marty that they didn’t have money for anything except Hebrew school. Why couldn’t he give that up instead?

Marty entered the old Hebrew school building behind the little synagogue in their community. The people at the synagogue had been nice, bringing meals over and driving his dad to therapy sessions, but they couldn’t do anything about hockey camp. That would take a miracle, and Marty didn’t think miracles happened anymore.

“Hi, Marty. How’s your dad?” asked the rabbi as Marty walked slowly down the hall.

“The same,” mumbled Marty, walking past the rabbi.

“Then why so sad today?” asked the rabbi, pulling Marty aside. “Has something happened?”

Marty didn’t really want to talk about it, but the rabbi persisted and Marty told him about hockey camp and how things were getting really bad for the family. “Thanks for telling me, Marty. I hadn’t heard these latest developments. Maybe there is something I can do to help,” he said.

“About hockey camp?” Marty asked hopefully.

“I wasn’t thinking of hockey camp exactly, but you never know,” the rabbi replied.

Marty didn’t hold out much hope for help from the rabbi. He seemed nice enough, but he never seemed to do much except stand around talking to people. Besides, his mother and father were dead set against accepting charity. They might accept a few meals and rides from members of the congregation, but they would never take money. Marty quickly forgot about the rabbi. Instead, he worried about his dad and his family. But he couldn’t stop thinking about hockey camp.

A few days later, the rabbi called Marty into his office. Walking down the hallway, Marty remembered that the rabbi had promised to help. Maybe he had found a way for him to go to hockey camp. For the first time in a week, his hopes rose.

The rabbi did have a way to help, but it wasn’t anything Marty ever would have guessed. “One of our older members is living in a nearby nursing home,” the rabbi explained. “His family lives far from here and would like someone to visit him a few days a week, maybe read the newspaper to him and push him around in his wheelchair. It won’t be for very long, just until they get him transferred to a place near where they live.” Marty showed no hint of interest. “It would really be a mitzvah, gemitlut chesed, an act of loving kindness,” the rabbi continued, trying to be as persuasive as he could. Probably they would give Marty a little reward for his efforts, he added.

Marty was terribly disappointed. Then the expression on Marty’s face shifted from disappointment to confusion. This was the last thing he wanted. It was enough having to deal with his father, who hobbled around the house on crutches. Now he would have to help some old guy he didn’t even know. Heck, he couldn’t help himself, let alone anybody else.

“Sometimes when we ourselves need help the most, God offers us an opportunity to help others,” the rabbi quickly went on, as if reading Marty’s mind. “Maybe that’s why the Torah says gemitlut chesed is so important. By doing mitzvot, we make the world better for ourselves too.” Marty didn’t care much about the world lately and certainly didn’t want to visit some old guy, but he told the rabbi that he would talk about it with his mother.

At home that evening, Marty’s mother insisted that he do it. The community had been so kind to them in their time of need, how could he not help, she reasoned.

The rabbi came with Marty to the nursing home the first day and introduced him to Mr. Greenblatt. Mr. Greenblatt was sitting in a wheelchair listening to the radio. He could no longer see or walk, but he sounded cheery. “Call me Fred,” he told Marty.

It turned out to be an easy job. Marty would stop by after school two days a week. He would wheel Fred to the day room, a lounge where a bunch of other old guys sat around. Then, he would read stories from the newspaper’s sports section. Marty loved sports, so he was glad to read sports stories. Fred seemed to know a lot about sports. The other old guys often came over and listened. Before long they would be talking and arguing about teams and players. Marty would stop reading and just sit back and listen. Half the time he didn’t understand exactly what they were arguing about because they were talking about teams and players and games from many, many years ago. Still, he found it fascinating.

Once they were discussing basketball. One of today’s star players had punched and kicked his coach. The old guys complained that players were too rich and too disrespectful. “If I did something like that when I was playing ball, they would have booted me off the team and out of the league immediately,” said Fred.

“You played basketball? For a professional team?” asked Marty, incredulous.

“Ain’t you ever heard of Fred Green? He used the name Green, not Greenblatt, back then,” said one of the old guys. “He had a couple of decent seasons, but that was long before we had the leagues we have today.”

Fred, it turned out, had been a professional basketball player. He gave it up to have a family and live a Jewish life. “It wasn’t the kind of money that it is today, and I never liked all the traveling and having to play on Friday night and Saturday. I’ve always enjoyed Shabbat,” Fred told Marty.

Marty couldn’t believe he had been reading sports news and talking about sports with a real basketball player. Over the next few weeks, Fred gladly answered Marty’s eager questions. He also asked Marty about his own interest in sports. Marty told him about hockey and hockey camp and his dad. “You seem like you’d be good at hockey. Maybe things will work out for you,” Fred said, “but there are more important things than playing sports.”

In the visits that followed, Marty still read the sports news and they talked about sports, but they also talked about other things, like family. “The love of your family is the most important thing,” Fred said often. Fred wanted to be near his children. And, he really missed his grandchildren; one of them was Marty’s age. They also talked about Marty’s family. Marty’s father had the chance for some special rehabilitation, but he would have to go to a hospital in a different city. His parents didn’t think they could afford it.

One day, Marty arrived to find Fred very excited. “I’m moving to be near my children next week,” he reported. Marty was happy for Fred, but sad too. He had come to look forward to his visits with Fred and the other old guys. In the day room, the others were sad. Marty realized that they also would miss Fred.

Suddenly, one of the old guys turned to Marty and gave him a hug. “I guess we won’t be seeing you any more, young feller. We’ll really miss you,” he said. Marty, to his surprise, found himself too choked up to even reply. He walked around and hugged each of them.

A few weeks later the rabbi stopped by Marty’s house. “The Greenblatt family is very thankful for the friendship and attention you gave Mr. Greenblatt. It was a wonderful mitzvah,” the rabbi said. “They wanted me to give you this,” he added, holding an envelope in his hand.

Marty couldn’t believe it when he opened the envelope. It held a check for more money than Marty could have hoped. “But they don’t owe me anything,” he stammered. The money, the rabbi explained, was a gift, a gesture of their appreciation.

“I’ll guess I’ll be packing you off to hockey camp,” said his mother. She caught Marty by surprise. He had given up thinking about hockey camp. After the weeks with Fred and the other old guys, he had sort of forgotten about hockey camp. He still loved hockey, but it just didn’t seem like such a big deal any more.

He took the check and handed it to his dad, who had hobbled into the room. “I want you to go to that special hospital and get better,” Marty said. “Then maybe you can send me to hockey camp next year.”

The old guys were stunned when Marty strolled into the day room the next week at his usual time. “Anybody want me to read the sports news?” he announced. The old guys rushed over to him. For the first time since his dad got hurt, Marty felt really good.

The One God

The two girls were too busy with the work their mom had given them in the yard to notice the figure approaching. Although they were only 11 years old, they were expected to help out taking care of the crops and the animals. They lived on a small farm in Canaan. The work was very hard, especially now that their dad had gone away to fight the invaders from the desert. When one of the girls chanced to look up she was startled by the silent figure hobbling toward them. She grabbed her twin sister, who screamed when she saw the figure coming closer. They ran off toward their one-room home, calling for their mom.

The mom heard the scream and came racing out, carry a big, heavy wooden club. Ever since the men went off to fight the invaders from the desert, she had been afraid for the safety of the family and kept the club near her. She never knew when or if the invaders would reach them, but if they did, they would surely kill her and her girls. Or make them slaves. That’s what the people said in the village. When she heard the girls scream, she was ready to fight for their lives.

She raised her club high over her head and started to approach the figure. But the figure moved so slowly and looked like it was ready to fall over. This couldn’t be one of the desert invaders, she thought. People said the invaders were so strong and fierce that no army could beat them. This figure was a man, but he was filthy and his clothes were little more than shredded rags. His hair was matted with blood and one arm hung useless at his side.

“Ayla,” cried the staggering figure, “it’s me, your husband.”

“Oh no! My dear husband, what happened to you,” she cried, rushing to support him as he collapsed. “Quick, girls, get water. It is your father. Bring water right away,” she shouted. The girls jumped into action.

The next day, after Ayla and the girls had cleaned and bandaged their father’s wounds, fed him, and let him rest, he told the story of how he and the other Canaanites tried to stop the desert invaders. “We thought we had beaten them back, but then rams horns sounded, making a deafening noise, and men in robes–they looked like priests–appeared carrying a great wooden box. Suddenly all their fighters turned on us with a savage fury we had never seen. They shouted to their god and smashed against us with swords and shields and spears. We had no chance. Suddenly everybody started to run. I got hit and knocked down. I was nearly trampled to death except I rolled into a little ditch. I pretended I was dead until night and then I crawled away. Many had died. It was terrible.”

“But you had your little Baal with you? Surely he helped?” asked Anya, one of the twin daughters. Baal was one of the gods to which the family prayed. They had gods for this thing and that thing, but Baal was supposed to be one of the best.

“We had many gods with us, so many gods. Each fighter carried one, two, sometimes even three. We prayed and prayed and at first it seemed to work, but then they brought out that great box and called on their god. Everything went terribly for us after that. They swarmed all over us.”

“Their god lives in box? What does he look like?” asked Karin, the other daughter.

“I have heard that nobody sees their god, not even their high priests,” said Ayla, the mother.

“You mean the god never comes out of the box?” asked Anya.

“The god isn’t in the box. They say that the Israelites carry rules carved on stone in the box. The rules are the rules of their god. Everybody lives by those rules,” Ayla continued, repeating what she had heard from other women at the well in the village. But you never knew what was true. There had been so many rumors as the desert invaders approached.

“Does Baal make rules for us?” asked Karin.

“Baal’s priests only makes rules that suit themselves, rules about sacrifices. They don’t make rules that help us,” Ayla replied.

“Don’t talk about Baal like that,” snapped Ervad.

“The people in the village say the invaders call themselves Israelites and that their god promised them this land,” Ayla continued.

“But it is our land,” cried Karin. “This is our home.”

“Not anymore,” her father said dejectedly. “The Israelites will spread throughout the whole land. Sooner or later they will get here. We can’t stop them.”

“What will happen to us?” asked Anya.

“I don’t know. I will pray to Baal and ask him what to do,” said her father.

“A lot of good that will do,” said Ayla, under her breath. She had her own ideas about what to do next. She had heard many things about this new god, about all his rules, and she liked what she heard. This new god had rules that protected people.

At the village the next day, Ayla heard the latest rumors. The Israelites were sweeping across the countryside, punishing everyone who had fought against them or who worshipped Baal or any other god except their god, who didn’t even have a name. “They call him ‘Adonai’ but that isn’t his real name,” one woman said. Ayla would be happy to give up worshipping Baal if for nothing else but this: Baal and the other gods their people worshipped asked for human sacrifices, which were always young girls. If they didn’t have any slave girls to sacrifice they would pick one of their own. With twin daughters, Ayla lived in fear that one day the priests would demand one of her daughters be sacrificed. What kind of god, she thought, asked for the lives of young girls? She would never pray to that kind of god, not anymore.

When she returned to her home, Ayla found her husband in the grove where he put the statue of Baal. He was praying to Baal, asking for guidance. He had arranged statues of other gods there too. “Are you crazy?” Ayla shouted when she saw him. “The Israelites are punishing everyone who worships any god but theirs. That’s what they are saying in the village. Quick, get rid of those. You’ll get us all in terrible trouble.”

“Baal has been good to us. He makes things grow on this farm. We can’t give up Baal,” he argued.

“Baal didn’t help you in the battle. None of those gods were any help against the Israelites. And someday Baal might want one of your own daughters. I won’t give one of our daughters to Baal, and I won’t let you put us at risk because of Baal. Destroy those statues now,” Ayla demanded.

He didn’t destroy the statues. He secretly moved them to a little cave near a stream. The Israelites came and searched through the village and the surrounding farms. Ayla and the girls swore they would worship only the Israelites’ god. Their father hid when the Israelites came. They didn’t find him or the gods he had hidden. Some villagers resisted the Israelites and were taken away and punished.

Ayla and her daughters were sincere in their promise to worship the new god and started learning the ways of the Israelites. It was hard at first to get used to the unusual ideas about this new god: there were no statues of it, it had no name, it was the one and only God, and it provided laws by which the whole community could live in peace. They learned about the 10 commandments and of all the laws Adonai had given the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. They learned about the miracles Adonai had performed for the Israelites in the desert. They learned of Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham and of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. But the best thing they learned, Ayla thought, was that Adonai doesn’t ask for the sacrifice of people. In fact, Adonai stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, his son. “This new god is merciful and kind, not like Baal,” Ayla told her daughters. Even when the Israelites made Adonai angry, he always forgave them when they repented.

The months went by and the family learned more of the ways of the Israelites, although the father kept sneaking out to worship Baal. Ayla knew this and demanded he stop. “You’ll get us all punished for nothing. Baal is a piece of stone made by your friend, Masur, the stonecutter. It is no more a god than any rock in the garden,” she pleaded. “Adonai is the real God. He is so powerful that nothing has stopped the Israelites, yet he is kind and forgiving. He gives us good rules and doesn’t allow human sacrifices.”

“Don’t fool yourself, Adonai is like any other god. What do you think will happen at their big New Year and harvest festivals in the fall? There will be sacrifices. They even said so. You can bet they will sacrifice girls just like the priests of Baal did because all gods want those sacrifices. That’s what gods do,” her husband warned.

Ayla, Anya, and Karin made the pilgrimage to the Israelite tabernacle for the New Year and harvest celebrations, but they were worried about what would actually happen. Ayla remembered Ervad’s warning about human sacrifices. They joined many people along the road. When they finally arrived, it looked like everybody in the world was there. Plus, there were thousands of sheep and goats and cattle.

The tabernacle itself was beautiful and in the center, they were told, was the special box–the Ark of the Covenant–containing the two tablets with the 10 commandments. They couldn’t approach the ark, but they could feel the presence of Adonai. When the sacrifices began, people brought up sheep and goats and cattle. They didn’t sacrifice people, only animals, which they ate.

Many animals were killed and then roasted on a big fire. The cooked pieces of meat were passed around to all the worshippers. After that, everyone drank wine and sang songs of prayer, praising Adonai, thanking Adonai for the many blessings they received, and asking forgiveness for their sins. For the first time, Ayla, Anya, and Karin truly felt love for Adonai and the rules he gave the people. “Thank you Adonai for saving my precious girls,” Ayla prayed, and she suddenly realized the one thing she must still do at home.

When she got home, she sent the girls inside to tell their father all about the trip. Instead of going inside herself, she picked up the big club she once thought she would use to protect herself against the Israelites and rushed to the secret cave where her husband had hidden his idols. She immediately started smashing them with the stick. Her husband came running in to stop her. He grabbed the club from her hands, but he was too late. Ayla had smashed the idols to bits. “They did not sacrifice any girls,” she proclaimed. Adonai is the only God. Adonai is our God, our only God, the one God.”

Of course, we know that the Jews went on to settle the land of Israel, the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for their descendants. They eventually built a great Temple in Jerusalem where they put the Aron Kodesh containing the Ten Commandments and the Torah. They established a community under the laws of God, a kind and loving community based on studying the Torah, caring for the needy, and¾ in keeping with their prayer, the Shema: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad,¾ dedicated to Adonai, the one God.

The New Kid

Sarah didn’t want to go to school. Ordinarily she loved school; well, she loved her old school, with all her friends. But on Friday her family moved to a new city. She didn’t want to go, but her dad had started a new job. She had no choice.

Today her mom would take her to her new school. Sarah put on her favorite warm-up pants and a big, baggy sweatshirt. Then, she tied her long brown hair as a French braid. She hoped she looked okay, but since they didn’t have any mirrors up yet, except the small one in the bathroom over the sink, she wasn’t really sure how she looked. That alone made her uncomfortable.

“Let’s try to get to school right at the start. I have lots of things to do today,” said her mom at breakfast.

“Can’t we wait a day or two? I could help you unpack,” Sarah suggested, hopefully.

“You’ll have plenty of time to unpack, and I have a lot of errands,” replied her mom. Sarah didn’t want to do errands, but she didn’t want to go to a new school either.

“You love school. The sooner you get settled in school, the happier you’ll be,” said her dad. “I know it’s hard to start in the middle of the school year, but we couldn’t help it. The Torah tells us to be kind to strangers, and you’ll be a stranger. I’m sure people will be kind to you,” he added.

“How do you know they’ve even read the Torah?” snapped Sarah, her anxiety rushing to the surface.

“I know it will be hard. But you had friends before. You’ll make new friends here. Waiting isn’t going to make it any easier. The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll find our friends and our community,” he said, giving her a hug and kiss. “We can only do our best and trust to God. Things will work out.”

Sarah wanted to believe that everything would be fine, but just glancing at the kids as she and her mom walked up to the school entrance confirmed her worst fears. At her old school, everybody wore sweats or warm-ups. Here, everybody was wearing jeans. And nobody had braided hair. “I’m dressed all wrong. Everybody’s wearing jeans,” she said in panic. She felt like she was going to puke.

“Don’t worry,” said her mom. “We’ll dig out your jeans or we can buy some new ones. For one day you’ll survive.”

The principal led Sarah to her new classroom. The kids giggled when the teacher introduced her and sat her at the only empty desk, next to a boy, introduced as Dwayne, who clearly resented having her nearby. “My desk is the capital of Boy’s Country. Girls aren’t wanted. And this is my new book bag. Don’t get your cooties on it,” he hissed quietly, as soon as the teacher left.

“You can be sure I won’t touch it,” she said with mocking extra sweetness, hoping to shut him up.

The morning seemed to go fine. Everybody ignored her except when the teacher made somebody show her something or do something with her. Then they got to math. All the kids seemed to be stumped on a problem that Sarah had learned at her old school. She raised her hand. “I know how to do it,” she offered when the teacher called on her. The other kids groaned and snickered. Big mistake, Sarah thought.

It was too late. “Please come up and show us the solution on the board,” said the teacher. Sarah walked up front.

“She’s dressed like she thinks she’s at the gym,” one boy whispered, loud enough for the entire room to hear.

“That will be enough,” warned the teacher. Sarah quickly solved the problem. “Very good. I couldn’t have done it better myself. Did you all follow what Sarah did?” she continued. Sarah slunk back to her seat and wanted to die.

At lunch, the girl assigned to show her to the lunchroom disappeared to join a bunch of other girls as soon as they passed through the food line. Sarah looked around and saw only one open table, where a boy sat by himself. He didn’t look like a member of Dwayne’s Boy’s Country. They were all sitting together in a noisy group. Feeling that she had already done everything else wrong and seeing no other seat anyway, she went up to the table.

“Mind if I sit here?” she asked.

“Be my guest, but you won’t win any popularity contests by sitting with me,” he replied.

“I haven’t won any yet. I’m Sarah.”

“Hi, I’m Aaron.”

They sat eating in silence for a few minutes. “I’m the new kid, but what’s the matter with you? Do you have leprosy or something?” asked Sarah, trying to start conversation.

“I just don’t fit it in with most of the kids. I like programming computers. I like math. I think you did a great job on that math problem. The other kids call me Dork Brains,” he said.

When the bell rang, they went back to class together. The rest of the day passed without any incidents. Sarah was thankful when the end of school bell rang. Walking out, she passed Dwayne and his friends. “See you tomorrow, Mrs. Dork Brains,” one of them shouted. The rest laughed.

At dinner, Sarah’s mom announced: “I found your jeans. How did your day go?”

“OK,” Sarah replied. She didn’t want to talk about the day.

“I passed a synagogue a few blocks from here on my way to work. We can check it out on Shabbat. Maybe they have a kid’s service that you can join in,” said her dad. Sarah knew many of the Shabbat prayers. At her old synagogue she was often asked to lead some of the prayers in the grownup’s service. It made her feel great. But Sarah wasn’t excited this time. It just meant more new people to meet.

Still, she was thankful when Friday arrived. The rest of the week had gone along without any big problems. Aaron was nice enough, but she missed her close girlfriends from her old school. The girls were polite but distant. The boys referred to her as Mrs. Dork Brains. Aaron told her to ignore them so she tried. If she could just get through one more day, she’d have the whole weekend without having to think about school.

Dwayne and the rest of the boys seemed louder than usual. “I’ve got something to show you, Mrs. Dork Brains, my pet spider,” he declared, when she sat at her desk. Dwayne held a glass jar, twisted off the lid, flipped it upside down, and shook out a big spider. It landed right in front of her on the desk.

Sarah hated spiders. At home, she would call her dad if she saw one. He would scoop it up and get rid of it. She wanted to scream, but she felt all the kids looking at her and held her scream. Thinking fast, Sarah grabbed Dwayne’s book bag, which was sitting on top of his desk, and used it to squish the spider.

“That’s my spider! And that’s my brand new book bag! Now you’ve put mushed spider guts all over my new book bag!” screamed Dwayne.

The teacher rushed over. Dwayne was sent to the principal’s office for punishment. Seating was moved around so Sarah found herself sitting next to some girls and right in front of Aaron.

“Great job, Sarah,” Aaron whispered.

“Good for you,” said the girl next to her. “Dwayne’s a jerk.”

On Saturday, the family went to Shabbat services at the synagogue her dad had spotted. Sitting with her parents in the main service, she noticed a bunch of kids her age, some a little older, some younger. After the Torah was taken from the ark, the kids all slipped out of the service. “Our Tot service and Junior Congregation are starting,” announced the rabbi. “Anyone who wants to attend should go to the chapel.”

“I’ll bring you over,” said her father.

“I’d rather stay here with you,” Sarah said.

“You won’t meet any kids staying here with us,” he said, gently leading her out. Her mom took her baby brother to the Tot service.

The man leading the Junior Congregation greeted each child by his or her Hebrew name. Sarah didn’t expect to know anyone. Then Aaron hurried in after her.

They started the Junior service. Different kids led different parts of the service, alone or in pairs. As the service went along, the man turned to one particularly quiet girl: “Shana, you haven’t done anything yet. Will you lead the Amidah for us?”

Shana looked about Sarah’s own age. She seemed popular enough, but was probably shy, like Sarah herself. “I’ll do it if someone does it with me,” Shana said.

After the math incident, Sarah vowed not to volunteer again, but she found herself raising her hand. “I’ll do it with her,” she said.

The two girls did the Amidah, and went on to lead other parts of the service too. Then all the kids took turns pairing up with one another to share the leading of other prayers and honors. This is a great bunch of kids, thought Sarah. The younger kids climbed all over the bigger kids. The oldest kids treated the younger kids nicely. It was sort of like a family.

Late in the service, a man arrived, the head usher. He asked some of the kids to lead parts of the main service: Alenu, Ashrei, and Ein Kelohenu. “Can you take Anim Zmirot?” he asked the man leading Junior Congregation. ” Michael was going to do it, but he’s sick.”

“No, That’s too hard for me on short notice. I’d need much more practice,” he replied.

“I can do it,” Sarah said quickly. “I’ve done it many times before.”

Sarah’s parents’ mouths dropped wide open in surprise when Sarah went up to lead Anim Zmirot. She chanted it loud and clear. At Kiddush, Shana and her parents came up to Sarah and her parents. “Can Sarah come over for a play date?” Shana blurted out.

“You have a lot of unpacking and …” her mom started to say.

“But it’s Shabbat. The boxes can wait, can’t they?” her dad interrupted.

Sarah and Shana went on to become good friends. At school, a girl asked Sarah if she could show her how she did that really cool braid in her hair the first day.

One Shabbat, Sarah suddenly bumped into a verse in the Torah that made her think twice: You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex: 23:9) Sarah read it over and over again, remembering that awful first week of school. She promised herself to always be nice to new kids in school, for she knew what it was like to be a stranger.

The Wicked Child

The first Seder had been awful. Edward didn’t like matzah and he said so. “This stuff is like cardboard. Do we really have to eat this junk all week?” He thought the whole idea of a Seder, the special Passover meal, was stupid, all the ritual this and symbolic that. The Four Questions that children are expected to recite were really stupid. Nobody ever really reclines when they eat. They’d choke. Then there was all the stuff about opening the door for Elijah and the cup of wine. “Hey, doesn’t this remind you of putting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus?” he suggested. Nobody laughed at his joke.

“You remind me of the wicked child in the Haggadah,” said his Uncle Robert, referring to the rebellious child, one of four described in the Passover Haggadah. Uncle Robert then went into some spiel about how special it was to be Jewish and a chain linking us all the way back in history. Then he threw in the Holocaust. Whenever adults want you to feel bad about not being Jewish, Edward thought, they bring up the Holocaust.

So, here they all are at the second Seder and nothing has changed. More aunts and uncles and cousins pour into the house. Everyone raves about the food—brisket and turkey, tsimmes and potato kugel—but Edward would prefer pizza or spaghetti, even a bagel. Edward, the oldest child in the family, is still feeling like the wicked child, but he keeps quiet. “Don’t spoil it for your younger brothers and sisters and everyone else,” his father warned.

The Seder went along in its predictable way. The little kids all sang the Four Questions. “Oh, how beautiful,” Aunt Linda declared, ignoring all the mistakes.

“I can read, so I’m joining in the adult parts,” Edward pointed out, as an explanation for why he didn’t join the other children.

“Welcome to the club. You’re getting to be a big boy,” said Uncle Robert, giving Edward a friendly wink.

Despite his best efforts, however, Edward couldn’t put much feeling into this. Bubbie started crying as usual when they got to the part where the Haggadah speaks of telling the story as if each person came out of Egypt. Bubbie escaped the Holocaust so she truly feels that God redeemed her, his father explained to their visitors. “What about all the people who were killed? God didn’t save them,” Edward muttered under his breath. He didn’t feel redeemed at all.

The Afikomen part of the Seder is Edward’s favorite. His father always hides the Afikomen, a special piece of matzah. When the children find it, they all bargain for a prize, usually a book or a toy. Because he is the oldest child, however, Edward often is slipped a real dollar too. During the meal, the kids searched high and low for the Afikomen. “That’s surprising,” Edward told his younger sister. “Usually we find it right away.”

“Give us a hint,” begged the children.

“It’s not upstairs,” said the father, and it is at the eye level of a child, he added. The kids scatter to cover every room in the house. Edward slipped off to his father’s study because he vaguely remembered his father coming out of there just after the start of the Seder meal. In the past this room was off limits, but his father hadn’t said that this year.

The study is crammed with bookshelves stuffed with books, the perfect place to hide the Afikomen, thought Edward. But where? A tiny glint catches his eye. It came from the light hitting the glitter his little sister used to decorate the Afikomen bag in nursery school. He reached over to pick up the bag, but as soon as he touched it he felt like he was spinning. He yanked his hand back, but it was too late.

Suddenly Edward found himself lying in what seemed to be a giant mud puddle. Someone was shouting at him in a language he didn’t understand. Before he could move, something hit him. Ooow! It stung. Someone, he realized, is hitting him with a whip. Again and again the whip lashes him. He madly scrambled to his feet. A guy who looks like an ancient soldier, like the kind he’d seen in movies, snaps a whip and shouts at him. Dirty people are all around him lugging bricks. Scared and confused, Edward scrambles into line with them and picks up some bricks. His whole body hurts from the whipping. He’s just a kid, but they whipped him hard, real hard. He’s crying, but nobody does anything.

All day in the burning sun Edward carries bricks. He didn’t understand a word people said. He wanted to go home, but he couldn’t figure out where he was or what happened. His body ached and he was desperate for a drink of water. As the sun was getting low in the sky a bell rang and people started trudging off in another direction. Edward decided to follow them.

As they walked a murmur grew among the people heading toward a collection of mud shacks. He arrived with the last stragglers and found the people suddenly energized. They were killing sheep and painting the doors of their shacks with the blood.

Now Edward recognized who they were and where he was. “They’re Jews. This must be Egypt. They’re slaves. They think I’m a slave too,” he thought. The blood meant that they must be preparing for the final plague—the killing of the first born.

Before Edward could react, the people disappeared into their shacks. Some moms grabbed the last children and animals. Edward was left alone, outside, as the last rays of the sun disappeared and night arrived.

Edward sat down to try to figure things out. Very slowly he started to hear crying, quiet and far off at first but drawing closer. Then it dawned on him. “God is coming tonight to kill all the first born of Egypt!” he shouted. No one heard him. All the Jews had painted their doorposts and were now staying inside. Edward was left alone, outside, as the terrifying wailing and crying got closer and closer.

Then he realized the jam he was in. “I’m a first born. I will be killed too,” he cried. He didn’t want to be killed. He wanted to live, to be home again, to be with his family, to be…redeemed. Yes, he too wanted to be redeemed. He had to be redeemed. Frantic, he tried knocking on doors, but none would open.

Unable to get inside, he huddled on the doorstep, right up against a doorpost painted with sheep’s blood. The wailing grew louder and louder. He felt in the air the scariest thing he could ever imagine—not a thing really but a presence. It had come to kill the first born of Egypt. Edward, a first-born son, knew he was in trouble, deep trouble.

“But I’m a Jew too,” he pleaded. And suddenly, he started to pray: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad.” He repeated it over and over. He recited the Borchu, Alenu, Ashrei. He searched his mind for every prayer his teachers in Hebrew school ever tried to teach him, every prayer he ever heard people praying in synagogue. And he kept repeating them over and over.

The wailing kept growing louder and closer and closer. With terror seizing him, Edward closed his eyes and ears and prayed as hard as he could. He felt the presence almost on top of him, stopping. Still he prayed. After what seemed a long time, the presence moved past. The wailing spread throughout what seemed the whole world, but he was still alive.

Edward kept praying through that night of terror and sorrow until, as dawn broke, he heard a new sound drown out the anguished cries of the Egyptians. It was the Israelites shouting from house to house. Suddenly people were rushing into the streets, grabbing whatever belongings they could. The Exodus had begun.

“Thank you Adonai,” whispered Edward.

“Aren’t you going to bring in the Afikomen?” asked his father. “We’re all waiting to continue.”

Edward was standing in the library holding the Afikomen. “I thought you wouldn’t hide it in your study,” he said in a shaken voice.

“You found it so easily last night. I thought you needed a little challenge,” his father replied.

The rest of the Seder seemed to race by. They opened the door for Elijah and it seemed to Edward that the level of wine in the cup did drop, that Elijah actually came and drank with them. When it came time to sing the songs, Edward sang for joy, as energetically as he could, as if he really was celebrating freedom with the Jews in Egypt.

“Last night’s wicked child sounds like a cantor tonight,” Aunt Linda whispered to Edward’s father.

His father smiled: “It sounds to me like he’s discovered what the Seder is all about.”