Originally published 2011-12-25
I had planned a nice, gradual re-immersion back into Judaism. Then last Monday, everything changed. Robin was at ApacheCon which was being hosted here in Vancouver. At this conference, he met a 30-year-old man named Issac.Issac lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Miri, and their two sons who are six and three respectively. On one level, Issac made a pretty basic mistake – he met and married Miri very young and very quickly, and now he’s trying to figure himself out.
Issac was going to be staying with a rabbi over Shabbat, but the rabbi had an emergency and that fell through. Robin, generous giving soul that he is, opened our home to him. Suddenly my gradual re-immersion became hosting an Orthodox Jew on the Sabbath, when I’ve never observed Shabbat properly in my own home before.
Robin dug up Issac’s email address, and I emailed him to welcome him. Then I spent the remainder of the week preparing my house.
Wednesday night Robin had proposed a Lebanese restaurant, which uses Hillel ingredients, but Issac said that that wasn’t sufficient for kosher. I decided to fix things, and found an amazing place – The Maple Grill – out in Kits. If you’re trying to avoid dairy, this is the place for you. Their soy-based tirimasu is to die for!
We had a good meal together, and the food was quite excellent if slightly over-priced.
Thursday I spent the day shopping for Judaica, eventually finding much of what I needed at Temple Sholom’s giftshop. I find it very weird that there are so few resources for this in Vancouver.
I got four <i>mezuzot</i>, which Issac helped me install on Friday. I also got a Kiddush cup and a havdalah candle. Then I went via first Cyclone Taylor Sports to get Dave more hockey tape; and then Oakridge where I met up with Robin to check out something for Graham’s X-mas gift, and to also find kosher wine.
We went home, napped and Robin went to get the Shabbat food, and then we made bacon pasta for dinner.
Friday I woke early, I cleaned the house, went to the dollar store and PricesMart for some last minute things and some lunch, and set out the candles. I had everything done by the time Robin texted that Issac and him were on the way home.
Issac helped me mount the <i>mezuzot</i> on the door posts, and then he went to change. We had some confusion – apparently he thought I’d be lighting the candles while he changed, I was waiting for him.
I lit the candles, did the bit with covering my eyes, said the brocah (prayer) uncovered my eyes and waved the light towards me. We had dinner. Issac did the brocahs over the food.
After dinner, Issac said he was going into the other room to do his evening prayers. He was going to be singing, and invited me to join him. I was getting pretty screwed up by this point – up until the lighting of the candles, I had had a script to guide me. Now I didn’t have any idea what to do, or what was expected of me.
I curled up in Robin’s lap at the table, and stayed that way while Issac began to davenen. For me, as the singing began, was when Issac ceased to be his mundane, secular self, and became the religious version of himself. He was no longer Issac, but Yitzchak. I could hear the music of the prayers, and I could hear the singing wrapping around me like a shawl, and calling me to move closer.
After a few minutes, I told Robin I would move closer. I perched on a beanbag, in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room and listened. Robin came in behind me, and held me. I caught the secret little smile Yitzchak made to himself when he became aware we had joined him. He has a lovely voice.
After the praying, came the Shabbat learning which didn’t seem very useful – as it’s mostly that there are rules of Shabbat, and rabbis who spend their time doing little else than arguing about them.
Then we talked. I had approached this meeting with Yitzchak with specific questions, and he knew what they were. Why was I doing this? Why Judaism, why now? Why did I feel this need in my life suddenly?
Yitzchak started by asking me what my fears were. I told him that I feared starkness – the absence of colour, of meaningful ritual in my life. Yitzchak said that something had changed for me – something maybe three years ago. I immediately thought of Maria. That her big German/Ukrainian Christmases were all I had of ritual in my life, and she took that away with her when she died. I thought of how resentful I had been of Dave, that first Christmas after Maria died, when he and Tracey had gone up to Hundred Mile. Dave still had his Christmas waiting for him, his traditions remained preserved and intact, while I, for the first time in my life, had nowhere to be. I no longer had the Island to go to.
Yitzchak seemed to feel that there was more to the story – that it was not about Maria, but about Bubbie my maternal grandmother. He said that I had enormous respect for her, by the very fact that I called her Bubbie. I immediately tried to flub that off on needing a way to distinguish between my Jewish and non-Jewish sides of my family.
He said that Bubbie, and possibly Zaddie as well, represent Judaism to me, that they are the key to all this.
I sat there on the floor of living room, literally at Yitzchak’s feet, and tried to be open to what he was telling me. Tried to look inside myself and see if what he said was true. I was naturally looking down at the floor while thinking, and a glint caught my attention. The gold star of David I had put on.
I suddenly understood everything.
I took off the star, and tossed it over to Yitzchak, who caught it and inspected it. I explained to him what I had done, what I had been doing from the start.
I own four stars of David. But the golden one is the most important. It is a gold star, with filigree filling the spaces, and a sunburst at its heart. Bubbie commissioned that star for me when I was born. When I considered going back to shul, I didn’t hesitate, that was the star I put on. When I bought myself a star I could wear in the SCA, I knew it was specifically a stand-in for the one Bubbie gave me, specifically so that I would not risk losing that star at an SCA camping event.
I told Yitzchak of this, and as I was speaking, I realized something more. There is another necklace, my family calls it the grandchildren necklace. It is formed in the shape of three children’s silhouettes. Two boys, and one girl. The boys are my two cousins by my mother’s younger sister Evelyn – Neil and Robbie. The girl is me. Our names and birthdates are on the back of the necklace. Bubbie had the necklace made shortly after I was born, when she knew I would be the last grandchild.
Robin interjected the missing piece when he then asked, “Is part of all this because Judaism is matrilineal and you are the only female grandchild?” And that was the answer. That was why I had had the vague feeling that I wanted to do this because I was thinking of becoming a parent. That was the source of the panic I had felt when Robin started talking about not wanting kids. But it’s worse than he realized. I am not just the only female grandchild of Bubbie Ettie – I am the last matrilineal descendant of my Judaic line. Everyone else has had boys, or girls who have had boys. There’s Andrea, who went to Tel Aviv to become Orthodox, but she has five sons and always looks exhausted in her photos. I don’t think she’ll have a girl. There’s also Heidi, the cousin on my mother’s side, but she’s now past 40, and she and her partner Sheldon will never have kids.
Robbie is gay; Neil is married. He married a <i>chicksa</i> (derogatory term for female non-Jew, think “gringo/gringa”), as Issac called her. She’s English, and quite nice, and they have two kids (one boy, one girl) whom I believe they are raising Jewish – but it is not direct from the line.
I found the family tree Laura drew up for me – and I believe I am right. I must have always known this, unconsciously, but I had never thought about it consciously.
My discussion with Yitzchak was incredibly intense, and I cried with Robin afterwards. I tried to help Yitzchak with some of his own issues (which are mostly marital issues with his wife) but I was really too shattered to be much use to him.
We talked a lot over the evening, and our emotions were exceptionally heightened, especially as the conversation was fuelled and facilitated by booze, sleep-dep and (for me) hormones, as I was also starting my period.
At one point, Issac got up to go to the bathroom, and I could see that he was a bit hard through the fabric of his shorts.
After my revelations, we waited for the Shabbat candles to die down, and then called it a night.
Saturday morning, I got up with my alarm and dressed for shul. I woke Yitzchak, watched him at his morning prayers, and off we went.
We walked down to the shul, not really talking in any great depth on the way down. We were both only partially awake.
We got to shul, and seated ourselves in the sanctuary. We chatted to a few people as they came in. They started the service. Yitzchak had a very different davening experience than I did, and to a certain extent his experience kept pulling me out of my own. For one thing, he kept trying to point out where we were in the book, whereas I found that when I wasn’t trying to follow, I could actually follow along intuitively more easily.
The torah portion was about Sarah and Abraham in Germand (sp?) where Abraham tries to pass Sarah off as his sister, and she winds up married to the pharaoh. Yitzchak saw this story in the light of the love triangle he felt we were developing between him, Robin and myself; for me I was more moved thinking about the prophesy for Sarah to have Issac. There is Sarah at a hundred and whatever years old, in the desert, lying awake at night thinking that if she doesn’t conceive the line of kings begins and ends with her.
After the service, we had the Kiddush and I got some food. Yitzchak naturally refrained because the food wasn’t kosher. When I went to find him after I got through the line, there was room at his table, but no more chairs. To get a chair, I would have had to fly it over the heads of several people. The nearest chair was a scaled-down chair for the children’s table. I sat in it anyway. For are we not supposed to sit at the feet of those from whom we seek wisdom?
Several people we talked to asked us how long we’d been married. Not if we were married, that was assumed, but how long. We both said, “Since yesterday.” We both said, “But we’ve been dating since Monday.” Then we both laughed and tried to explain. We had some good, light discussions about egalitarianism.
On the walk home, I tried to get Yitzchak to open up to me a bit more. I started with something that had occurred to me in shul, and which tied together a few things Yitzchak had mentioned. Yitzchak is a person with an extraordinary amount of “masculine energy.” Men, at least how Yitzchak was raised, are used to expressing themselves externally, and are used to being the penetrators. Women, are used to expressing themselves internally, and are used to be being penetrated. Whether Yitzchak is conscious of it, he’s exceptionally resentful of being “penetrated.” Although, he has a harder time with me than with Robin. Robin projects “feminine energy” and as he’s also a computer programmer, he’s viewed as neutral.
While we were talking and walking, I talked about the third grandmother in my story – a woman named Amanda who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Though not directly related, she has been a large influence in my life, and her terminal prognosis has been a shock to all of us. After Council, where we learned about Amanda, I sent Graham an email to tell him. In the last line of his reply he said, “I will keep her in my prayers.” I stared at that line for a long time wondering what I could or should be doing. I went to shul for the first time the following Saturday.
Once Yitzchak and I were back at my house, we talked more about his problems, and I found myself getting exceptionally turned on. I realized, in that moment, that this was the real Test of the weekend, that this would be my temptation. But Robin was strong for me, when I was momentarily weak, and he put me to bed (alone).
Saturday night we all had a brief meal together; and then I went to work. Robin’s shift to work on Yitzchak. Sunday morning, I came home to find Yitzchak asleep on the downstairs couch, and my suite filled with the scent of him. I made myself go to bed without waking him.
Sunday night we took him back to the airport, and discussed Israel. He asked me if I would ever consider going back, in light of recent developments. I said that I wasn’t interested, because I had already gotten what I needed from Israel.
What I realized is that I am a Jew of the Diaspora, and I identify more strongly with the Wandering. For after 40 years, and knowing that the Dream will not be realized in our lifetime – would not some come to value and appreciate the simplicity, beauty, and harshness of the life Outside? Life gets filled with the routines and the minutiae of the everyday – and far-off dreams get put aside for more practical concerns.
I have travelled all over the world – and I have never felt home other than here in Vancouver. I don’t think I’m ever likely to become one of those, “Next year, G-d willing, in Israel” Jews. Home is where one finds oneself, lands on their feet, and is the life they make with their fellow [two goyem husbands] wanderers they meet along the way.
We parted ways, and we hugged at the gate. He had to bend down quite far to hold me. We both tried to get all that we couldn’t say or ask of the other through that hug. He went through the check-point.
At home, I got to hold my two husbands for a couple of hours before it was time for work.
At some point I contacted Graham, and set up a meeting with him for Monday night. I met him at Gilmore Station, and we had tea and light supper at a weird Korean restaurant called, “PuriTEA”
It was cathartic talking to him. There was not much he said that really stuck, but I just needed someone to listen and I knew it would be a long time before I’d be able to write about it properly. One thing he said that did stick with me was something he said in response to something I said about Israel and the Diaspora, “putting down roots outside the flower pot.” I really liked that image.
I feel on the one hand that it’s very sudden; on the other I feel much more focused and consolidated. I know Shabbat and Yitzchak were gifts, and a test for me. I know that before this weekend I doubted; and now that doubt is gone.