Friday, September 12, 2008

The Cynic Who Restores My Faith


As the big kahuna holidays approach, I am iffy on organized Judaism because defending Israel’s aggression is so often not an optional part of the package. There are fifteen countries in the world that will not admit bearers of Israeli passports so I am not dismissing the hatred of Jews as an issue but I do question the use of force in the face of dogged intolerance.

I sent Harry a note, which I realized seconds after I sent it, must have been very stupid because one of the built-ins, at least for the Dispensationalist wing of Christian evangelicals (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, et al) is that unless you have really accepted Jesus, the Bible and its prophecies will simply not make sense to you, so choose Jesus or shut your piehole. I was pestering Harry for clarification of the scenario for the rapture. I saw footage of Joe Lieberman fawning over and even comparing to Moses, Dispensationalist John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel. In 1979 the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, gifted Jerry Falwell with a Lear jet.

My understanding of this is very basic and I welcome correction and amplification. As I understand it, many Evangelicals believe the Koran is Satan’s book. They believe that a precondition to the rapture of Jesus returning to earth and sweeping Christian souls to heaven is that a certain number of Jews accept Christ as savior. If the Muslims wipe out Israel, the rapture will not occur. Most of the evangelical groups funneling big bucks into Israel believe that their passport to heaven is the acceptance of Christ by a number of Jews and the condemnation to hellfire of the rest. Taking these Evangelical dollars is not only cynical, but this war mongering (evangelicals oppose all Israeli peace efforts) falls well outside the framework of Halacha and compromises our peoples’ obligation to seek peace and pursue it.

Spuds has decided to become a Bar Mitzvah, which will inevitably lead us all to spend more time in shul where we will wrangle with what it means to be a Jew in the diaspora. If he weren’t gay and I weren’t married, Jay Michaelson would be meant for me. His writings in the Forward, along with those of my husband in letters to me and on his blog, have been the most meaningful spiritual writings I’ve read. His recent piece, “What Are the Jewish Issues?” reminds us that a Judaism aimed only at preserving the Jews stands for nothing. We have survived Christian love for over two thousand years and I believe we have it within us to restore meaning to Judaism and to teach our children what we really do stand for.


It was twenty years ago this month I first met Himself and I remember watching for him from the sun porch of the tiny Echo Park owl house. I recognized his long legged stride on Morton Avenue. He was carrying flowers. I remember the sweet anticipation of seeing someone, who I could possibly love, bringing me flowers and just moments away from my threshold. Twenty years and thousands of comings and goings later, I remain hypervigilant, like the dogs, to hear his car on the road or step on the stairs. We get on each other’s nerves and like royalty, should never travel in the same vehicle and neither of us should ever get a cold. I eat in bed and ask him ontological questions when he is trying to fall asleep. He walks ahead of me and will not use the cell phone and I would be embarrassed to provide a comprehensive report of his dietary preferences and taboos.

But who would I be if my beloved had not crossed the threshold of my tiny cottage back in 1988? I cannot imagine this person because for two decades the gift of his essence, laid at my feet, has made me feel more beautiful than I would have ever dreamed during the lonely ache that went before. Until the rabbit died I had never thought much about myself as a mother one way or the other. I read “What to Expect” but I had no clue. Now, after twenty years of sleeping wrapped together, we have two teenagers and for all the labor and emotional intensity of this, tears still well up when I look at my sons and see myself and Himself and the two unique and amazing individuals who have resulted from our fumblings.

Himself has taught me to take joy in my own curiosity and I take equal joy in his. He has provided me just about every book that I have read and cd that I own for the last two decades and this has shaped the thinking that I try to put to good use here. His digestion for me of his copious and eclectic reading has inspired and directed me. I think he is a Buddhist now and some other things which I most likely am or will be too.

I keep us clothed and fed because it is what I am able to do efficiently. My beloved is nimble with words and ideas and library cards and through osmosis or maybe just pure love, he is prescient to my yearnings. He is my beacon and so much of what I know now to be true (and false) is due to his intellectual mentorship and our spiritual wandering, side by side. That Himself could grasp the soul of this girl from the valley who was raised to please with prettiness and guile is one of the great miracles of my life. My beloved is my compass and I am his and the journey is sweeter and richer than anything I could have imagined.

Seven years ago I was driving the sprats to school and in front of the House of Pancakes on Figueroa when we heard the first reports about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the John Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor of their generation and I didn’t know what to say to them. Like most parents, I guess, I proceeded as normal and dropped them at school. Today, driving to school, we listened to the commemoration of a memorial. I didn’t know what to say. I just proceeded as normal.

The fifteen year old started attending a new school last week. It is a long drive from home and calculating a light traffic route has been challenging. The stress of the mornings reached an acme when in bumper-to-bumper traffic he remembered that his backback and lunch had been left at home, although, he had not forgotten his IPOD. This led me to pound my fist against the Volvo door and resulted in a bruised hand and thanks to Swedish engineering, an unblemished door panel. Today we left early enough, found an efficient route and had relaxed conversation in the car. The fifteen year old, despite my bansheeish behavior, seems to be finding his way. It must be difficult to land, a complete stranger, in a school where most of the students have known each other before and to have to navigate the nuances of arcane teenage social conventions. I have been all “Make your lunch!” and “Get a ‘b’ average or you will have no fuckin’ life at all!” I really do just want to be the mom who gets it and has interesting conversations in the car with her kids. Somehow a shit headed notion that if we are five minutes late to school I am a profligate mother has driven me to fist pounding hysteria. Let my best be good enough for me. And if we leave the house one second after seven fifteen, we are dead meat.

Today we talked about remembering the World Trade Center and what Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima meant. The fifteen year old displayed his father’s cynicism about the election, “If I voted at all, I’d maybe vote Green.” McCain supporter Spuds detests Sarah Palin and asked if there had been a precedent of a vice-presidential candidate being reselected. I remembered Thomas Eagleton being dumped from the McGovern ticket in 1972 when it came to light that he’d had shock treatment for depression. The replacement was Sargent Shriver, the husband of Eunice Kennedy. Even the Kennedy glow wasn’t enough to prevent McGovern’s humiliating landslide loss to Nixon.

Himself is certain Obama will win. I am less so. Himself is skeptical about Obama’s capacity to implement change. I am more skeptical than many of my friends but I think an Obama administration would mark a change more profound for our society than JFK’s Camelot. When there is peace in the car I tell my children about Nixon and Reagan and Jimmy Carter and try to give them a kernel of the Zeitgeists of the different administrations I remember. The image of 200,000 Berliners jamming Tiergarten Park to listen to Obama hit me. One of the reasons I have been unable to form a cogent response to 9/11 for the boys is that despite my knowing better, it is hard for me to think of the event without taking on a bit of shame for how America has comported herself in the world. I remember traveling in Europe in the nineteen seventies. Many young Americans would display Canadian flags on their gear. Maybe one of my kids will say to one of their kids, “With Obama’s election it became o.k. to be proud to be an American.”

I am flawed and unworthy but I have been graced with a quirky husband and two kids who inspire me every day to be better. America has thrown its weight around in the world. We have instigated military aggression and a woman who would have our girls barefoot and pregnant may hold office in the White House. Our banks are holding the bag of sub prime mortgages and the only way to remain solvent is increase our debt to paragons of democracy like China and Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Obama campaigns to be the president of our country in places where less than fifty years ago he would have had to drink from a separate water fountain. Women first voted in the U.S. in November of 1920, exactly one week before my still living mother was born. And if she were capable of remembering she would tell you that that weren’t so friggin’ long ago. Until the 1970’s a woman couldn’t buy anything on credit without her husband’s permission. I believe a woman will be a president (please God, NOT Sarah Palin) in my children’s lifetime, if not in my own. I believe that this flawed and in some ways unworthy country, does aspire to be better and that one day I will feel way more proud than sheepish.

I look forward to a new Jewish year and further good conversations with my boys. I believe in the righteousness of Israel and the covenant. I begin now the third decade with a partner who I want nothing more than to be fine for and who reminds me every night as we drift off to sleep that my best is actually pretty awesome.

3 comments:

Fionnchú said...

Although I think the law about not letting the Mrs. buy anything without her husband's permission's not a bad dictate, I am otherwise humbled and prostrate by this missive. Thank you so much. xxx me

harry said...

A Mindful meditation on marriage, motherhood, and Eschatology. Lovely, however, if you really have raisded a Repug, I disown you and your progeny.

check your email

Cari said...

Spuds....stay away from Fox News! They're evil!
From your loving cousin,
Cari