I take a walk through the hills with Spuds and show him the mysterious abandoned farmhouse I discovered down in the hollow of Elyria Canyon. The weeds are tall and Spuds takes my arm to help me balance on a steep, rocky portion of trail. I make him taste a loquat, which he admits is different than a kumquat and much more palatable. I prepare for Spuds his favorite foods, still at the dining table we make him uncomfortable. So many writers and scholars who we admire teach at Bard. We pick his brain out of curiosity but perhaps he thinks he is being interrogated for assurance that we are getting our money's worth. Now that our brains are free of the angst of careers, ambition and coupling we fantasize about the Edenic Hudson Valley community of thinkers. Nineteen year olds, I suspect, are too distracted and hormonal to drink it all in.
I try to empathize with the kids, while accepting that my access to their inner lives is non-existent. When I try to channel back to what made me tick when I was their age I remember an amorphous yearning that eclipsed reason and pragma. Secure now in big ticket items--relationship, career and housing—I have room for the micro. The kids' brains are too busy to remember where they put things or to buy more toilet paper. I know where everything is and there is always a stockpile of products. There are few events in my life to anticipate or worry over and so little to strive for. I tromp through the hills with little to divert my focus from the green and light. Perhaps though I would trade this solitude for a nineteen year old's unlimited possibilities.
It is Passover soon. I don't even remember the exact date. Last year we did kind of a cursory Seder which was more like a family dinner with chocolate covered matzah for dessert. And maybe we ate bread a couple of times. This year it might just be a batch of the chocolate matzah. Mainly for myself. I remember years ago that a Seder would take months to plan. I'd scrupulously get all of the chametz out of the house including legumes and cornstarch which was pretty hardcore. The violence of the story we are commanded to recount not once, but twice each and every year disturbs me. Particularly in this bitter year of Netanyahu's reelection. It is blasphemous to memory that Israel evokes the Holocaust to rationalize the marginalization of non-Jewish peoples.
There isn't much left to make me feel good about being Jewish. The temple and the Jewish Community Center are central to our pre-teen era. There was upheaval at the JCC and families banded together to save the institution and, comrades in arms, we fought a good fight. Eventually the community was bailed out by local Episcopal Diocese under the aegis of Bishop Jon Bruno and the center became an independent entity. As times were lean, the Silver Lake JCC continued to offer only nursery school. No programs were provided for folks our age. Now a hipster offshoot holds restaurant shabbats and musical events. This might actually be a jewy type thing that would appeal to me but fearing I might not be young or hip or energetic enough I discard the invitations.
Our temple too nearly went bust and we hung in through the roughest patch of all. Now that the institution is thriving and the charismatic rabbi, who even the kids like, is gone I have no motivation to go. The subject of an e-mail from the temple is that they are assembling volunteers to kasher the kitchen for Pesach. I remember the conviviality of these volunteer projects and how we dissed High Holiday Jews who never pitched in with anything. Now I don't even go for the high holidays. Now I don't even open the e-mails.
I am embarrassed to memorialize the plagues inflicted on the innocent and am unable to accept violence as the only means for accomplishing the Exodus from Egypt. In Atlanta a minister named Creflo Dollar is hitting up his congregations for 60 million bucks towards a Gulfstream plane he's taken a fancy to. Churches promising prosperity are growing faster than any other religious denomination. But it's total opiate of the masses. Congregants worship with the same spirit as they'd play the lottery. Teenage suicide bombers are promised virgins in heaven. Even the simple Amish seem to have been lead astray, appearing in umpteen reality shows. The bullshit message endemic in so much organized religion overshadows the earnest gentle communities that feel God's warmth.
It never occurred to me while I scrubbed ancient kitchens for Passover that my love for the temple and the JCC would dwindle away. Still, so many of our friends were fellow JCC nursery school parents and twenty years later even our kids are close friends. The Jewish stuff is now boiled down to stumbling through shabbat prayers, serious cooking and constant discussion about food and eating. Sunday Weight Watchers is about as close as I get to communal prayer. Losing myself in the hills of Mount Washington, watching my kids become young adults and people I like, eating and cooking, the ancient constant marriage and the single dog and cat left standing is about as close as I get to, what for lack of a better word, I call God.
Illustration: Pedro Nel Gomez painting of his wife Juliana eating oranges