Monday, June 12, 2017

Tale Five - Chosen Family - Second Update June 12

We begin with an antisemitic lecture by Miroslav Zuckerman-Rabinovich. Since 1980, Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovitch has been a Professor of Marxist Theory at the University of Bratislava. In the mid 1980s, he rose to prominence in Czechoslovakia for refusing to sign his name to a document condemning thirty-two of his colleagues already fired for counterrevolutionary tendencies, though recent evidence has shown that he was in fact the author of the document. In 1993 he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Sexuality at the Freiuniversitat of Berlin on account of his treatise on perversion: Die Geschichte der Perversionen von der urzeit bis zum Dritten Jahrtausend und von der Saülingsalter aus dem Totenstarre. Eine historische und soziologische und psychologische betrachtung über die Ursachen und Wirkungen und so weiter which became an international bestseller. In 1999, he was appointed Distinguished Fellow of Lacanian Fetishism at the Ontological Institute of Social Action at the London School of Economics following the runaway success of his second best seller - Capitalism: A Degenerate's Instruction Manual. In 2003, he was appointed Professeur Distingueat the Sorbonne for his French bestseller: La Dialectique, l'autre, et la jouissance dans Bush, Saddam, et Jerry Lewis. The book did not do as well in translation. In 2006, Columbia University appointed him University Professor, their highest Professorial chair given to only twenty people throughout the history of the school. In his case the Robert Guccione University Professor of Pornographic Cinema on account of his third international best-seller: The Phenomenology of Ejaculate. 

In the last ten years the Professor has written no less than fifty books, none of which contain footnotes. He gained particular recognition in May 2013 when in the span of a single week, he submitted four books for publishing under the titles:  Harry Potter and The Epistemological Break, Revenge of the Sith at The End of History, The Dark Knight's Historical Unconscious, Tokyo Drift: The Fast and The Furious and the Sublimation of the Death Drive - but he was thereafter sued by MIT publishing because all four books contained the exact same text. The Professor's defense attorney claimed he intended it as a heuristic statement.

While Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovitch describes himself as an unreformed Marxist, he's also had something resembling a second career as a copy editor for the J Crew Catalogue, ensuring that all of its catalogue descriptions have a self-reflexive, ironically knowing, and implicit Marxist critique of itself which allows consumers from the bourgeois elite to congratulate themselves for their awareness of their imminent demise due to the superstructure and everything the superstructure tells them to hold dear drawing ever closer to collapse with every shirt purchase. The Guardian recently reported that Professor Rabinovitch is paid $40,000 per issue.

In 2014 the Professor also found himself embroiled in simultaneous paternity suits from graduate students at every Ivy League University. Each case was settled out of court, but Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich used the experience to write a controversial book on feminism in which he argues there can be no true feminism until feminists recognize the inherent right of every woman to choose to subject herself to exploitation. It was hailed by Jacobin magazine as a ground breaking work of social theory. Z Magazine called it the greatest revelation in feminist thought since Stan Goff. The eighty-page book can be found in stores everywhere for $34.95.

Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich has occasionally been mentioned as a socialist candidate for President of the European Union Council. He has, however, stipulated that the dissolution of the EU is a precondition of his accepting the job. In the past two years, Zuckerman-Rabinovich became a surrogate speaker on campaign trails for socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Jeremy Corbyn, and Jean-Luc Melenchon. Each campaign refused to disclose how much the Professor was paid for his assistance, but the Professor assured the public in an interview with Russia Today that he was only paid what every person should earn in properly administered social democracies. Tune in tomorrow to hear the antisemitic insights of one of the intellectual giants of our time. 

"I would like to begin this lecture by addressing the obvious question which it poses. I call this an antisemitic lecture. Why? Because there has been an unfortunate stigma in recent history surrounding antisemitism and I feel it is very important to consider the benefits of antisemitism as well as the disadvantages. To state this fact is not, my god, to condone acts of antisemitism, but to defend the very useful concept of antisemitism itself from the threat of its disappearance.

I find the concept of antisemitism very interesting because it is grounded in certainties that should be obvious to all of us. First thing: Through an accident of history, Judaism was positioned at the center between Europe, Asia, and Africa, a center through which ideas could travel with a facility which is impossible elsewhere. Monotheism may have been invented twenty or three-hundred thousand years before Judaism in Myanmar or Peru, or discovered millions of times in millions of places, but in an age before mass communication or transit, the widespread exportation is impossible in any place but Israel. In an age before monotheism, no legal codes could be binding because all legality was grounded in holy protection, and no god of one region could have binding authority in another. But when there is one God, law becomes universal. The necessity of records becomes permanent.

Second Thing: The greater organization of the Hebrew people enabled an accelerated human rate of development. Their empire under David and Solomon rose to eminence at far greater speed due to their greater intellectual and organizational development, but the newness of their techniques and outlook also facilitated a decline just as sudden.

Why? Because until their empire, the Hebrews were a tribe of bedouin refugees, absorbing the influences of the Canaanites, of Egypt, of Mesopotamia, and not only was the encirclement what sealed their sudden decline, it was also the newness of their outlook that threatened the superstructure - in places where values are less universal, organization is less necessary. The Hebrew Empire declined so quickly that its subjects never forgot how to live as refugees.

What I find so interesting about this is the ideological roots of Judaism in a pre-ideological era then causes Judaism to forever walk its certainties back. It is the original Hegelian dialectic. Everything in the world is ideology, and Judaism commits the original sin in believing that ideology can be transcended. It arrives at the universal superstructure, but believes that by study and reason and statistics, we can limit ideology and dogma by arriving at an interpretation of dogma that is more flexible and humane. But humanity does not need a humane dogma, it needs ruthlessly correct dogma and ideology applied to all things.

Third thing: the malicious original sin of Judaism is that by accepting incorrect ideology, it perverts incorrect ideology into something humane and livable, a practical and pleasant temporary solution that can only work for a few thousand years rather than forever. And there is therefore a direct line from Judaism to capitalism, which prevents the enactment of permanent solutions, and it is Judaism that prevents seeing the incorrectness of of capitalist ideology which sanctions inequalities.

The misnomer is that any circumstances exist outside of the ideological superstructure. There is no perception that exists outside of ideology. Therefore, the ideology which controls our lives is capitalism. Why? Because capitalism is the ideology that allows for individual differences that allow for inequality and authorize murder, torture, rape, exploitation, capitalism and Judaism. Many people like to point to the relative inequalities of capitalism that make inequality tolerable. These capitalists point to statistics that demonstrate the apparently relative inequalities of the capitalist hegemony. Why? Because statistics and facts are an incorrect ideology that require theological faith to believe, and therefore contorts dogma into intolerable ambiguities that prevent permanent solutions.

In every historical era of history the Jews had an opportunity to reach dialectical fulfillment. What do I mean by dialectical fulfillment? I mean that the ambiguities of Judaism could become the theological certainties of Assyrianism Babylonianism, Hellenism, Romanism, Christianity, Islam, Spinozism, Philosophism, Marxism, and Critical Theory. Each of my last six examples, the intellectual tradition of Judaism is clearly the ontological foundation upon which they base themselves, and in each of the first four, the permanent records of Judaism, created from their own ontological formation in Egypt and epistomological foundation from Mesopotamia was clearly the epistomological foundation upon which these classical empires based themselves.

Why does each become a dialectical fulfillment which Judaism is destined to reject? Because the ontological and epistomological foundation of each is based in Judaism's teleological didactics. Judaism survives to each era because its teleology refuses to accept a permanent dogma that views the world as an ideology that cannot be debated. It is only by the unquestioning mass obedience of the whole world of a utopian fulfillment that we can move to the next historical phase of utopian didactic. Nevertheless, Judaism insists on individuality and debate.

With the isolation enforced upon them in exile, the Jewish people had to assume all those characteristics which they were assumed to possess - thereby becoming the simultaneous possessor of the greatest and worst of humanity's qualities, at all times inhabiting the spirit of both Jesus and Caiaphas in dialectic, and in doing so become humanity's most perfect victim and most perfect predator. No sooner are they granted communities and countries of their own than they resume the detestable intolerance which has always been their modus operandi, an intolerance which they then taught to Christians and have no one to blame but themselves for the revisitation of the persecution they perpetrated upon Christians then upon themselves, however many thousandfold times more severe. In traumatic and dangerous circumstances, they developed their most particular qualities to the greatest extremes. They developed intelligence to such an extent that they turned it into pedantry, and similarly turned criticism into intolerance, industry into greed, altruism into fanaticism. The most fanatical champions of capitalism and communism, inventors of the Church and the greatest champions of liberalism and pluralism, the first to spread the Gospel in West and the last to deny it. the most influential monotheistic thinkers like Solomon and Jesus, and the most influential atheisticals like Marx and Spinoza. They even became extreme, and perhaps especially extreme, when trying to pursue moderation. So preoccupied with dogma and the elimination of ambiguity that they perpetually dwell in an ambiguous neither region between dogmas, where mankind cannot transcend the dogmas of its human condition into any greater state of being. It is, through an accident of history, Judaism, which at first glance looks like such a blessing, yet is clearly humanity's greatest impediment.

AC Charlap: Alright we've heard enough. I can't let this keep going.

Rabbi Swamley: Let the speaker finish!

AC Charlap: Let the speaker finish?

Rabbi Swamley: He's a famous thinker!

AC Charlap: I would think you'd be a hundred times more offended by this antisemitism than I am.

Rabbi Swamley: I go to all this to book a famous speaker you won't let him finish?

AC Charlap: You said it was no problem!

Rabbi Swamley: No problem! Of course it's problem! I make a dozen phone calls and and promise him a percentage of the show!

AC Charlap: You promised him a percentage of the show's profits????

Rabbi Swamley: It was the price he wanted!

AC Charlap: Why the fuck would you do that?

Rabbi Swamley: We don't make any money!

AC Charlap: But what if we do? Why the fuck would you promise him a gross percentage?

Rabbi Swamley: Why the fuck do you ask me to book better speakers?!

AC Charlap: I just wanted a speaker who wouldn't hit me with a 2x4!

Rabbi Swamley: This one's a pacifist!

AC Charlap: You hate pacifists!

Rabbi Swamley: A-ha but you don't!

AC Charlap: What the fuck is this, are you just trying to trip me up???

Rabbi Swamley: I just thought that's how you like to talk!

AC Charlap: Is there a single thing you don't screw up?!?

Rabbi Swamley: Oh, Charlap is now going to tell me what a screw up SOMEONE ELSE is???

Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich: Ach. Typical Jewish dialectic.

AC Charlap: Rabbi. Get this guy the fuck out of my studio!

Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich: He won't do that.

AC Charlap: What?

Rabbi Swamley: I promised him a series of lectures on our podcast. If he doesn't...

(ambulance noise, followed by entrance of lawyer and associate)

Roy Fagan: Mr. Charlap my name is Roy Fagan, this is my associate Mr. Ivanov, and we're here to warn you that you are dangerously close to breech of contract for which you will be subpoenaed, held in contempt, possibly face jailtime and a fine of 500,000 dollars.

Mr. Ivanov: If I were you tovaresh I would let the Professor finish...

AC Charlap: ...Alright...

Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich: I will finish another time, in the meantime let's let these Jews learn some obedience. (the three leave, drive away in an ambulance)


(cue Psalm 5)

Charlap: What is the old new land. Where is the....

Swamley: Kharlap? Really? You gonna do this now?

Charlap: What?

Swamley: The Old New Land beginning stuff is gantzeh khopteh that's stupid and gets more pretentious every time you do it!

Charlap: You're gonna tell me it's pretentious?

Swamley: What? What's the problem?

Charlap: You're trans-religious like Rachel Dolezal's black and you're telling me what I do is pretentious?!?

Swamley: Oh so you're going to bring that up every time I say something you think is stupid?

Charlap: It's a pretty big fucking thing!

Swamley: You don't have to swear!

Charlap: You've already sworn in this cast!

Swamley: Oh so now you're gonna remind me of that too!

Charlap: I don't have to, you're still faking being Jewish, faking that stupid Israeli accent, acting like you're a scion of the Skverer fucking Rebbe when you're from Duluth fucking Minnesota!

Swamley: Alight, well you don't have to rub it in.

Charlap: Oh my god....

(cut to tale)

In order to tell the tale of Clarissa Johansen, we must tell the tale of her mentor, the warm and wise and perceptive and ceaselessly self-draining Bethany Katz, blessed and cursed by nature to always protect whether or not she's protected in return, to give without being given. Bethany's is the story of love - spiritual love, humane love, public love, personal love, the strength which love gives, and the bridges love cannot cross. The only love she never possessed is self-love. There always seem to be certain women with a preternatural intelligence for protection, and where there once was sand, they build whole cities of people blessed to come into their orbit, yet the only person who could bless them is themselves, and they are too busy blessing others to ever know how. They are not only masters of protection but also persuasion. One well-placed word can make a hundred people realize they've always liked is someone they hated or that someone they always liked is an asshole. Were they different sorts of people, the gift could make them President of the United States, but the heart matches the brain, and they become determined to use their perceptive, persuasive, protective powers for virtue, yet always underestimate just how difficult the world makes it to be virtuous. Bethany works, and she works, and she works, and she waits, and she waits, and she waits, but we're always thrown out of the Old New Land.

"It's like you get five religions in one" is what Barack Obama's grandfather said about Unitarianism. Unitarian Universalism, that great leveler of Christ, the great hope that religion and modernity can mix, that you can tame religion and all its demands for Holy War into a domesticated pet that lets you experience the holiness of divinity without recognizing its primacy, lets you feel connected to the oneness of all things while still feeling yourself important enough to love and be loved, guiltlessly binding the best of all religions together without considering how the people to whom these practices are life itself might feel it desecration.

And yet, Unitarianism is the best of us: The Adamses, the Alcotts, Barack Obama's family, Susan B. Anthony, Bela Bartok, Ray Bradbury, e. e. cummings, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Buckminster Fuller, Horace Greeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Jefferson, Tomas Masaryk, Hermann Melville, Isaac Newton, Paul Newman, Keith Olbermann, Linus Pauling, Joseph Priestley, Christopher Reeve, Paul Revere, Benjamin Rush, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Pete Seeger, Rod Serling, Robert Gould Shaw, Adlai Stevenson, William Howard Taft, Kurt Vonnegut, Daniel Webster, William Carlos Williams, Joanne Woodward, Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Wright.

There are less than 200,000 members of Unitarian Churches in the entire world, and less than 900,000 people who identify as Unitarian. No religion, not even Judaism, ever did so much in so short a time by such a large percentage of adherents to advance the causes of freedom and justice and beauty in the world. It is the religion of true miracles, in which the divine works are made manifest not in the skies, but here on earth - the place where in the end we find our happiness, or not at all.

At fifteen years old, few were happier than Bethany Felicity Katz; younger daughter of the Reverend Mary Katz, Senior Minister for the last three years of the First Unitarian Universalist Church and Center in San Francisco at the intersection of Geary Blvd and Franklin Street, herself the daughter of Matthew Williams, for thirty-seven years the Senior Minister at First Parish in Concord, himself the second son of The Very Reverend Frank Williams, who was Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the flagship Unitarian Church on Farnsworth St. in Boston. After fifty-two years, Reverend Frank was succeeded by Very Reverend Frank Jr., whom until then was Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in DC on Harvard St. and ran the Unitarian Lobby, DC Unitarians for Social Justice. Frank Sr.'s third son, Burke Williams, fried his mind with hallucinogenics in 1950's San Francisco and lived in a group home for thirty-five years for the mentally disturbed before the San Francisco Chronicle published an expose about fifty years of physical abuse perpetrated on their patients - choke holds that killed multiple patients, illegal frontal lobotomies, deliberate misdiagnoses to justify violent restraints, not notifying next of kin of about shock treatments, solitary confinement for weeks at a time, ice cold high pressure water jets, and untold numbers of unreported sexual assaults. Frank Jr. and Burke had not seen each other in forty years. Burke was a stranger to the family who had last been mentioned by anyone when Mary was a teenager.

On one sleety day before Christmas of 1990, Mary was summoned into Frank Jr.'s office where she was informed that she would not in fact take over her father's parish but was, rather, being reassigned to San Francisco. Frank made it clear to his niece that she would be expected to look after Burke, who'd been moved to an assisted living facility, and as a woman, was the family member best equipped to provide the nurturing Burke needed. Six weeks after their arrival, Burke hung himself in his new room, but the Katzes had already put so much effort into making the best of their new life that they decided to stay.

Bethany was also the younger daughter of Bob Katz, the most expensive, and therefore the best, invasive cardiologist practicing at Mass Gen, who left both his hospital and his still more lucrative private practice in Concord to live in a Victorian townhouse on Steiner St. across from Alamo Square Park that he joyfully repainted with bright primary colors when their new neighbors suggested that the Katzes turn the last remaining house on their block into one of the Victorian Painted Ladies. In his new practice, he worked thirty hours a week rather than seventy, and he didn't need any more money than he had. His fiftieth was around the corner, and he had more than enough money to keep his family living handsomely in San Francisco's best neighborhood while his mother was safely in the Boston Area's best Assisted Living facility. If there was anything serious, his sister could drive down from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

When Bob started dating Mary Williams, his parents were livid. Not just a goyisher girl but a textbook shikseh, not just a textbook shikseh but the daughter of a minister, not just the daughter of a minister but a divinity student who'll be a minister herself. You can forget about Jewish grandchildren. There'd be a tree in the house every year, some years they wouldn't even be at the Seder because Easter would fall on the same days, and there's no question who'd win in a contest between Sunday and Hebrew School. It's not that Phil and Essie Katz particularly cared themselves whether Robert married a Jewish girl, but they knew that both their widowed mothers would be furious.

Bob's bubbies: Flora Katz (born Blumeh Levinson) and Mildred Spivak (born Menukhke Braverman) - didn't much care for each other, but both of them doted upon their goldene eynikle who went to Harvard Medical as though neither had five other grandchildren. They didn't become slaves to the kitchen and the corner store and the schmatteh factory and the supermarket and the nursing home just so their spoiled kinder and eyniklach could become accountants or podiatrists or go into their father's business. They both vanted a r-r-rich doktah, and they finally had one. Bob was a naches machine. You would never know this nice Jewish boy was brilliant if you spoke to him, but he was valedictorian at Boston Latin, Summa Cum Laude in Harvard undergrad, and soon to be the speaker in his year at its med school graduation. If only they would live to see Bob deh cahdiologist ver makhten zechs hundert teusend thaler a jahr. Und sechs hundert teusend thaler a jahr was what Bob would make in his new practice, in Boston he would bill with an eye to clearing the million dollar mark, some years he made it, one year he didn't but his partner did and never let him live it down. When he was leaving, his partner, Sunil Malhotra, shrugged and jokingly said 'more for me.'

 His parents thought they could keep both their mothers in the dark about the relationship which their goldene eynikle who attends Harvard Medical School embroiled himself. It would be at least a good three years before they'd have to talk about marriage, and at some point Bob would realize, as he always eventually did, that he wasn't doing the sensible thing. Eight months into the relationship, Blumeh passed away. On the first anniversary of their first date, the lovebirds announced their engagement to the family. Menukhkeh passed a week after getting the news.

They moved to San Francisco when Bethany was twelve and her older sister was sixteen. Bethany's older sister, Marian, was bitter about the move and let her parents know in no uncertain terms. She had a boyfriend in Boston she had to leave, seemingly hundreds of school friends, and was determined to hate every minute of her years in San Francisco. When it came time for college, she applied only to schools in Boston, and chose Northeastern. Six months after graduation she married her high school sweetheart, had four children, stayed at home to take care of them, and is now that the younger two are teenagers is wondering what to do when everybody leaves the house. Maybe she'll get involved with politics - she fancies that she always wanted to care about things, or maybe she'll just take an art class.

Bethany, however, was the type who knew how to be happy wherever she went. If Bethany's parents always figured that Marian would become a doctor, it seemed absolutely obvious that Bethany was destined for a life of service. Like Marian, she was the most popular girl in her class at Cambridge Friends School, but unlike Marian, her popularity was not based on fear, and when she enrolled in San Francisco Friends School, she quickly became the most well-liked girl in her class - her teachers commenting on what a lovely effect she had on the other kids. A relatively unruly class of kids was suddenly nicer to each other, better behaved in class, and even the picked on kids who were falling behind were accepted by others because Bethany accepted them. In the case of the most particularly picked on and learning disabled kid, she would cheerfully volunteer to partner with him on group projects and gently ministered with patient help and explanations to get him caught up with the class.

There was no third sibling, but as seemed tradition from time immemorial in every branch of the Williams family, Bob and Mary would board a new student every year. In generations past, it would be divinity students, but in Jet Age of the late 20th century, it seemed especially exciting to host a foreign exchange student. So every year, Bob and Mary Katz would host a new foreign exchange student to Cambridge Friends School, and when they came to San Francisco, promptly founded a foreign exchange program at San Francisco Friends School.

Marian was, perhaps understandably, a little bitter about the experience of having to learn to communicate with strange people. When she was fourteen, one particular male exchange student from Argentina would make a pass at her every day while living under their roof, and twice was waiting in her bedroom for her when she came out of the shower. Her parents never seemed to take her complaints about the students particularly seriously, but after that experience they generally made it a practice of taking female exchange students.

Bethany though, would take it upon herself to learn as much as she could about her new siblings' language, their cultures, their hometowns, their families and friends back home, and would stick to them like glue in public to make sure that their transition to America ran as smoothly as the day is long. After they went back to their home countries, she would write them long letters full of hearts to make sure they knew how they were missed and how much love they added to the Katz family, inevitably ending with ample promises to visit them back home.

When Bethany was seventeen in 1993, the exchange student was Kristina from Dresden - a new adventure. Blond, six-foot-one, star center midfielder, friendly and outgoing, fluent and accented English full of wonderful malapropisms, and hilariously unable to get jokes. Every attempt to turn her smile into a laugh would be met with a brow that frowned while the smile stayed pasted on, and two seconds later an explanation as to why the statement Bethany just made was not true. It caused Bethany no end of delight. Kristina's father was once a member of the Communist party, his father before him a member of the Nazi party. Other various indirect ancestors were members of the Deutsche Reichspartei, the SPD, the Stazi, and the Waffen-SS.

But you would never know from such a troubled past by looking at Kristina, who resembled life itself. Nothing was too adventurous for Kristina, who insisted on taking Bethany, indeed the whole Katz family, all along the trails and rivers of Northern California. The Katzes thought they were an outdoors family until Kristina took them to a new outdoor habitation every weekend.

It was during one of these outdoor habitations that a series of a dozen-and-a-half vans pulled up to the next door house. Driving through the entire block is prohibited, so traffic was blocked for half-a-mile in each direction. Ten children emerged with two parents, and forty other men and women (mostly men) helping them move into the two houses to the east of the Katzes. The men wear dark suits and black hats which they only take off for the severest of labors, the women never take off their long sleeves or their long dark dresses or the hats atop their heads. The few women who show any hair look as though theirs is completely synthetic.

Within seven hours, all the furniture was properly deposited, along with an extra sink properly drilled and plumbed, two refrigerators installed, an extra oven installed with the previously installed thoroughly cleansed, two microwaves, two toasters. All able to be done because the wall between the two townhouses was thoroughly knocked down so that two townhouses become one large townhouse in the middle of the San Francisco Victorians. The multicolored hue of the Victorian paintjob was next thing taken care of, repainted not as a many-colored cloak but as a simple Blue and White, with a painting on the third floor of an old man's face with a very long, almost completely square beard with four Hebrew letters underneath that read "Mem, Shin, Yud, Khet." Moshiach.

San Francisco is always looking for a cause to protest, the more senseless the cause, the greater the agitation. No sooner had every townhouse on the Painted Lady block become Painted Ladies than two of them were desecrated completely. There could be no more perfect storm for San Francisco.

If Unitarian Universalism is Christianity without the Messiah, then Chabad is Judaism with it. The Chabadniks, or Lubavitchers, believe that Moshiach has already arrived, but he unexpectedly died in his nineties, and we await his second coming. Who is this great Messiah? He is the seventh Rabbi of Lyubavitchi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, great-grandson of the Third Lubavitcher Rebbe, also named Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and son-in-law of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, who was accompanied on his journey to America by none other than A. C. Charlap's great-grandfather, Yehuda Leib Gordon. There were six Lubvitcher Rebbes before this Rav Schneerson, and there will never be another.

In a letter from Rabbi Schneerson to Israel's longest-serving President, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Schneerson wrote "From the time that I was a child attending Cheder, and even before, the vision of the future Redemption began to take form in my imagination -- the Redemption of the Jewish people from their final Exile, a redemption of such magnitude and grandeur through which the purpose of the suffering, the harsh decrees, and the annihilation of Exile will be understood."

But the harsh decree came immediately from the San Francisco community, which no amount of repentance, prayer, or charity could cancel. One would think that the outrage generated by the most expensive city in America, with its roughly 7,000 homeless residents - care of which can cost up to $150,000 a year each, its chronic water shortages, pollutants in the Bay, proliferation of dog shit, endless bridge traffic, and income disparities that make the gentrification of the East Coast as relatively threatening to people of color as a gentle breeze would have finer targets. But the luxury of privilege is to direct your rage on whatever catches your attention, and if Chabad wanted to direct attention to themselves, they could not have done better than destroy the facade of two Victorians. 

At least a dozen people all throughout the day every day, two or three people who kept silent vigil in the middle of the night, and on weekends, dozens and dozens at all times of day. Not all the signs or chants were particularly offensive, but then you found doozies like "Stop Occupying the Victorians like You Occupy Palestine", "You ruin San Francisco like you ruin Gaza," "Just because we hate you for settling in Palestine doesn't mean we won't hate you for settling here." and Bob's particular favorite for its lack of irony: "Your money is not enough in San Francisco." And of course, it was only a matter of a day or two before the theme of the protests became anti-Israel with chants like "Berkeley, Oakland, California, We Support the Intifada" or "Religion's not heaven-sent, take down all the settlements." Of course, perhaps as always, there was nothing overtly antisemitic about these protests, yet somehow the immediate equation of an overtly Jewish presence with everything people hated about Israel, with money itself... do the math...

Bob was, of course, the opposite of joyful to have neighbors like these, even if he thought the carrying on of the protestors was a bit much. He didn't pay for the most expensive townhouse in America's most expensive city during this dot com boom just to hear vaguely antisemitic chanting every day from his home office. So perhaps he was inclined to have a bit more sympathy for these Jewish embarrassments than he would have been. But when Mary and Bethany told him they were gonna bake a Babka and go over to the new neighbors to welcome these animals, there was no way in hell to make him go with them. He knew that they knew this would annoy the crap out of him, and as always, he wondered if that's why they did it. He wanted to scream at them that this was the worst idea they'd come up with yet. Once you get these people involved in your lives, you can never get rid of them. 

This would become yet another campaign of two, Mary and Bethany, to make Bob a better, friendlier, more positive person. And Bob knew they were right, eventually he'd always go along, with an inevitable complaint along the way that his wife and daughter would always make fun of him for. And because he had much more sympathy with Marian's skepticism, he became the family disciplinarian who would shout at his cynical older daughter every day for pointing out everything stupid about what her mother believed people could do. God knows Mary was too cheerful to ever discipline anyone, and Mary somehow created a perfect image of herself in Bethany, who seemed, as if by grace of the God his own parents still pretended to believe in, to be the perfect daughter. 

God knows Marian would be all too happy if she ever heard him talk out loud like this about their family, but one day Marion'll see that he was right that they were right. One day... one day... one day this crusade of positivity will go much too far... and something this stupid just might be it. They don't know these people, but they'll learn very quickly, and I don't know if it'll be for the best. It might curb their good cheer to better causes, on the other hand, it might ruin their happiness completely. But giving Mary and Bethany the freedom he never permitted himself gave Bob more happiness than any Katz ever thought possible. For twenty-five years, it went against every instinct in his innards to let Mary pursue whatever wacky scheme to make the world a better, brighter place without telling her that any one of these plans could have backfired horrifically, and one day, one of them probably will. And yet she proved his instinct wrong every time. He'd had these moments of subtle panic every time she had an idea which made him worry, which was just about every day, yet she was always right. Maybe, just maybe, she'll prove him wrong about frummies. 

So the next Sunday, two of the three Katz girls knock on the door of their new neighbors. The door is opened by an adolescent boy with a faint wisp of a beard. 

"Hi there? I'm Mary Williams Katz and this is my daughter Bethany. We're so happy to welcome you to our block and neighborhood."


"Yeah. I'm Mary Williams Katz."

"Just a minute."

This boy with stooped shoulders walks further back into the house with a limp. It was weird enough to watch him sway from side to side with severely stooped shoulders as he talks, but as they get to know him better, they'll realize that he didn't even look them in the eye at the door, because he never did again. 

The Katz women hear conversation from the next room that sounds like whispering, but so loud that they hear every word of it, even if they can't understand. Mary's spent enough time around Bob's extended family to know what Yiddish sounds like, and Bethany, speaking German with Kristina an hour every day, figures German's what she's hearing.  Bethany wanted to bring Kristina with her to this house, and couldn't understand why Mary said that would be a bad idea. Maybe Kristina could have told them what's being said now. But as it currently is, neither can understand the commotion except one word out of every ten: 


After three or four minutes of this, what appears to be the father and mother come out but they don't open the door. The father simply says:

"So pleased to meet you I'm Izheh Freylik the new Chabad Rabbi in town I'm so happy to learn that there are Jews next door and I'm so looking forward to getting to know you is there any way that we can come to you later this afternoon?"

"Um... Yeah I guess."

"Great we'll be by in a half-hour!"

"Oh! OK. We made a babka for you."

"We'll bring something over to you!"


Rabbi Freylik shuts the door and the Katz girls are quite perplexed as to what just happened. They return to their house and brace themselves for telling Bob that that the orthodox neighbors are coming over. But even before they step inside, they find a note on the door. 

"Went for a run and a coffee, will be back after the Freyliks leave..."

The perplexity would only grow when the Freyliks knock on the door at four o'clock - an hour-and-a-half later. All thirteen of them: Rabbi Freylik, Rebbitzin Freylik, Rabbi Freylik mother who's living with them for three months while they get situated, ten of their thirteen kids, from the ages of a month shy of eighteen to six months. None of whom shake the Katz's hands but each of whom brings over a different desert to the Katz household. The younger kids have deserts in one hand, toys in the other: babkah, ruggelach, black and white cookies, apple cake, honey cake, poppy seed cake, mandle bread, dry deli cookies. Later that night, Bob practically ordered Mary to take all these  desserts to the Church's soup kitchen, but as he snuck some honey cake in the middle of the night, he would later realize that these clearly store bought desserts tasted downright fresh, then couldn't help but treat himself to a few chocolate tops, a piece of apple cake, a cinnamon rugelach, and the most vivid and bittersweet memories of his Bubbies in twenty-five years. 

Rebbitzin Freylik asks, 'there's a place we can put the kids where they can be out of the way right?'


"Just somewhere there isn't a lot of valuables to knock over."

Bethany: The basement doesn't have many valuables!

"Rinah! Nemen deh kinder tzu deh basement!..." The oldest daughter immediately understands the order they don't, and takes eight of the other nine children into the basement.

Bubbeh Freylik: So how long ya family been in San Francisco?

Mary: About three years. We're from Boston.

Bubbeh Freylik: Oh Baruch Hashem! I have four brothers and sisters in Boston. 

Mary: Really? Whereabout?

Bubbeh Freylik: In Sharon!

Simcha Freylik: Well Mameh, technically Sharon's not part of Boston.

Mama Freylik: Simcha SHA!

Simcha: Vos? Al Ikh hat iz geven az es is nicht...

Rabbi Freylik: Simcha!

Simcha sighs: ...Alright...

Rabbi Freylik: Our son is very bright, but he doesn't yet understand modesty. 

Bethany: Well, technically he's right, Sharon isn't in Boston. 

Simcha: Du zest!

Bubbeh Freylik gets up and gestures to Simcha: Simcha kumen mit mir. 

Simcha: Vos?

Bubbeh Freylik: Kumm mit mir!

Simcha: Vo?

Mama Freylik: Nor kumen mit mir.

Simcha: Far vos?

Rabbi Freylik: Simcha geyn mit deine Bubbeh!!!

Simcha gets up and leaves with his grandmother while half-screaming: Yeder mol ihr treffen abi ver tshkikave ir varfen mir aroys!

Simcha Freylik storms out of the house with Bubbeh Freylik leaving right after him as though this outburst is part of the natural order of things. 

Mama Freylik: I'm so sorry about Simcha, he's just...

Mary cuts her off: He seems like a very bright boy.

Rabbi Freylik sighs: Ochen vey. Why does such a bright boy have to be my son?...

Mary: Oh.

Rabbi Freylik: The feinschmeker can't even bother helping his Tatteh do his job! He won't make house calls with me, he won't pick up the phone to get Tzedakah, he won't help me take the inventory. After Cheder he just recites Torah b'al peh for an hour at a time, he corrects my Gemorrah, he tells his Mameh everything she's doing wrong around the house with the Halawcheh. He's just another chassidisher foyler who won't make his own way till Moshiach comes. 

Mary: He can recite the Torah for an hour at a time?

Rebbitzin Freylik: He knew all of Parashat Bereshit before his fifth birthday! 

Rabbi Freylik: He's like a Shas Pollak that one. There's nothing he forgets. 

Rebbitzin Freylik: Oyyy..., nothing he forgets. 

Rabbi Freylik: He could be the Eighth Rebbe, and acts like he will be but we're Freyliks! We go back to Shneur Zalman and the Baal Shem Tov, but we're on the wrong end of the Lubavich line. Our claim to be the line of Rebbes was lost with Tsemakh Tsadek more than a hundred fifty years ago. 

Bethany: Shouldn't you be happy that you have such a gifted son?

Rabbi Freylik: Meydaleh, you seem like a nice girl but between you and me, what do we got to be tzufridden about? 

Rebbitzin Freylik: Sha Ori! Ton nit zogn azay Zachn!

Rabbi Freylik: Voszhe vilst du! - Now to Bethany - We've got twice as many illuim as ever have room for in Chabad, soon it'll be three. We've got Torah B'al Peh comin' out the oyers! These bochers gotta eat and their mun has to come from somewhere. But nobody thinks about this when they're sixteen. It's all Toyreh Toyreh Toyreh with them. 

Rebbitzin Freylik: Oh he doesn't mean that. He's just a little inkayes from the stress of the move. But his grouchiness has nothing to do with the fact that we're the most freylichen people you'll ever meet. 

Rabbi Freylik: She's right y'know. 

Mary: Freylichen?

Rabbi Freylik: Oh, sorry. Freylich. Joyful. It's even in our name. We're joyful. 

Mary: Oh wow.

Bethany: That's beautiful!

Rabbi Freylik: Hashem and the Rebbes command us to be happy. It's not easy, but we're always happy. 

Bethany lights up: You're commanded to be happy?

Rebbitzin: It's the most important thing in life. 

Bethany: That's so true! Isn't it Mom?

Rebbitzin: As you come to know us you'll understand that it's by serving Hashem and performing mitzvahs that people achieve happiness. You don't have to do every mitzvah to be happy, and a lot of gentiles and off the derekh Yids are happy because they do mitzvahs without even realizing it. 

Bethany: What are mitzvahs?

Mary: Commandments honey. 

Bethany: That's gorgeous!

Rebbitzin Freylik: It's so nice to hear a Jew understand what's important so quickly! I can tell we're going to be great friends!

Bethany: It's so interesting and connects so much with all the things we've been talking about in our family. Mom,... didn't you have something about the importance of staying happy in your sermon a few weeks ago?

Rebbitzin Freylik: Sermon?

Mary: Mom is the minister at the first Unitarian Universalist Church on Franklin St. 

Rebbitzin Freylik: We have to go. (screams) "Rinah! Nemen deh kinder aroys fun deh basement!..."

Rinah screams back: Vos?

Rebbitzin Freylik: Nemen deh kinder aroys fun deh basement!

"Far vos?"

Rebbitzin Freylik heads down to the basement while Rabbi Freylik leaves without a goodbye. Once again, they can't make out more than one in every tenth word: "Katz?"

Bob returns just as the Freyliks make their hasty and not particularly apologetic exit. Not unmischievously, Bob asks "...Found out she was a minister?" 

(music break)

It's Friday morning. Bob works four days a week so that he can have three day weekends and be all ready and packed to take Mary and Bethany and the exchange student on overnight camping trips in the RV, and sleep in for the first time in his life. It's eight-thirty AM, and Bob is dreaming about Bubbie Spivak's chicken soup. He's six years old, Bubbie and Zaydie Spivak are sitting on either side of him, taking turns spooning mouthfuls of the saltiest chicken soup into him.

In his dreams he hears the kind of singing he always knew Jews were alleged to sing, but never heard himself, halfway between a whine and an ululation. The nasal incantation, the three-quarter-tone melismas on any note longer than half a second, the vocal breaks into a split second of falsetto. It should be the ugliest thing on the planet, yet it's spectacular to him all the same. He realizes he's in his bedroom, the singing continues, fuck, I'm awake. 

He hesitates to look outside the bedroom window for a second with trepidation of what he might find, and sure enough sees eighteen men in dancing in a circle in the back yard. It's a rare eighty degree day, but the Frummies are in the usual full black suited garb. They haven't even taken their hats off. 

No time to waste. We have to show these frummies the rules of the game as soon as possible so he calls the police on them. The police officer tells the frummies if they're gonna sing, they have to go inside. The frummies invite the officer inside. How often does the officer go out on a call like this? They quietly give him some vodka, drink to his good health, \ sing a few songs for him indoors. The singing is just as loud from inside the house and the dancing becomes clapping. It doesn't let up all day as Bob goes out for errands, comes home, packs the granola and the coffee and the ham sandwiches and the wine.  

The kids of both families come home from school at the exact same time. Neither acknowledge the other. The younger male children sit at the table with Tateh and the grownups, the females go into the kitchen to help Mameh and Bubbeh with the cooking and setting the silverware. Simcha limps up to his room, but Bethany stays downstairs in the nearest seat to the wall, as if in a dream. Bob is extra naggy to Mary today to get them on the road as quickly as possible. 

The Freyliks have finished decorating their house. A few brothers and a lot of other Rabbis come to San Francisco to see the new place. Two of them caused a scene on the way because the flight sat them next to a woman. Another five thought about making one. 

This fictional family, the Freyliks, entirely the product of AC Charlap's subconscious, are Chabadniker royalty with the yichus that comes from tracing its roots past the entire lineage of all six Lubavitcher Rebbes to the very mouth of the Chasidisher river, the the Baal Shem Tov himself. The Baal Shem Tov, Besht for short, Yisroel ben Eliezer, Master of the Good Name, founder of Chasidic Judaism, the mystical mid-18th century counterenilightment of Jewish Russia pitted against the German Jewish Enlightenment, Haskalah, of Moses Mendelssohn. "Whosoever believes all the miracle stories of the Baal Shem Tov is a fool," so wrote the Rebbe Schlomo Rodomsk, "but whoever denies he could have done them is a heretic." Of him, Rebbe Mordachai of Neshimsk wrote "Even if a story about him never occurred, and there was no such miracle, it was in the power of the Baal Shem Tov. May his memory be a blessing in the life of the World-to-Come, to perform everything." 

Moses Mendelssohn told rural Jews to move into cities, make money, learn the language and culture of the goyim, stay Jews but become citizens of the world. Nice idea, but who wants to stay Jewish when you can be a citizen of the world? The Baal Shem Tov saw that the urban Jews weren't making money, so he told them to get out of the city and become farmers. Live together in small communities, educate your children together. It's Kibbutz Zionism a hundred years before Zion was an option. He emerged like another beloved Holy Figure of Zion in the last third of his life: writing amulets, expelling shaydim and dybbuks, curing the incurable. He claimed to have reached Devekut: a state of soul so holy he could speak with the Messiah himself and intercede on our behalf with Yahweh. Orphaned at three, widowed at sixteen, emerging at forty from a quarter-century of living in the woods - teaching children their prayers, digging clay and lime for income, learning how to use herbal remedies, experiencing visions of Achiya HaShiloni, prophet of the Solomonic era. 

It all sounds a bit familiar. Indeed, he taught that we have to pray for salvation, regarding the Torah as a sacred relic - the mere glance upon which elevates the soul. In place of Satan, the Baal Shem Tov has Amalek, a tribe so terrible that Hashem ordered its genocide down to the very last child. "Amalek is still alive today" he warned "Every time you experience a worry or doubt about how Hashem is running the world -- that's Amalek. Amalek launching an attack against your soul. We must wipe Amalek out of our hearts whenever--and wherever--he attacks so we can serve Hashem with complete joy." 

Moses Mendelssohn ordered a modern skepticism and irony, the Baal Shem Tov ordered genocide of fear and doubt from the soul, and in its place, joy, joy, joy. From such joy came all the great Chasidic Dynasties: Chernobyl,Chortov, Machnovka, Skver, Fatichan, Vizhnitz, Savran, Hornsteipl, Satmar,  Belz, Bobov, Boston, and Bretslav. All, like heretical monarchies, tracing their lineage to the Baal Shem Tov, with tens of thousands of followers at least proliferating through Eastern Europe and the Eastern US and Israel, and virtually all threatened with irrelevance by the new and growing dominance of the Lubavicher line. The older Rebbes of the Lubavitch line were given names like the Alter Rebbe, Mitteler Rebbe, Tzemach Tzedeck, but Menachem Mendel Schneerson was known as the Lubavicher Rebbe, or simply, the Rebbe. He was the culmination, the zenith, and there will never be another to take his place.

What was his great contribution? It can be explained fairly simply: Ben Gurion wanted Jews to come home to Tzion, that place between Jordan and Egypt the size of New Jersey. The Rebbe wanted Jews to come home to the infinite Tzion of the neshama, the soul. 

Paul preached to the heathens, Schneerson apparently preached to those who might as well be heathens in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, French, German, and Italian - or so his followers claim on wikipedia. Direct marketing hopes that one in fifty mailings will show interest and one in fifty of those will result in a sale. Chabad is direct marketing for Jews to be Jewish again. He wanted every Jew in the world to do ten basic mitzvahs, and sent out an army of Yeshiva Bochers to fill the streets of every major city in the world, combing the streets for big nosed men to harass about laying tefilin. Special Yeshivas of education in Torah for women. Seemingly founding Yeshivas in every city that observant Jews were not or no longer found. Sponsoring the widescale emigration of Iranian Jews after the Ayatollah's Coup. When not begging Jews to come back, he preached to his converted flock for hours at a time. 

This was the Moshiach whose picture the Freylik family painted over the two Victorians they'd made into a duplex for a family of Jews who believed in a Messiah's second coming, living next to Mary Williams, minister in a Christianity which doesn't even believe the Messiah came once. 


And now, since Rabbi Swamley feels neglected, we're going to experience the awesome privilege of hearing his Davar Torah. 


"But freilich does not mean happiness!"

"It doesn't?"

"It means 'definitely', 'of course.' It means that you are certain."


Dinner had finished, and Bethany was doing her now customary bringing the chair near the wall to hear the noises of next door. She had just explained, yet again, the magic she felt from the proximity of these mysterious neighbors to Kristina. The constant singing, the loud commotion of ten children, the screaming, and the huge gales of laughter. 

Kristina was not the sentimental type. She felt affection, grosse Zuneigung even, for Bethany and this very American family in which everyone always smiled, everyone talked about their feelings, everyone always assumed the best motives of each other, and everyone insisted on having so much fun as to be exhausting. Bethany was a torichtschoener madchen, extraordinary in her solicitousness to a point well beyond foolish. She'd come to feel protective of this girl whom she always wished did not gone so far out of her way to protect Kristina. She'd have liked to get into a little trouble but this girl always insisted on mining Kristina's every movement and thought, and Kristina did not want to trouble her with worry if she ever left home with some boser bob amerikanish on a motorized scooter. So in the Katz household she simply lived like the guttes madschen her own parents never cared whether or not she was. What she'd really miss is the beauty of California. Germany still has plenty of forest, but nothing like the stille Wildheit of these open spaces. She'd wander around the forest alone for hours, sometimes sitting on the ground, while Bob would teach Mary and Bethany the considerable knowledge he had of California's flora and faunae. Perhaps these Americans are so noisy because they can't live with the thought of having so much majesty near to them. 

What is it with these Americans who always speak before they're spoken to? They're like cartoons with no depth past what they say out loud. It must be very nice indeed to live in a country where such existence is possible, but it's so comically trivial. It's not particularly pleasant to have uncles and grade school teachers ready to inform on you, but it does build you an inner life which no one can take away. You think more interestingly, you have the vergnugen of secrets you keep to yourself. What's the point of Aufregung? When you share everything with everyone, it takes away the uniqueness you give it by keeping it to yourself. 

In any event, Kristina would return to Dresden in four months. Back to the life of clubs and twenty-something Jungen, and the occasional fraulein - two or three Jungen took her home when she was less than fifty percent sure she wanted them to, but the occasional Fehler hasn't seemed as bad as some friends of hers said. Even so, maybe it's time to make the fraulein more than occasional. In the evening, she'd have dinner or a drink sometimes with her parents, who'd talk to her about politics or art, and just assume she'd take care of anything that wasn't bildung. In a year, it would be time for die Technische Universitat. It's free, not too far from home, and life'll be as pleasant as it'll ever be; much more pleasant freilich than for her parents, and who's to complain if it continues like that ad infinitum? She'll get a job, plenty of vacation time, go abroad, meet all sorts more reizender Familien along the way like the Katzes. The Katzes are lovely, but she missed the quiet. How can a place as crowded and polluted and spoiled as Ost Deutschland be so quiet while a place as savagely open and clean and virgin as California be so noisy?

But there, from the upstairs window, was as every evening, that short and spindly, stooped over, limping Junge, utterly undistracted from whatever gigantic laminated tome was in front of him at the back yard's bench and table, swaying back and forth as he mumbled to himself. Faszinirend. He probably wouldn't talk to her if she tried. And even if she would break him like a twig, the contortions of his body were adorable. It goes without saying that she'd never seen a nose quite like that or those adorable earlocks which she's sure thousands of German women had fantasized about tugging at. Even her father would make fun of her taste in men. 

Every night, Bethany would sit near the living room wall, listening with the greatest interest to the heaving convulsions of Jewish family life as her father shook his head and mother maintained all was right with the world. Tonight was another group sing. It sounded like three dozen friends or relatives or rabbis were gathered for seemingly the eighteenth time since moving to San Francisco. First the talking and laughing, then, the davening, bouts of silence punctured by a chorus of mumbling zombies, then nasally intoning another Freygish-moded song, seemingly incorporating four thousand years of suffering into the happiest sounds in the universe. Bob couldn't stand it, and yet again was on the phone with the police, who explained to him as patiently as they could that he had no legal recourse for their noise until ten at night. 

Yet Simcha was outside, again. The back yard light on at the beginning of sunset so he could dive into his book, shuckling up and down while all this happy singing was going on. Why did he possibly want to miss all this?

And then the singing moves outside to the backyard; dancing, clapping, stomping, drinking, eating, smiling. Bethany goes up to her room which Kristina dutifully obliged when Bethany insisted they share one rather than Kristina living in the guest room. They look out the window, but Simcha has to leave the back to stay focused on his books. As he leaves, one of these men yells something to him that, to Bethany's ear, clearly has the intonations of mockery, followed by laughter.

Kristina immediately understands what the man said. 

"Deh Golem vilt tsu leynen."

"The Golem wants to read."

The Golem. The supernatural Jewish being made of clay, which the Maharal of Prague brought into the breath of life the way Hashem brought the breath of life into Adam himself. They might as well refer to this anti-Adonis as Frankenstein. Kristina's father's fondest wish for his daughter was a thorough knowledge of culture: philosophy, music, art, history, film, and showed her the nineteen fifteen classic: Der Golem, known in America as "The Monster of Horror" when she was still nine.  

"Did you understand what they said?"

"No, I didn't... I'm going for a walk now." 

"I'll come with you!" Kristina sighs to herself as silently as she can. 

They step outside to immediately see Simcha still leyning on the front porch. Bethany didn't miss a beat.

"I don't speak Yiddish, but whatever those people said to you, it didn't look like it was very nice."

Simcha doesn't look up. 

"Maybe it was nice, but I hope you're doing OK."

He continues his shuckling, his silent mumbling becomes verbal.

"If you ever want someone to talk to, I'm always next door."

And she went back inside the moment after she uttered that sentence. Determined with no thought for Kristina to make Simcha know she was there for him if she needed it. It was the least predictable thing Kristina ever saw her do. 

On the first silent urban walk she'd had since February, Kristina determined a different way to worm herself around Simcha. When she saw him outside reading, she took the most difficult book her father had given her for her year abroad outside. 

Herr Professor Axel Freiherr was very happy when he heard that his daughter would be living with a family named Katz. He didn't know much more about America than any other ex-Communist, but he did know that the country had many, many Jews in America, and he hoped Kristina would learn about Jews in a manner he only knew from a few weighted philosophy tomes he read while living on an East German stipend in West German Frankfurt, studying Marxism with Adorno and Marcuse and Horkheimer. He may well have known plenty of Jews in the East, but never in his life had he met anyone who'd freely say they had Jewish parents, even one, but the avowedly atheist Marxists doing Social Reasearch at the Goethe Universitat Frankfurt. 

When she came to America, he gave her a book he'd loved when he was a student and kept hidden beneath the floor of his bed along with fifty others for twenty-three years after his return to the East. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by Gershom Scholem. Well-read as Kristina prematurely was, he knew she wouldn't understand the first thing about it, but as he said to her, 'it is very important at your age to begin reading, especially if it is too difficult for you to understand. Just absorb the text with your eyes, the meaning will come to you when you're older and read it again.'

Kristina did not take this economium seriously, yet there she was, at the top of the back steps of the Katz's townhouse, where she could see Simcha in the Freylik's back yard and Simcha could see her, letting her eyes glaze over the text of Die jüdische Mystik in ihren Hauptströmungen. Her eyes looking at the text, but truly reading Simcha, allowing the intimacy she denied herself this year to flow through her in the distant and silent Verklarung between two cultures of scholars that go so far into the past together that it's impossible to know which first influenced the other.  


 It was the room temperature February Sunday of Northern California, a climate so temperate even the rich go without using the air conditioning for years at a time. Nevertheless, Bob insisted on installing a the top of the line AC unit for those exceedingly rare occasions the Katzes needed use. 

While the Golem reads on the front porch, the rest of the frummies huddle around a small cedar sapling meant to bring a touch of Holy Land to a nayes S'dom. For es is Tu B'Shevat, and they will pile into the Freylik's two vans and a third rented one to make their way to plant it in Golden Gate Park. 

Bethany makes her way to the back yard as anonymously as possible with Kristina in tow to translate, but amidst the dancing and singing, you don't have to speak Yiddish or Hebrew to make out Golden Gate Park and Middle Drive Vest. 

Bethany immediately rushes into the house to dial Ian Greyling, a virgin surgeon called Angreyling in Middle School for his nerdy spazz attacks, but has since switched from his parents unwatched and always replenished liquor cabinet to weed from his connection to upperclassman then college dropout Jeff Hirsch, and in ninth grade metamorphosed his awkward, nerdy, five-foot-six self into the kind of cool that only a scion from the American privilege of centuries can attain so easily with label clothes, adolescent athletic ability, and trained Protestant reserve passed down for five centuries. Six-foot two-and-a-half, petit-bourgeois rebellion shoulder length hair, earring to his left, and turned sixteen last month. 

Tsnius forbids us from telling how far Greyling already got with Bethany, but he was looking to get further, and most certainly would as he'd already gotten with no less than a dozen other girls just at San Francisco Friends since the summer. 

Bethany though, was different. She has that effect on people, and in her familiar presence he till feels the unfamiliar glow of possibilities only teenagers feel, less about sex than about truth. In middle school, he was once the picked on, learning disabled kid of his grade. But Bethany befriended him, tutored him, defended him, and in ninth grade, he returns the jock of his class. 

She demands a ride to Golden Gate Park, and in a hurry. Ian arrives in his Acura Integra forty minutes later, they drive, recklessly to Bethany's relief, and find a gaggle of police cars lined up on Middle Drive West with the lights flashing. All these black hats are being handcuffed while three of them are screaming. One of them has just been bloodily thrown on the ground with the policeman's foot on him.

"Call your uncle."


"Call your uncle right now!"

Jim Greyling, twelve year chair of the Committee on Government Audit and Oversight in the San Francisco City Council, member both of the Committees on Public Safety and Neighborhood Services, Public Utilites Revenue Bond Oversight, owed Reverend Mary for hosting the homeless and women's shelters which First UU founded last year, mostly at its own expense. Surely he'd drop any charges against thirty Orthodox Jews rather than risk an accusation of antisemitism against the San Francisco Police. 

Bethany tells Ian exactly what to say. The conversation is fifteen minutes of holding on the line, three minutes of talking. She then uses Ian's carphone to call home. Mary wasn't there, and for the first time in her life, she screamed at Bob with the demand for him to post more than half-a-million dollars in bail immediately. Could any other fifteen year old ever be trusted the way Bob trusts Bethany?

The scream from the open window catches the attention of Rabbi Freylik as his head is tucked into the back of the police car. He recognizes the voice of the freylichen maydaleh and smiles to himself with what he takes to be Chasidisher wisdom and gratitude. The Kad'sh Baruch Hoo is looking out for them and he says a Shehecheyanu in the back seat. Ten minutes later, Bethany, excited by her own abilities, takes Ian into ninety seconds of heaven. She can't wait to tell Kristina about it. 

Even Mary is slightly livid with her. It takes lots of money and favors to launch a dream project, and it'll now take at least twice the time to launch a fair housing lobby for California migrant workers. And all for the benefit of these neighbors who won't give her the time of day. 

Five days later. That Friday evening at exactly five, just before another camping trip. A giant horn of fruit appears on one of their Easternmost porch lounge chair, in the midst of the beautifully arranged cornucopia a card. "May your family grow and prosper like the fruit on the Tree of Life. Peace unto our neighbors in Holiness, The Freyliks." 


Bob has no idea if he said it out loud. 


"I told them to get a permit"

That Tuesday, four days later, four in the afternoon, Simcha Meir Freylik says his first words to Bethany Felicity Katz. 

Bethany had begun to resent Simcha for refusing her ministrations. What kind of person wants to passively accept others' abuse? All he does is read and move weirdly in his seat while everybody around him is busy enjoying life. What kind of life is reading? 

"These idiots think they can just plant a tree in a park and nobody will mind."

"Your family isn't idiots."

"Then how did they end up making your father pay more than half-a-million dollars to bail out people he hates?"

"Your father talked to mine this morning and said Chabad is sending every dollar back to him by wire and offered to send a hundred thousand dollars more."

"Of course they did... All that money and not a cent of it for actual Tzedakah."

"What does Tzedakah mean?"

"Charity. We have no gelt of our own, it's all controlled by the machers in New York, and Mammeh can barely even pay for groceries."

"Then how do you have this house?"

"They decide what we pay for, we don't have any say at all."

"That's not right..."

"They're morons. If you gave my parents money, they wouldn't even know what to spend it on anyway."

"You really hate your family, don't you?"


"Why don't you love them?"

"Of course I do. You can love your family and hate them at the same time."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you ever have complicated feelings about people?"


"Don't you ever want to kill the people you love?"


"Don't you ever get so mad at people you owe everything to that you wish they were dead?"

"What a horrible thing to say!"

"You really aren't one of us."

"That's rude!"

"I'm just getting started."

"People might be nicer to you..."

"...If I were nicer to them?"

Pause "Yeah"

"I know them better than you. They're not nice people."


"They're my family, and I'm commanded to love them, but sometimes you hate the things you love."

"I don't."

"You will one day."

"You like to try to make people angry, don't you?"

"Only if I'm right."

"Well you're not making me angry."

"Not yet."

"I've always thought that when people are mean to each other it's really just a cry for help."

"Do I look like I'm crying?"

"You sometimes do when you're reading."

"I'll bet your father understands what it's like to hate things you love."


"How much was it anyway?"

"How much?..."

"How much money did he pay for the bail."

"I shouldn't say."

"Come on! Tell me! I'm gonna find out anyway from my Tateh."

"I still shouldn't tell you."

"Well, no matter how much it was, and it could have been a million dollars...."

"...It wasn't that much."

"Well however much it was, your father had no idea he'd ever be paid back a nickel."

"He's an amazing person."

"I'm sure part of him is if he did that."


"We all have parts for good and evil."

"My Dad isn't evil."

"Sure he is! So are you and me. We're all part evil and good. And part of us hates everybody we meet."

"My Dad doesn't hate Mom or me!"

"I'm sure he doesn't, but he could."

"You don't know him! He'd give all his money away if he thought it would help people."

"Well I'm sure that isn't true but thank you all the same. You really did a beautiful thing."

"I did a beautiful thing?"

"It was you who got them out of jail, not him. My Tateh saw you in the Park."

"It was just what anybody would do if they could."

"I'm sure that isn't true either, but we know now that you would."

"I just did what anybody should do."

"But they don't."

"I think you're wrong."

"Don't underestimate how rare you are."

"Really! I just did what I had to."

"You shouldn't have had to, my mishpocha shouldn't have done something to get them arrested in the first place."

"But they didn't deserve to be arrested!"

"Sure they did!"

"Do you really think that?"

"How did they think they weren't going to be arrested for what they did? Did they really think they could plant a tree and sing and dance without drawing attention to themselves?"

"What's wrong with drawing attention to themselves?"

"They were defacing public property!"

"Weren't they just trying to make the park more beautiful?"

"People don't want their lives to be more beautiful."

"You really ought to be nicer to your family."

"You're the one who's telling me they're mean to me!"

"They're amazing people who do amazing things!"

"Is that why you stalked them all the way to Golden Gate Park?"

"I wasn't!... Alright, I shouldn't have done that."

"It was Bashert, you were supposed to be there, so we have to forgive you for being a creep."

"I feel sorry for you."

"Use that for somebody who needs your pity."

"I think you need somebody's pity."

"I have my family's pity, it just makes them meaner."

"Maybe you just need people to be nicer to you."

"Who's going to be nicer? You? Pretty soon you're gonna end up just like your father."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Your father does the right things, but when my family sent him the fruit basket he cursed us out."


"Don't worry I was the only one who heard it."

"He didn't curse you out."

"Of course he did. He hates us like everybody else, but he paid all that money because somewhere in him there's still a part that loves us, and whether or not you know it, you're the same way."'

"You don't know me!"

"I know enough to know that eventually this is what everybody eventually thinks of us. They start by loving all the singing and dancing and it makes them do all sorts of things for us. It's a scam, and eventually they resent us for all the good deeds they do for us."

"That can't be true."

"They're right to hate us."

"You're not horrible people!"

"Look, I'm not going to give you a whole history of my people, but you're the only person I can tell this to. We're the worst heretics in Judaism. Your people are better Jews than we are."

"You can't believe your family are horrible people."

"You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

"No. It's better you don't get involved."

"Well you've been talking to me for a long time."

"You're right, this is the longest conversation I've had with anybody in weeks. We're not supposed to do this."

"So why are you?"

"Because you seem like a nice person."

"...So why are you being mean to me?"

"I'm not being mean!"

"But you like to argue?"

"I don't argue anything I'm not right about."

"Does it make you feel better to be right?"

"Not for long, but it makes me forget that we're wrong about everything else."

"Who's we?"

"The Freyliks, my family."

"But you don't think you're wrong?"

"I'm a Freylik, what I think doesn't matter."

"But you think what you want to say."

"No. I say what I want to think."


"I told you you wouldn't understand."

"So you just say what you don't think?"

"Hey! Maybe you can get it!"

"Get what?"

"Look, we're Jews, you're not. I don't expect you to get what it's like. But the truth is, we're not really Jews either. We're not even supposed to convert anybody. But my Tateh is out there every day trying to get Jews to become Jews like us, and it goes against everything our people are supposed to be."

"He's just trying to get people to come back to their roots!"

"We're not their roots, we're the mistake of a weed that's killing us all."

"I think you really need somebody to talk to more often."

For the first time in her adolescence, Bethany was genuinely angry at someone. 


Brazilians have Carnivale, New Orleans and the French have Mardi Gras, Russians have Shrovetide, Germans have Schmutziger Donnerstag, Sweden has Semla, Lithuana has Uzhgavenes, Indians have Holi and Duwale, Iranians have Norwuz, Japanese have Higan. Every corner of the world seems to have a Vernal Equinox Festival whose origins predate Purim by hundreds of centuries. Drinking, dancing, dressing, a bacchanale of life to usher in the new spring's regeneration when the noumenal world of No End becomes so full of light and essence that it has to contract some of its enduring majesty into empty space so that, in a divine leap, the shattered, phenomenal realm of sense and sensibility can grow in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end. 

"Don't bring your friends to this."

"Why not?"

"It just encourages Tateh."

Bethany loved Simcha, just like she did all her friends, she just couldn't stand him. He was cynical, he was stubborn, he was argumentative, he made fun of everything she loved, and the more negative he was, the more need she felt to court his approval. She couldn't stand him for making her seek his approval, she couldn't stand herself for needing him to like her, and she couldn't stand him again for making her feel the need to be liked by him. And yet she loved him, as though there was an instant understanding of the rules of the game. She vaguely disliked the friend she spoke to in secret more than any school friend, he at least affected contempt for her, and within a dynamic that seemed strange to her and all too familiar to him, they adored each other's company. Meanwhile, Kristina had taken up with a thirty-two year old junior professor at Berkeley named Dan Krentzman and was rarely seen around the house anymore. 

"He wants to make a scene. He wants the whole city to see this and know we're here."

"But it's gonna be fun!"

"Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone."

It was fairly easy to get to the root of his contempt for his family, but it was not as easy for Bethany to understand why Simcha felt so hostile toward his family's religion. Wasn't it the same as his? Of all the places Simcha and his parents might reach some kind of understanding, wasn't this the one with the most points of commonality?

In any event, Simcha wouldn't let her know. He refused to let her ask any questions at all about Judaism, though he talked about the facets he wanted to talk about endlessly, because what else did he know about? He asked her plenty of questions, but they were about anything but Judaism. Simcha's curiosity could never be satiated, and asked the most pointed questions about everything and everyone she knew as though the world was a citrus to be squeezed, an oyster to be slurped, yet in a manner that made his questions seem like the point of their discourse rather than her answers. 

He knew so much, yet so little, and this was the paradox at the heart of Simcha Freylik she found so fascinating. He claimed he was happy, his very name means Happiness Happiness, yet he was clearly miserable so much of the time and needed a friend so desperately. She had begun to see that his family was exactly the same way. Every one of them found some kind of happiness in their various ministrations - whether dancing and singing like Rabbi Freylik, or cooking like the Rebbitzin, or reading some book like the Talmud like Simcha. And yet when doing anything else, anything at all, when speaking or partaking of any activity outside the divinely mechanical order that animated their lives with holy breath, they were the picture postcard of misery itself. Bethany, her heart so softened by the needs of every individual in her life, felt part of herself break off every time she saw familial misery unlike any family she'd ever experienced. They were like robots who come to life every time there was something that fulfilled their programming, and seemed to scream and plead at each other in a mixture of strange and familiar languages and tones at every moment between when the programming came online. 

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