Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tale 5 - Chosen Family - Deuteronomy - Better Draft

 It was a room temperature February 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. 

It's hard enough explaining to Goyim that Jews operate on a different calendar than the rest of the world and that our New Year is in September rather than January - so it's a good idea not to confuse them still further by telling them that in Exodus, Hashem ordained the new year to begin roughly two weeks before Passover. But if you really want to make a Gentile's head explode, try explaining to them that Jews believe that every year is really four years. According to the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah, written in Israel between the years 190 and 230 Common Era: 

"The four new years are: On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals; On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, on the first of Tishrei. On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables. On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees according to the words of the House of Shammai; The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof."

But unlike your usual goyisher metaphysics, there aren't many weird mind-stretching games at work. Just a pragmatic, if rather byzantine, laying out of legal determinations based on pragmatic consideration. 

What we call Rosh Hashana is in fact just the new year of the seasons - or at least it is according to Rabbi Eliezer, whom his contemporaries honored so highly they excommunicated him. The Torah says hardly anything about Rosh Hashana at all except in Leviticus, whose brief commentary on the day we've considered the head of the year for the majority of time since the Torah's reception is that that the first of Tishrei is a day upon which 'a horn is sounded.' 

The first of Nissan, two weeks before Passover, is considered the 'New Year' on the Civil Calendar. It is, perhaps oddly from a modern point of view, the new year of measuring the reigns of kings, both Jewish and foreign - which was necessary in olden times because legal documents were always marked by the year of the current king's reign.  And even if Rosh Hashana is the New Year for the seasons, it is the First of Nissan that is considered the beginning of farming sabbaticals - the Shmita which Jewish farmers must observe every seventh year to let their land lie fallow and free according to Leviticus - a passage which of course provides that extremely misused quote on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia - 'And thou shalt proclaim Liberty throughout the land!' And, the first of Nissan is also the day for which the yearly tithes are due - the ma'aser, the ten percent tax on vegetables and grain. Who knows? Maybe all this complication serves as a partial historical explanation for all sorts of things: from why taxes are always due around the same time as Passover - a fact that causes endless stress to generations of Jewish accountants; or why financial years always start exactly halfway through the year. Either way, it's difficult to understand why Rosh Hashana is significant when every important milestone seems to center around exactly six months later. 

Then there's the first of Elul, the New Year of the Cattle. Yes, Cattle have their own year. Yearly tithes of cattle have to be made from one year to the next of cattle born from one first of Elul - which generally starts around mid-August - to the next. 

And finally - perhaps most specifically...... the fifteenth of Shevat. Tu b'Shevat. Which, as was said in the Mishna Rosh Hashanah, is disputed between the first and the fifteenth of Shevat. But regardless of what the House of Shammai thought, our Sages have long since ruled that the fifteenth of Shevat is the day for designating fruits as Orlah, meaning that they're forbidden to eat because they are grown within the first years after the tree's planting - or literally meaning - uncircumcised fruit. Is this not a great religion?

According to Mishna Rosh Hashanah 14a: On the first of Shevat is the New Year for Trees. What is the reason? - Rabbi Eleazar said in the name of Reb Oshaia: Because the greater part of the year's rain has fallen and the greater part of the cycle is still to come. What is the sense of this? What it means is this: 'Although the greater part of the cycle is still to come, yet since the greater part of the year's rain has fallen...

To take this to Kabbalah, a realm of Judaism that more resembles goyisher metaphysics. We can also quote the Pri Etz Hadar - Fruit of the Beautiful Tree - a Kabbalistic text written by unnamed followers of Reb Yitzhak Luria in the 17th Century: 

"Although the 15th of Shevat occurs during the days of Shovavim - meaning the eight weeks when many Jewish men fast on Mondays and Thursdays to atone for their sexual transgressions - it is not a fast day since it is the New Year's Day of the Fruit of the Tree. Through the tikkun - or healing - that is performed on this day with fruit, the sefirah - roughly meaning Godly emanation - "Tzaddik - or righteousness - life of the Worlds" is aroused. The mystery is mentioned in the Zohar, Bereshit - in the beginning "on the third day, the Earth made fruit on the potency of that [supernal] Tzaddik. As it is written, 'And God said, let the Earth bring forth fruit trees that produce fruit. Fruit trees refers to 'the tree of knowledge of good and evil that bears fruit. 'That produce fruit' alludes to Tzaddik, the foundation of the world...

It is a good custom for the faithful to eat many fruits on this day and to celebrate them with words of praise, just as I have instructed my companions." 

Or we can just take the first three verses of Psalm 1. 

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." 

And while the Golem reads on the front porch, the rest of the frummies huddle in the back yard around a small cedar sapling meant to bring a touch of the Holy Land's supernal emanations 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 still 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 money and favors to launch projects, and it'll now take at least twice the time to launch a fair housing lobby for California migrant workers. All for the benefit of 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 articulate words to Bethany Felicity Katz. 

It had been well over a month since Bethany'd begun to resent Simcha for refusing more potential ministrations. 

"These na'ars 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 to bail out people he hates? How much was it? Half a million?"

"My father doesn't hate your family."

"Of course he does."

"He Your father talked to mine this morning. Chabad's wiring every dollar back and offered to send eighteen percent more."

"Of course they did... (chortles) eighteen percent... All that gelt and not a cent of it for actual Tzedakeh."

"What does Tzedakeh mean?"

"Charity. It's all controlled by the machers in Brooklyn. Money means nothing to them while Mammeh can barely pay the groceries."

"You afford two townhouses?"

"They decide what we pay for, we have no say. They want us to live in a painting of the Rebbe on the windows of the San Francisco Painted Ladies, what can we say? No?"

"That's not right..."

"Just as well. We're morons."

"Oh my god."

"No, we are! Try giving my parents money, they wouldn't know what to spend it on."

"Your parents aren't morons." 

"Sure we are." 

"I'm sure your parents would use it for good things."

"We're not the one who figured out how to get us out of jail."

"Your father shouldn't have been in jail."

"We're in jail every day."

"Who's we?"

"You don't get it..."

"You keep referring to your parents as though they're yourself."

"You really don't get it...."

"I'm trying to understand."

"You wouldn't."

"You hate your family?"


"But you refer to them as though they're yourself?"

"Maybe you can get it." 

"Why don't you love them?"

"Can't you love us and hate us at the same time?"

"What do you mean?"

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


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


"Don't you ever get so mad at people you love you wish they were dead?"

"That's a horrible thing to say!"

"You really aren't one of us."

"People might be nicer to you..."

"I know us better than you do. We're not nice people."


"We're commanded to love each other, but sometimes you hate the things you love."

"I don't."

"You probably will one day."

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

"Look around, people should be angry."

"Well you're not making me angry."

"Not yet."

"I've always thought that when people are mean to each other they just need someone to be nicer to them."

"Do I look like I'm crying?"

"You have."

(sigh) "Emes... I'll bet your Tateh understands what it's like to hate things you love."


"How much was it anyway?"

"How much?..."

"How much did he pay for the bail."

"I shouldn't say."

"Come on! Tell me! I'm gonna find out anyway. Nobody in this heuse can keep a secret!"

"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."

"However much it was, your father had no idea he'd get a nickel back."

"He's an amazing person."

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


"We all have yetzers for good and evil."

"My Dad isn't evil."

"Sure he is! So are you and me. We all have inclinations for evil and good. And part of us wishes badly to everybody we meet."

"My family doesn't wish badly to anybody!"

"I'm sure you and your mother don't..."


"I'm sure you and your mother don't..."

"But my Dad?"

"I'm sure your Tateh wishes ill on lots of people."

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

"Well I'm sure that isn't true but thank him for us 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."


"You must have a high opinion of yourself."

"That's not very nice."

"You're too nice."

"I just did what anybody would in that situation if they could."

"That isn't true either, but you would."

"Well maybe 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."

"But you shouldn't have had to do it! My mishpocha shouldn't have done something to get us arrested in the first place."

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

"Sure we did!"

"Do you really think that?"

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

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

"Look at us!"

"What's wrong with them?"

"We were defacing public property!"

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

"Nobody wants beauty!"

"That's so not true!"

"If people want a beautiful life, why do they destroy it?"

"Your family doesn't seem like they destroy beauty."

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

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

"Probably not."

"I didn't think I was stalking them. I'm so sorry."

"No no no no... It was Bashert, you were supposed to be there, and we're supposed to forgive you..."

"But you don't?"

"No, we're supposed to forgive you! You were destined to be there, you'd have been there no matter what."


"Even if it was creepy."

"Like I said, I'm so sorry."

"Hahahaha, no no it's just weird how much you love my family."

"They seem to enjoy life so much."

"What we do isn't living."

"What is it?"

"How should we know? It's all we've ever experienced."

"So how do you know it's not living?"

"Look at us. We're robots."

"What do you mean?"

"We're machines. We wouldn't know how to do anything but what we do."

"But it seems to make them so happy."

"It doesn't."

"Well it definitely doesn't seem to make you happy."

"What does my happiness matter?"

"I feel sorry for you."

"We don't deserve your pity."

"You sound like you need somebody's pity."

"I have our pity, it just makes us meaner."

"Why do they feel sorry for you?"

"You see the hunch in my back, you see how I walk..."

"Well that's not your fault."

"Tell us that."

"They shouldn't hold that against you."

"I can't walk straight, I can't dance, I can't turn my head right."
"It's not your fault that you've got these problems."

"They're not problems."

"That's great!"

"No, you don't understand. It means that my soul is more beautiful."

"I'm sure that's true!"

"What do you mean you're sure that's true?! You don't know the first thing about us!"

"I'm sorry I said that, what do you mean."

"I mean that even if our customs tell me my soul's more beautiful because my body's ugly, everybody hates me more because I'm supposed to be better than them."

"Well that's not right."

"Who cares whether it's right?"

"You're not ugly."

"It's just the way we are."

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

"Who's going to make us nicer?"

"I can be nicer to you."

"We wouldn't believe 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 we sent him the fruit basket he cursed us out."


"Don't worry nobody heard it!"

"You did."

"It was bashert. 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 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. But it's a scam, and eventually they resent us because they do good deeds they do for us."

"That can't be true."

"They're right to hate us."

"They don't hate you!"

"Look, we're not going to give you a whole history of our people, but we're apikorsim. The worst apikoreses in Judaism. Your people are better Jews than we are."


"The worst heretics in Judaism!"

"But why am I the only person you can tell this to."

"Look around, who here wants to know we're wrong."

"Well, why can you tell me?"

"Dunno. You seem like a tzaddekes."


"A righteous person. Which is more than we are."

"I really didn't do that much."

"Really? You spend half-a-million dollars often?"

"I'm sure your family would do the same for us."

"We wouldn't after we found out Mrs. Katz is a Unitarian Minister." 

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

"At this point, I would believe anything at all."

"At what point?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

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

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

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

"So why are you?"

"Why are we what?"

"Talking to me."

"Why not."

"You're not supposed to."

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

"I'm sorry, who's we?"

"The Chabadniks you see around here, 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 weed that's gonna kill the roots."

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

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

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