Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tale 5: Chosen Family - Deuteronomy - Very Rough 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, of whom his contemporaneous sages thought so highly that 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 a great religion or what?

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 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 articulate words to Bethany Felicity Katz. 

It had been well over a month since Bethany truly began to resent Simcha for refusing any more ministrations of hers. 

"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 Tzedakeh."

"What does Tzedakeh 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."

"How did you afford this house?"

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

"That's not right..."

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

"I'm sure they would spend it on very good things."

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

"They shouldn't have been in jail."

"We're in jail every day."

"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."

"People might be nicer to you..."

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

Pause "Yeah"

"I know them better than you. They're my people, but they're not nice people."


"We're commanded to love each other, 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?"

"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 it's really just a cry for help."

"Do I look like I'm crying?"

"You have."

"Emes... (sigh) I'll bet your Tateh 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. Nobody in this house 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."

"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 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 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."

"That isn't true either, but 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."

"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, so we have to forgive you..."

"What does Bashert mean?"

"It was destiny. You were destined to be there, you'd have been there no matter what."


"Even if you weren't a krikhn..."

"I don't know what that means, but I'm so 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 I know? It's all I'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."

"I've gotta be happier than the filth in my house."

"That's a terrible way of talking about your family!"

"They deserve it!"

"I'm sure they don't."

"I deserve it for staying here."

"Well then I feel sorry for you."

"Use that for somebody who deserves your pity."

"I think you need somebody's pity."

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

"They shouldn't hold that against you."

"I can't walk straight, I can't dance, I can't turn my head right."

"I'm so sorry to hear that."

"No you're not."

"Of course I am."

"That's just something you say because you're supposed to."

"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 this or me!"

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

"I mean that even if Rabbi's 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? It's all just a big show - the way it is."

"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. But 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."

"They don't hate you!"

"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 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 can I tell that we're wrong."

"Well, why can you tell me?"

"I dunno. You seem like a tzaddekes."


"A righteous person. Which is more than anybody in this house is."

"I don't know what a righteous person is, but I really didn't do that much."

"Really? And what how often do you spend half-a-million dollars on anything?"

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

"They wouldn't after they 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 with anybody in weeks. We're not supposed to do this."

"So why are you?"

"Why am I what?"

"Talking to me."

"Why not."

"You're not supposed to."

"They gave up trying to control me long ago."

"But why are you talking to ME?"

"Oh. 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?"

"What else is there to do?"

"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 could 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 killing the roots."

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

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

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