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 may grow again in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end.
"For fuck's sake don't bring your friends to this."
"Nu? Why not?"
"It just encourages Tateh. Nu?"
Every weeknight after mishpocheh dinner, they'd talk for a few hours in the Katz basement, as she now spoke to in hiding to her secret best friend more than to any friend from school or church; not a secret for her sake though occasionally she felt guilty for wishing it so, but certainly a secret for his. Even with the Katz/Freylik detente, how would his mishpocheh react to knowing that Simcha spent every free moment in the almost windowless basement of an halakhic shiksa. 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. Nu?"
"But it's gonna be fun! Nu?"
"Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone. Nu?"
As she did all her friends, Bethany loved Simcha, she just wasn't sure she could stand him. He thought nothing of being negative, indeed, seemed to love it. As though making fun of everything she loved was the most generous thing in the world a person could do for his friends, or at least Simcha made it seem like he thought it was.
Week 1 after they start hanging out, while Ian Greyling's already flushed and washing his hands Simcha says loudly: "You shouldn't get mixed up with him, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" Week 2, Alenna and Vicki are in the next room and he says: "Nu, don't invite your yenta friends too often while I'm here. They don't like me nu? and I wouldn't like them if I knew them better." She sees Vicki hesitantly enter the room as he finished the sentence and had to wonder for weeks if Vicki'd heard. Week 3, he says outright to Kristina "Nu, all Bethany's other friends play at being korvehs, but you're the real thing! Nu?"
This utterly new irritation gnawed into her intestines like termites into trees because for her life's first time, she had to confront disapproval from and for someone she loved who clearly loved her back. Around Simcha, from Simcha, because of Simcha, love was suddenly intermingled with dread, pettiness, anger, belittlement, cynicism. Would love, could love, ever feel the same again?
By the end of week 4, Simcha'd said nothing particularly embarrassing. But it's Purim, it's Alamo Square Park, it's time to get so drunk you don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. All Bethany has to say the words: free hard liquor and 90% of San Francisco Friends High School show up, and so will half the adults from the Church of the Holy Fellowship. So will the entire Greyling family, whose brother will make a phone call to the police to ensure nobody's bothered for serving underage liquor. Not that Fat Tuesday is a Quaker or UU holiday, but when Bethany tells Mary that Rabbi Freylik's terrified nobody'll show up for Purim, Mary suggests that the Freyliks can turn their Purim party into a combination Purim and Mardi Gras. Bethany tells Simcha, Simcha reluctantly tells Rabbi Freylik, knowing that Tateh will jump at it.
Ordinarily, charedim, even Chabadniks, would ordinarily wretch at the idea of an interfaith event. But these are no ordinary times for Chabad. The 92-jahr-alt Rebbe, unable to talk for two years, had a stroke while praying at graveside of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, his father-in-law, which left him completely paralyzed on the right side. Moshiach should probably be do more than be able to sit silently in a wheelchair, but the fact that he lives on with seeming permanence, one foot in the world to come and both feet unable to stand, somehow heightens the speculation that Der Rebbe is Moshiach.
Nobody's in charge of Chabad and every Rabbi's too busy jockeying for position to oversee themselves. It's a miracle the whole cult of personality doesn't fall apart, and every Lubavich shaliach makes his own rules. Rebbe Freylik has big plans for whatever new regime comes when the Rebbe ascends to Olam Ha'Ba, and this is the perfect reason summon allies. If no guests show up for the Purim party, Ori's gotta explain to them why they travelled across the country for a party so small. Nu? What they don't know about who shows up can't hurt? Deh Kad'sh Bar-khoo always looks out for us and even if we don't admit it, these schkotzer idolworshippers really seem like nice people. These ahkoo'im promise they won't bring meat, and they're even gonna bring their own liquor, cuz all dey do is trink. They don't even celebrate deh Mardi Gras. No goyisheh brokhes, no crucifix, it's almost like deh goyim respect us! They gonna pay far deh jazz band, fah deh masks, fah deh hula hoops, and fah deh beads. Maybe Hashem really does like these people, half of deh members are married to Jews! Nu? So even if a hundred or two goyim show up along with three or four Jews, we tell the ander schlichim it's to bring the intermarried ones back to us. What reason to complain? Nu?
Mary brings everything. She even offers to pay for kosher catering, but the Freylik's don't trust any caterer's kashrus. She ate before she came to help and insists to the Freyliks that they should have to do as little as possible on their own holiday. They won't let her cook but she can at least set up the tables and bring out the food. Seven trips from the Freylik house to the table to bring out Rebbitzen Freylik's unbelievable dishes. Hamentaschen of course, but also phyllo rolls, prune cake, poppyseed roll, falafel salad, something called mujaddara, potato pancakes - sorry, latkes, eggplant and chickpea stew, potato and mushroom dumplings, and challah. It's just unbelievable.
The goyim bring their liquor to put aside Mary and Bob's own, and place it on a second of the two long tables which Bethany and Kristina brought out an hour ago with a blue tablecloth which they bedecked with white flower pedals to give the decoration an Israel theme. It's not like the Freyliks don't drink, and before Rabbi Freylik comes outdoors for the Purim celebration, he takes a shot of whiskey, vodka, and Schnapps each with Rabbi Weiss - who moved from Crown Heights to Ma'aleh Adumim in 1978, Rabbi Grossman who was born in Berlin and now operates Chabad Omaha, Rabbi Schwarzberg from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Kleiner who's basically lived his whole life in a Montreal Yeshiva, and Rabbi Shemtov who was born in Moscow and now runs Chabad DC. But when they go outside, each of them brings out a different flavored bottle of Manischewitz to put on the table. Nobody over 17 touches it.
Mary's eye focuses immediately on one of her more tactless UU congregants, Barbara Rosenstein, who arrives early and carries a brown paper bag from which she takes nothing out. It takes twenty five minutes, and she takes out what's clearly a sandwich with meat. Mary interrupts her conversation to tell Barbara to take it inside. "They have such a beautiful spread here. Why don't you eat this instead." But I paid for this sandwich" "Just eat it in my house?" "Come on, just a minute, let me take another bite and I'll throw it out." "I'm sorry you have to take it in." "But." "The Freyliks are kosher and we can't let you unkosher meat around their food." "Come on Mary. Is it really so terrible to bring outside food here?" "Yes, it is. Now go inside! Please?"
Jamie Rosenstein goes inside, directly past Bethany's classmates Dovi Bar-Kherev and Tariq el-Mufti. Rather than finish the sandwich she puts it back into the fridge and goes directly back out for hamentaschen and some latkes. Dovi's great-grandfather, David Breunbarg, came to Israel in 1903 after his sister was killed in the Kishiniev Pogrom. David's youngest son, Moshe Bar-Kherev, was an explosives expert who sided with Lehi during their split from Irgun who later became a Technion professor. Moshe's youngest son, Ami, is an anesthesiologist who frequently works with Bob Katz in spite of the fact that they usually clash in the operating room. Dovi's mother Maureen gained eighty pounds since being swept off her feet at the California State University by the most confident boy she'd ever met, who even persuaded her to move back with him for grad school in a strange country. Ami now carries on with his Puerto Rican secretary and Maureen knits crochet for the future grandchildren of her older children and their fiances.
But Tariq's father, a Palestinian Christian named Gabriel, is a third-generation shipping magnate. During the '48 Nakba, Gabriel was in school in Cairo with the other sons of Arab businessmen of distinctions, with future Kings, their ministers and diplomats, and even their musicians and movie stars. Tariq's older brother will convert to Islam after getting kicked out of medical school for cheating while his Jewish friend who gave him the answers was held back a semester. Here in San Francisco, Dovi and Tariq eat the humus and falafel their mothers make for them, they both listen to the same Middle Eastern musicians like Abdul Halim Hafez and Lydia Canaan, and they catcall the same hippie girls on the same streets.
Today as ever, they pick mercilessly on Gennadi, Ghyena, Kostovetzky, knocking over Gyenna's plate of eggplant and chickpea salad so it gets all over his pants and telling him to go over to the Chabadniks to pray it off. In ten years, Gyenna, by then Henry, will be worth $108 million dollars, his parents work for him, and he dates four women at a time while Dovi is trying to make it as a director in Hollywood while living on his parents dime. Eventually Dovi will go into production management. Tariq is an LSE grad school dropout who organizes protests and lives with in a 80 square meter London flat with seven others. Eventually he'll sit on the Borough Council of Tower Hamlet.
Around Thanksgiving 1988, Gyenna's parents come to San Francisco with sponsorship from distant cousins they'd not been in touch with since the early 1930's, who put them in touch with Jewish charity programs that set them up in jobs as lab technicians. In 1987, Gyenna's mother Tatiana was denied the valedictory prize in her biochemical doctoral program in spite of literally perfect grades. Her advisor, Dr. Nikolayevich, would praise her work to the heavens but always go out of his way to berate how 'cheap' she was with showing how she did it, so he didn't know how she always got the right answers to all the questions on his tests and 'for all I know you're using witchcraft.'
All four of Gyenna's grandparents, from not particularly credulous middle class families in Vilna and Minsk, were deemed enemies of the people - as they all knew they eventually would be, and mercifully compelled by Stalin's population transfers of 170 million people to relocate in 1941 only as far as Tashkent - capital of Uzbekistan, where their own parents made sure to speak to Gyenna's parents only in Russian, as did the parents of their Uzbeki, Chinese, Korean, Harbin, native Polish, native Ukranian, Crimean Tatar, Greek, Bulgarian, Armenian, Turkish, Meshketian Turkish, Kurdish, Hamsheni, Karapapak, and Lazesi classmates.
But if antisemitism was in fact the reason Tatiana was denied her valediction at the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences, that would be quite ironic since both Tatiana and her husband Yosif met each other by becoming devout Orthodox Christians during their first year at Tashkent State Technical University. Tatiana's father died in 1942 at the Battle of Stalingrad, but Yosif's father rebuilt himself as a essential factory inspector for the Tashkent Communist Party and was therefore a militant atheist. The official wedding was scrupulously secular, and a secret second wedding without the knowledge of parents was held in the bell tower of Tashkent's Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin.
Thereafter, both Yosif and Tatiana, doubtless with help from Yosif's father, were accepted as doctoral students in biochemistry Bauman Moscow Technical University, where Tatiana was the top of their class, and Yosif somewhere in the top 70%. In 1988, to Yosif's father's devastation, they came over to America with the ten year old Ghyena and settled in the Richmond District with all the other Soviet Jews, where they were not particularly popular on account of adorning their apartment with many ikons of the Theotokos and a giant reproduction of Rublev's Old Testament Trinity. They wanted Gyena to have a Christian education, but they were horrified at the poor science program at St. John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy and sent Ghyena to the weak liberal Quakers at San Francisco Friends. Yosif got a job at a laboratory where he was fired for incompetence, perhaps unfairly for a man who didn't speak very good English, and eventually made his living as a cabdriver who was not always entirely sober. Tatiana became essential in her lab at Genentech at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was treated as a chief researcher in practice even if not in name, and was the driving force behind there Herceptin, a breast cancer drug which was her pet project, the work of ten years, a thank you to the chain-smoking mother who insisted that Tatiana be the best in all she did.
When it came to Ghyena, they insisted that whatever he did, he too had to finish first. Academically, that's exactly what he was at San Francisco Friends. Socially..., not yet.. Yet by 2004, when Henry Kostovetsky is a tall and thin tech gazillionaire who dresses in all black with thousand dollar leather shoes and a different girlfriend for every day of the week, he's not sure if he ever felt about any of them one-eighteenth the fervor he felt for Sophia Maji; at sixteen an ectomorphically tall, studious and shy girl whom everybody discovered just last week was Ian Greyling's most unexpected conquest. In 2006 he reconnects with her on social media, and marries the suddenly statuesque Sophia in late 2008 after courting her with flowers, weekend trips around the world, and million dollar donations to the charities of her choice. In late 2016 they divorce and Sophia takes sixty percent of his money.
Sophia was facing Volodya when Noam knocks the plate full of eggplant into his crotch with juice that spills down his leg. Volodya tearfully runs into Bethany's first floor bathroom to cry in as much secrecy as he can, humiliated in front of the love of his young life. But it barely registers to Sophia while she's talking to three classmates: but neither Jennifer Han or Farah Tayebi nor Karina Mardirosian saw anything of it. Sophia herself could barely stop from crying that whole week, her hookup five months earlier with Ian Greyling during a lab partner session being the current subject of everyone's gossip. The teacher's pet of the class might never get her squeaky-clean reputation back, forever branded as slut by her peers at San Francisco Friends, who would be the only people who matter, were it not to get back to her father.
Sophia's parents raised her with an aspiration to what they thought to be the perfect American girl. Her parents, Bengali Christians who began life as Untouchable Hindus, subject as children to additional indignity of crossing with their families by foot from what would become the Bangladeshi part of Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta to its Indian part in the India-Pakistan Partition of 1947. Their families only emerged from refugee camps in the mid-50's when Evangelical missionaries offered them housing in exchange for conversion. The more Christian the Majis became, the more opportunities and money Christian organizations gave them. In the 70's, they had enough money to come to San Francisco, where they ran an Indian restaurant and were in the front rows of San Francisco Evangelical Free Church every Sunday. They decorated the restaurant with all the Hindu icons which they so loathed. They tried to be far more Christian than Indian, because above all, they wanted to be American. In the restaurant, Rajiv and Arundhati always played the same Ravi Shankar record, over and over again, but in private, they always played Gospel and top 40 radio. Sophia was to get the best possible Christian education, no evangelical school for her, and to be a perfectly learned and perfectly chaste American student with hopefully not a year elapsing before she would become a wife and a mother. Sophia, however, wanted to be a veteranarian, and eventually became an obstetrician.
But if Sophia's thoughts were with Ian Greyling, Karina Mardirosian's thoughts were with him. A plain American-Armenian girl of olive complexion, average height and weight, whose parents were always screaming at the top of their lungs. Both of his parents were survivors of the systemic Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. Her father, on his fourth marriage, was freed by Americans from Treblinka, the place where his mother and sisters were gassed after being forced by Stalin to relocate in '44 from Armenia to Crimea, where they were captured within a matter of days by Nazis who presumed them to be Jews. With no family left, Davit Mardirosian made his way to America in 1949 after living for four years in a West German refugee camp, he was still only twenty-two. Mariam's mother came over with her family as a seven-year-old in 1957 from Eastern Turkey, Armenian emigres finally fleeing their reluctant country after the Istanbul pogroms of 1955. Her mother, a nurse on her second marriage, was hardly a shrinking violet, and both Mardirosian parents would sometimes go to work in long sleeves and sunglasses. For forty years, Davit, who had to learn new languages many times in his childhood, was a high school history teacher of great distinction at San Francisco Friends. As a survivor of the world's worst modern genocide and the son of survivors from the second-worst, he'd practically spoken to every school, every college, every community organization, maybe even every place of business, in the Bay Area about his experiences and was given every community leadership award San Francisco, Oakland, and especially Berkeley, could possibly offer.
Without telling any of their classmates, Karina lived in the Sausalito mansion of Farah Tayebi, her Iranian classmate whose parents would even pay her way through grad school after Mr. Mardirosian broke his daughter's college fund to pay his many alimonies. While getting a Masters' Middle Eastern History at Cornell, Karina will embrace her until then occasional bisexuality and within two months become the life partner of her advisor's TA, Avalon Zimmerman. In 2006, Karina Mardirosian and Avalon are married at a barn near Framingham by Avalon's sister, who gets certified by the Universal Life Church. When Ghyena and Sophia come to Boston, Karina is repulsed that she could have ever been in love with someone so tacky and arrogant.
Farah Tayebi's father, Mohammed Tayebi, was a devout Shia Muslim when he was 16, and as an adult he became a multi-millionaire oilman because his father Hossein worked as a chief technician for a British Petroleum oil rig and gave lots of information to BP and the CIA about Mohammed Mossadegh's orders when he Nationalized Iranian Oil. Upon Hossein's death during the 1963 White Revolution, the devout Mohammed was rewarded by the Shah for his father's loyal service with shares in the National Iranian Oil Company numbering roughly 24 million dollars in today's money and only increased. Mohammed never worked a day again, the message to avoid Mosques was quite clear. By the time the Ayatollah returned, Mohammed was safely in San Francisco, happily married to Ann Brundage, daughter of a Quaker corner store owner in Orange County, working in 1976 for the Peace Corps in Tehran when she met Mohammed Tayebi at a relatively expensive Arak Bar, four months before the Peace Corps was ejected from Iran, whereupon Mohammed sold his shares for a price unknown, giving up liquor and worshipping freely at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley, where his donations added significantly to what already was the largest collection of Islamic books in the United States. Shortly after being Karina Mardirosian's Maid of Honor, Farah Tayebi will meet a young Imam whom she marries within three months of dating, the Imam insists she dresses outdoors in a Hijab that covers her whole face.
Ann Brundage, twenty one years old in 1962, working at OMF in Singapore, meets Zhang and Wang Xiu Han while on a missionary trip in Taiwan, two teenagers who grew up on subsistence farms in the Gansu Province. All four of their parents died in prison during Mao's Great Leap Forward for not meeting the grain farming quotas. Their older siblings went missing, their younger siblings starved. They arrived in Taiwan via stowing away at the bottom of a grain ship that left from the Xingua Bay across the Formosa Strait to Taipei. They work a small corner shop in Taiwan that reminds Ann of her father's store. She stays in touch with them and writes letters in her not particularly distinguished Mandarin. When Ann marries Mohammed, she gets Mohammed to pay for their immigration, which she sponsors. The Hans operate a fruit market in Chinatown and Mohammed helps pay tuition for their eight children to San Francisco Friends. When they go to college, the Hans each get in-state tuition at the Universities of California.
Any social life which Jennifer Han has, she keeps a secret from her parents, just like her older siblings instructed her to do. Her parents speak no English except for A and A-, so she tells them every time she doesn't come home from school around 4 or 5 is because of various extra-cirricular activities. Extra-cirriculars at San Francisco Friends have always been a joke - you can form a club that never meets, or show up once to Yearbook or Student Government and still be counted as a member that appears as padding on your college resume.
What Jennifer's in fact doing is Vihaan Chaudry, Ian Greyling's best friend and the son of Hindu Brahmins with immaculate English who make as much a point of never speaking to Rajiv and Arundhati Maji at PTA meetings as the Majis make of staying out of their way. Vishnu Chaudry is a high power finance lawyer with an office on the 33rd floor of the Transamerica Pyramid who prides himself greatly on the fact that his wife, who is also his third cousin, does not have to work. Vishnu's own father was a barrister born in Kashmir and sat as a judge on the Allahhabad High Court. His father before him, was a founding representative the Indian National Congress. His father before him a textile exporter with contacts all throughout the British Empire. His father before him a diwan to the Rana of Uttar Pradesh.
Are Jenn and Vihaan in love? Jennifer might think so, she certainly prefers Vihaan's back-of-the-class clown demeanor to Wang-Xiu's constant pressure at home. Vihaan doesn't really care, apparently about this or anything else. He'll get an 800 on his Math SAT and a 510 on his English. After two years at UC Santa Cruz he meets Shannon Horowitz, a communications major who forces him to get serious about his math major. Vihaan does his doctorate at Cal Tech while Shannon works in advertising. He gets headhunted by Bear Stearns and they move to New York where Vihaan and Shannon buy a loft in Prospect Park to raise two artistically inclined children. After Bear Stearns goes under in 2008, Vihaan and Shannon divorce amicably. Vihaan has a 20 year old girlfriend who's trying to make it as an actress, but he sees Shannon regularly and there's constant speculation by their friends that the two will get back together. But Vihaan keeps investing in high-risk high yield stuff, so what will Shannon have to come back to?
In two months, Jennifer will find out that Vihaan is also hooking up with her best friend, Kim Youngmee, who's actual name Jung-Mi Kim. Jung-Mi Kim has no need to lie to her parents about where she goes, and embellishes her tales of adventures with older boys to Jennifer, who doesn't have the frame of reference to disbelieve her. She goes around every day with on her 5'0, 1% body fat self a different necklace and Prada handbag, with a series of black Barbara Hulanicki skirts and hats. The vast majority of her parents' families live in utilitarian high rises of Pyongyang, the free and living ones anyway. Kim's father is somewhere in Asia most of the time. Everybody knows he's in some sort of business, nobody really knows what. Her mother doesn't work, and spends most of her time socializing at the spa. Kim will eventually go into public relations and photography. Nobody really knows if she's making a living from it or living off her father's money, but she has an Instagram account followed by 66,000 people.
When she comes up to the table, she touches Simcha on the shoulder, right on his hump actually, and asks him what those dumplings are called.
'No, what are they really called?'
'No, silly, I mean what do you call them in your language?' She pulls a camera out of her purse.
Can I get a picture?
'I'm sorry, I shouldn't take a picture of you.'
'No, I mean, can we get a picture of the two of us together holding up the Kreplach?
'Oh... um...' (he thinks a second too long).
'If it's against your religion you don't have to...'
'Y'know, let's just take some on the plate to a different side of the park.'
Kim flags down Bethany to take the picture. Until this moment, Simcha wanted to be anywhere else but here because he was ashamed of wanting to be nowhere else but here. At this moment, he wanted to be nowhere else but here because he was ashamed he ever wanted to be anywhere else but here. Posing with the Kreplach in this decade before taking selfies became quite so easy, Bethany takes a picture of Kim and Simcha, Kim takes a picture of Simcha and Bethany, and they finally coax Simcha into taking a picture of Kim and Bethany, and then rejoin the company of nations.
This mini-UN stands out among the student body of San Francisco Friends as a smattering of unique loaves in a sea of Wonder Bread. Later we will meet a few other exotic beneficiaries of these Liberal or Colonial or Christian or White Saviors, and they'll be just as interesting or boring as the others. But when Bethany and Simcha return to their side of Alamo Square Park, Simcha is immediately pulled in to the dancing circle by the drunken friends of his father along with three dozen other drunken male goyim and thrust into a chair which Rabbis and Yuppies together lift into the air as though Simcha were the groom at some sort of wedding.
The sober Simcha lurches through the air and feels drunk as Purim commands, the dread which was his lot is banished, the parting sorrows of every night are giving way to a new day, unmeasured realms of ecstatic dreams. Simcha no longer Chabad, no longer a Jew, no longer Freylik, no longer Simcha? He is un-named, with new perception, new enkindling, ever endless, self-knowledge; love's utmost joy warmly glowing from his heart.
It's time for Rabbi Freylik to give a speech, not that he's in any state to do so. "The Freyliks would like to welcome The Church of the Holy Fellowship and San Francisco Friends School for this Purim celebration."
"And Mardi Gras" calls out a congregant.
"Whatever..." to the buzz of general laughter.
"We would especially like to welcome our neighbors in holiness, the Katzes."
"Goddamnit." Bob has no idea if he said it out loud but it doesn't matter amid the applause.
"On this very special holiday, we would like to wish you a Happy Purim! A Freylichen Purim! Freylich is Yiddish for joyful! You see, 'happiness' is in our very name!' more general laughter.
And now, I'd like to introduce to you Rabbi Weiss who is doing some of the most valuable work a Jew can do by living in Ma'aleh Adumim.
Simcha returns to reality.
After all the commotion is over, Dovi and Tariq emerge from Bethany's house with Jamie Rosenstein's sandwich.