Friday, March 23, 2012

Things Could Be Worse: A Short Story

Listen, I may not be one of those fanatic Jews from Bnai Brak but I’m not a secular one either. I mean, we always had a Pesach Seder by my parents on the moshav and I took my son to synagogue on Yom Kippur every year. None of that riding around on bicycles and skate boards and ending up in the emergency room with a broken arm for him. When Asaf was thirteen I made him a really nice party and we even went to the Kotel in Jerusalem.  He wasn’t a spoiled kid, either.  How he thanked me for the party and his father for coming.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t divorced or anything like that. It’s just that Dan had made a career out of the army and he was never around much. I was the one that went to all the doctor appointments, school plays, and parent-teacher meetings. We must have done things right, though, because year after year I got raving reports about Asaf. That lasted until he hit his junior year in high school.  
He was still doing well in school but he started complaining about almost everything. He said that we were too materialistic and only cared about making money. That was a fine thing to say to me. His father spent most of his life serving the country and I worked as a counselor for new immigrants. Believe me, there is not much money there. I didn’t even have a cleaning lady like a lot of my friends.
He complained that his father never had any time for him. He complained that the kids in high school were too shallow. He even began complaining that we had no spirituality in our lives. He told me he was going to start going to Bible class with some kids he met. He was pretty vague about what kids and where but I let it go. I mean, I have no problem with anyone learning the Bible. My grandfather was a rabbi back in Poland.
Things went from bad to worse in his last year of high school. He began talking about trying to get an exemption from the army. Dan almost hit the roof on that one but I convinced him to be patient. I was sure he would come around. Then, when I was doing spring cleaning, I found his Bible in his closet and, for some reason, I flipped through it. To my horror, I saw it was not our Bible but a Christian one.
I called Dan immediately and he tried to calm me down as I had done with him earlier in the year. I knew he was upset, too, because he made arrangements to come home that afternoon so we could talk to Asaf about everything. We were waiting for him when he walked in from school.  The talk did not go well at all.
Asaf heard us out politely and, I have to admit, respectfully but he was not moved by anything we said.
“I can be a Jew and believe in Jesus, too,” he declared. And he recited all sorts of nonsense he had been brainwashed with. If that was not enough he told us he wanted us to meet the girl he had been dating for almost a year. He pulled out his I-phone and punched a number. In just a few minutes there was a knock on the door.
Asaf ushered in a very pretty, blonde, blue-eyed young woman. She was not one of those Russians girls here in Israel whose grandfathers were Jewish. No, this woman, her name was, get this, Christine, was a Scandinavian. She was obviously in the country to try and nab innocent Jews like Asaf. And she was clearly a few years older than him.
With a cheesy smile Asaf told us they were planning on getting married. Well, I thought my heart would stop but before I could say anything Dan spoke up. He did not lose him temper. Very calmly he told Asaf that if he opted out of doing the army for marriage he would not get a cent from us.
Asaf asked the obvious question. Would he continue to get his allowance if he got married and went to the army?
Dan calmly shook his head. “Get engaged,” he suggested. “When you finish the army you can get married.”
My mouth dropped open and I had what to say but my husband gave me a look that silenced me. Asaf and Christine went stomping off and I faced my husband. Before I could begin my tirade he preempted me.
“That girl is not going to wait for our son.” He spoke matter-of-factly. “She needs a visa to stay in the country and she thought he was her ticket. Don’t worry, they won’t get married.”
Well, Dan was right on that score. But her betrayal did nothing to quench Asaf’s enthusiasm for her bible. There was another girl, Dalia. This one was Israeli. Her mother had been a non-Jewish kibbutz volunteer from Holland one summer and stayed on to marry her father, a totally non-religious kibbutznik. The new girl and Asaf went to bible classes together and, I’m sorry to say, both wore little crosses around their necks. She was there to see him off when he went into the army. It was she he always called when he had a few minutes free. It was she he went to as soon as he had a break. We barely saw or spoke to him.
Then about four months into his service things began changing. He came home once in a while and began calling every so often. Dan was skeptical and I was hopeful that we would have the good, old relationship we had had once with our only son. He was just about finished with basic training when he came home for a day. I noticed he was not wearing his cross and wondered if that was because of the army or what. I did not ask any questions. Before he went back to the army he gave me the invitation to the ceremony to mark the receiving of his beret.
It’s a very special milestone for the boys and he really wanted me to be there. Somehow, I understood that Dalia would not be coming. I did not know if she couldn’t, wouldn’t, or had not been invited. Again, I did not ask any questions.
On the day of the ceremony I took off work, packed a big box of goodies, and met Dan close to his base. We got to the ceremony well before it started and had plenty of time to visit with Asaf. He acted really happy to see us and he wanted us to meet some of his buddies.
There were three of them, Chaim, Yosef, and Moshe. All three wore little prayer shawls under their uniforms, and skullcaps on their heads. Was this some new form of Jews for Jesus? Apparently not. The three had been in school together for years and Asaf explained that they had made a commitment to the army for five years, a year and a half in active duty and three and a half in their yeshiva.
Dan told me that the boys’ yeshiva was in the Shomron. They were they kind of kids who blocked roads for Gush Katif and fought the army from tearing down Jewish homes. If they were so good at fighting soldiers what were they doing in the army? Dan said that despite their politics they were very idealistic and most of them made excellent soldiers.
Not too long after we arrived their families came. The three fathers all had big skullcaps and long beards. The mothers, despite the summer heat, all wore long sleeves and long skirts. Two of them had scarves on their heads and one wore a hat. They reminded me of those fanatic women you see in Bnai Brak but once I started talking to them they seemed almost normal.
I gave Asaf the box of goodies and told him he could share them with his friends. He thanked me and began sorting through everything, checking out the labels.
“What are you doing?” I asked
 Before he could answer the boys got called. The ceremony was beginning.
“Would you like to sit with us?” Moshe’s mother invited Dan and me.
Dan and I looked at each other. Why not? We had brought none of our family with us. My parents were not well. Dan’s sister lives way up north and my brother is living in America. Asaf’s friends had enough family to make up for us. There were some grandparents, a pack of brothers and sisters, some older, some younger, and a few nieces and nephews.
“My younger kids just love Asaf,” Chaim’s mother told me. “And he is so helpful. You did a good job raising him.”
“Thank you.” I wasn’t too comfortable with her compliment. “How do you know him?”
She answered off-handedly. “He comes home with Chaim sometimes for the weekend.”
“Oh,” I said and the marching began. I was alone with my thoughts.  To the chorus of left, right, left, I came to a stunning realization. Asaf had sorted through the goodies because he wanted to check what was kosher. He was going to his friends’ homes for Shabbat.
“Excuse me,” I said to Chaim’s mother. “Is my son becoming Orthodox?”
Now she looked uncomfortable. “I really can’t say but he does seem to enjoy Shabbat with us.”
She turned her attention to a whining toddler. Dan had gone to speak to one of his army colleagues. Again, I was alone with my thoughts. They were not too pretty.
It seemed as if my son had finally given up Dalia and his cross and that was good. But to become Orthodox? Would he try and convert his father and me? He probably would stop eating in our house. Maybe he wouldn’t want anything to do with us anymore. Wait a minute! We had spoken to him more in the last couple of months than in the last two years put together. And he had stopped complaining about everything we did. Maybe this Orthodox thing wouldn’t be so bad. After all, my grandfather was Orthodox. We had seen things could be worse. Truth to tell, I’d rather have him Orthodox than Christian. Maybe it just might work out. If worse came to worse, I could always kosher my kitchen for him.

1 comment:

Batya said...

It's a nice happy ending B"H. It reminds me when my mother once said that she thinks my religion thing was better than her friends's kids ruining their lives on drugs.