The house is empty.
It’s been exactly 3 hours since I left him at the airport.
My jeans lay inside out on the floor.
The coffee’s still sitting in its tray where I left it the morning before.
I know where everything is, even if not here any longer.
Music echoes from my computer
and although I will get no rest,
my spirits are high.
* * *
It’s been 4 days.
My house has seen guests and gone back to its prior normal life.
I wash the floors.
I splash water under my bed sending the dust out.
I expect any minute now between the lathering and rinsing,
and the wringing of rags, with my hands and feet following the floor,
that soon I will get the next lesson.
It will hit me somehow.
How to jolt the life back into me despite the desire to curl up and hide.
How easy to pine,
how hard it is to stand my yourself and say.
Yes all of this is beyond me and that’s okay.
Maybe the fear creeping in is that love makes us feel so central and so inconsequential.
Despite people running through us, we remain beautiful.
Maybe our jealousy is in the knowing how little we matter in the end.
They will be them. We will be us.
With birth marks or scars perhaps from our union.
* * *
What happens when you sit at a bar and Jihad and Islam walk in?
“Talk to my cousin,” Islam said pointing me in the direction of a young man sitting next to me.
I didn’t know either of them but noticed the cousin was quiet, answered when spoken to and looked overall shocked at over hearing the conversation about female sexuality.
A man sat down next to Islam and ordered a drink.
“Hey do you want to join the conversation?” He asked trying to interrupt the conversation that my girlfriend was having with a boy in front of her whose face was on its way to joining hers.
“Why are you bothering them?” I said a bit annoyed. “Leave them alone. You can speak to me.”
I wanted my two friends to make a match and didn’t appreciate the intrusion from a perfect stranger.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“My name is Jihad.”
“Is that your real name?” I asked a bit surprised to have never heard it in a decade.
“Yes it’s my name.” He said proudly with a beaming smile. “So how long have you been in Morocco?”
I gave a sigh of relief, “Too long. This is my last year.”
“Where are you going?” He asked.
“New York and then Israel.”
“I have been to Israel. I loved it.” He said.
I was pleasantly shocked that a non-Jewish Moroccan had traveled there.
More shocked even then when Islam reached over the table to slap my face repeatedly with a smile.
I crunched up my forehead and uncomfortably backed away with a nervous smile as he tried slapping my face a few more times.
My conversation with the girls about sexuality seemed to invite Islam to assume that I would (of course) be up for sex with him or (at least) mild BDSM at the pub in front of his girlfriend.
I noticed the physical intrusion and literally ‘rolled with the punches’. It was awkward to say the least since we had never met before and I didn’t ask to be slapped in any way shape or form.
The night ended with me getting 3 AM texts and directly telling Jihad I didn’t want him to come back home or break bread but I got weekly messages for months irregardless.
* * *
It’s Yom Kippur and I read the writings of my Rabbi and the Torah.
I disconnect to water and food and Facebook and him.
I stand for 3 hours at the front of the balcony on the synagogue watching,
closing my eyes, watching the men cover their sons and facing the Sefar Torah.
I cry in the center of the synagogue but without anyone’s eyes on me.
I disconnect from the world in the middle of a cluttered city that is silent except for the sound of sheep about to die.
I walk between the white man’s world and the Muslim world in Morocco,
but I completely disconnect from them into another…the Jewish world of prayer and food and family.
Joy emanates from behind our shelters
shielded by police outside
to shield the world’s eyes from our presence.
Where does the wall come from? they ask.
Why are you so closed, so different?
They so promptly forget the thousands things that came before in their lifetime that made police stand guard.
In synagogue we asked to what were we blind?
We said “We bear the intentional sin of our hearts.”
We can live without food and water for a day but we cannot live without hope, love, g-d for even a moment.
‘I believe that there is a sun even if it is not shining and I believe in love even if i cannot feel it and I believe in G-d even when he is silent.’
This was written on a wall hidden from Nazi captors.
Although I cannot see him.
He is there.
I am here too.
And I will love.
* * *
It’s been a few months and he saw a head scarf on me and asked uncomfortably if it was religious.
I asked if it would bother him if it was religious.
The discussion had never been broached before except mildly and with humor but this time it was serious.
“Yeah I would have a problem with it.” He said. “My kids won’t go to religious school.” Marking the distinction of what was mine and what was his in the present and the hypothetical future. “Your daughter is yours,” he said. “But my kids will have a different education.”
He spoke of “Religion” as if all practices have the same context.
As if Jews didn’t live the vast majority of history as a minority and Muslims and Christians hadn’t ruled dynasties.
As if the many branches and thoughts of Judaism, and the many denominations of Christianity and the regional and political differences of Islam are similar.
They are in unequal conversation sometimes but contrary to the idea that all religions are the same they are all as profoundly different as they come, not just between the three major religions but beyond that.
“Religion” though to him became a ball that didn’t resemble what I know of my religion but sounded like some abstract outline of what he heard and saw from a combination of others.
I smoked as I listened to him tell me that I didn’t know anything because I was religious, although I never imposed nothing on no one.
I am a part of a group that has a million different views and is the smallest in the world with specific customs that I want to celebrate in peace. Not fight with a partner behind our own doors when there is enough of that outside. Somehow to do what I do and be a little different from the Western White Man’s world means I am being exclusionary and less informed and a very worthy punching bag for things much bigger and more abstract than myself.
He said “Judaism” isn’t universal and thus not good. I asked what “universal” meant anyhow? In my travels there are basic human functions we share like thirst hunger and need but there are very few things that are universal in the theoretical, ideological sense. “Universal” is another white man’s world word that seems neutral and hides its ideology in plain sight. It’s the same way the French call themselves “atheists” and don’t want to see kippas and hijabs in public but have no problem closing everything down by law on Sunday and yet not covering all the churches and Christian memorabilia across the country on every corner.
“I want to rescue you from religion.” He said while sitting in Paris. “The religious people will never accept you for who you are. They will reject you.” He promised.
Sitting in Casablanca, I thought how people who want to “rescue” us are also people with a need to oppress us. I find that people like to replicate the same model they claim to despise.
I won’t speak for anyone elses’ beliefs but Judaism doesn’t seek out converts and makes no claim to give one an easy life or a paradise after with women. My religion is not a refuge from critical thinking or a punishment forced on me. It’s my life choice.
I believe everyone is entitled to reject my choices and have a different set of opinions, but this conversation with my ‘open minded non-religious’ friend had me holding my hands up in metaphorical defense of my self as a Jew in a way I never have had to do with any of my religious Jewish friends. None of my deeply believing Jewish friends have rejected me even if they easily could because we don’t do the same things or practice the same way.
“If you had a family you wouldn’t need religion.” He said. “If you didn’t have such a life you wouldn’t need it.”
“I won’t fight with you.” I said. I didn’t see the point in fighting. To defend what? Myself?
“Are you going to tell your future rabbi husband that you are bisexual?” He asked egging me on.
He questioned my level of “authentic” Jewish DNA. He questioned the validity of my daughter’s Jewishness because her father isn’t a “good Jew” as if he was the judge and held a measuring cup for transferable Jewish purity. He attacked religious people for being unable to accept me but Jewish law considers gossip and judgement some of the very worst things we can do, as is saying that someone is not a good Jew or no longer a Jew or reminding one that they were not Jewish before or not Jewish enough. None of my religious friends have ever attacked my person.
He then asked how I could even think of myself as worthy of having a religion.
“You do all sorts of things religious people don’t do.” He said, assuming what religious Jews do. “You should admit you are fucked up and say, ‘I lie, Be better.'”
“I won’t fight you,” was becoming a mantra I repeated quietly. I wasn’t going to fight him but normally I would have had enough in me to defend myself, but it was exhausting and where would I have even started.
I got off Skype and he wrote me:
“You will keep on in your stupid religion rituals, in despair for family that you’ll find in random religious people. You will look for a husband who will be a kind sperm donor, but you’ll still be haunted by your demons and you’ll die from the inside, and you’ll accuse yourself of not being pure enough.”
I didn’t see the point in fighting over religion. It’s like love. You feel it or you don’t. If you don’t feel it it’s okay. Just let me live freely with dignity too.
Fear not. I am not in despair. My friends are not random. I am not looking for a husband or I would have married a awhile ago a few times already. I just will wait for an equal that I respect.
Haunted by demons I am not, even though my twenties were fun and full of them.
I can’t die inside. How do I know? Nothing has killed me before and I have seen much worse.
I don’t have to be a perfect person to participate in my religion. And the most pleasurable things on earth are not forbidden in my religion or by the vast majority of “ultra-religious” (as he would say, or as I would rather say) deeply spiritual Jewish communities.
* * *