Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | March 13, 2014

Defrosting

Let it go, let it go

Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go

Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Let the storm rage on…

 

“It just make me not want to be religious anymore,” I said.

She couldn’t handle it.

So she had him call to clarify the things I was confused about.

He explained how he was just as confused.

And somehow that made it all much clearer.

At one point I told him how I felt.

I told him how hard it is for me.

How every time I do something I don’t fully understand, I have to choose to believe that it’s right.

How I need to accept the yoke of God every single day for the burden it is…because it’s a burden for me.

How, when I see thousands of people screaming together about the God I think I recognize and the Torah I assume is the one and only there is, I am tempted to throw the yoke off because I will never be validated for my struggles.

He listened.

He sighed.

He heard.

Then he had to hang up.

“I love you,” he said.

I burst into tears.

“I could have used this 15 years ago,” I sobbed as I put down the phone.

“It all could have been so different!”

I cried and I cried…

Because my father taught me how to question but forgot to tell me he was still looking for the answers…

Because I thought there must be something I was missing if everyone else seemed to be happy just accepting things…

Because there was an entire world that was collapsing into itself and no one else thought to care…

Because I wanted so badly to connect to the religion and the culture I was born into but just couldn’t…

Because I felt so isolated in my quest to find God…

And also…

Because they should have sent me to that school that wasn’t religious enough for my family…

Because they should have shown me grey in a black and white universe…

Because I didn’t have to fight it so fiercely when there was another, legitimate way…

Because I didn’t mean to hurt them by rejecting what I thought was their belief…

Because all I ever wanted was to be as satisfied with life and religion the way I thought they were…

My father is the most brilliant man I know.

He has never stopped learning and changing and growing.

And I am watching him muddle through things I can’t navigate…and it doesn’t seem to shake his belief.

So for today…I will stay strong.

I will stick to my code…the one he taught me…and I will follow the law I believe in.

Because no one has the right to take that away from me.

 

It’s funny how some distance

Makes everything seem small

And the fear that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

Let it go!

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | February 27, 2014

Final Scream

Sometimes I just can’t keep quiet.

When there are signs everywhere I look telling me that it’s no longer political but personal, I feel compelled to speak out.

I don’t need an argument.

I don’t need to hear your side anymore.

I don’t even need to tell you mine.

I just need to scream for a few minutes.

So as I inhale deeply and ready myself for a tantrum, I’d like you to remember a few things.

I have already been disenchanted.  I have already fought.  I have already been cast away.  I have already decided that I no longer want to listen.

I thought I could live with you with a quaint fence between us.  We could grow a rose garden alongside it and paint it yellow.  We could stand on either side and smile at each other and exchange a recipe or talk about the weather.

But then I started seeing the grass on your side.

It wasn’t greener.

It was brown.

And ugly.

And covered in filth.

And you refused to smile.

You refused to legitimize my right to have another sort of yard.

You demanded that I break down the fence and embrace your version of green even while you built a wall of judgment twice as thick as the fence I was trying to mend.

So when I scream it’s because I have just a little more anger and resentment to get out of the way so that I can move on without you.

I AM DONE WITH YOU!!! FINISHED, FINISHED, FINISHED!

I have grown distant from you.

I have grown to hate what you stand for.

I have grown to feel sickened by your version of Torah and Mitzvot.

I have grown to be embarrassed by the way you look, the way you act and the way you speak.

I have grown to realize that your hold on me is from an unhealthy indoctrination I once tried to shrug off only to learn to accept it as my roots and try to embrace it out of necessity because I was so damn scared that without you I would be nothing.

But I am not nothing.

Without you, I am something special.

Without you, I am worthy.

Without you, I am independent.

Without you, I am capable.

Without you, I am responsible.

Without you, I am fallible.

Without you, I am human.

Without you, I am a child of a God who could never tell me to be like you because, unlike you, He loves me for who He made me to be and, unlike you, He lets me figure things out for myself because He knows that the brain and the heart He gave me are immensely useful in my never-ending quest to find Him.

So have your million man march – because my kind of belief will always allow you to express yours – but leave me the hell out of it. 

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | February 14, 2014

The Lonely Love of Faith

I walk the lonely road…

twisting…turning…forever changing…

and as I wander…

I believe…I doubt…I question…I yearn…I want.

He walks…on a different road…

twisting and turning in ways I don’t always understand…

with a belief…a doubt…a question…a yearn…a want…so different from mine.

Sometimes we meet…at a fork in the road.

He goes right…I go left…

our eyes drawn back towards the place we knew together…

as our souls move over rocky paths…smooth sand…and raging rivers.

We can be this lonely…because we are together…and we are together…because we are this lonely.

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | February 4, 2014

For Harry

In the darkness…

a swift sound…

a scratch and a hiss…

and a slight whoosh…

as the match bursts into a flame.

The wick catches and slowly steadies the light…

as gently…

warmly…

gracefully…

the dance begins.

Memories…coming to life…in shades of yellow…orange…red…and blue…stain shadows on the walls.

Swaying from side to side…the wick tells the story of life…the flames cast light on the love that was…and lost…but will always be.

Years will pass…some filled with hopes and dreams…others dragging with despair…and life will go on.

But every year…an immortal boy who never got to be a man…will live in a dancing fire…and warm hearts all over the world…with his everlasting glow.

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | January 27, 2014

Black and White and Green All Over

It’s hard to write this.

I don’t really want to, but I saw something today that made me realize there are people out there that cannot say what I am going to say, but desperately need to.

So I’m voicing it.

A few days ago, my husband took my daughter to the bus.  We need to go to a bus stop in a different neighborhood – one where we don’t belong.

There were signs plastered to the wall behind the bus stop.

Cartoons…pictures of scary looking monsters in IDF uniform chasing sweet looking kids with side-curls…and of course, three young boys were standing in front of the posters, taking in every minute detail…absorbing someone’s agenda casually.

We’ve seen this before.

Once, my daughter picked up a piece of paper in the park.  I didn’t notice until she had already pointed out the bad chayalim.  I ripped it up in anger and couldn’t explain any of it to her.

I just said it was garbage…and we don’t pick up garbage from the floor.

My husband tore down those posters, as if that could change anything.  People walked by and looked, but no one stopped him.

Today, I was on the bus.  I got on at the beginning of the line, near the train station.  A soldier sat in the seat in front of me.

I barely noticed him until I saw the flash of white and green…

And I realized that he was changing, on the bus…

He buttoned his white shirt up to his neck…and it was only then I noticed the beard and the black kippah.

He fiddled with his shoes and peeled off his pants, revealing the black pair he had on under the green.  Then he began to tuck in his shirt.

Two minutes.

It took two minutes for him to transform.

The green was stuffed into a giant shopping bag, and a man wearing a different uniform sat in front of me.

I messaged my husband.

There’s a chareidi soldier on the bus changing into a white shirt.

He has to or a 4-year-old will call him a nazi.

He’s changing everything, even his shoes.  And he has black pants under his uniform.

My husband responded.

Can you blame him?

I looked at him again.  He wasn’t even that young.  He probably had a family.

No, not at all.

Just makes me sad.

I really wish I could tell him he looked holier in green.

I got off the bus a few minutes later.

There were posters hanging on another wall…

And I am certain I won’t live to see redemption.

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | January 24, 2014

A Poppy Seed Cookie

“Ok, ok,” she said in what I think might have been an annoyed kind of tone.

“I’ll show you how. Come downstairs later and you can watch me. But I don’t know amounts…just watch…just watch.”

Later, I watched.

Her tiny hands, even smaller because of the arthritis that kept her fingers curling in, worked at a steady pace.

I took out my notebook.

I watched.

3 eggs…1 (glass) cup oil…1 (glass) cup orange juice (plus a splash or two)…1 teaspoon (small pile in middle of palm) baking soda…no that’s 2 teaspoons…1 tablespoon (big pile in middle of palm) salt…poppy…don’t forget the 1/2 cup poppy…handful flour…no two…three…three handfuls…mix…more handfuls flour…mix again…another handful…flour until doughy. Drop spoonfuls…medium sized…then shape them into ovals…stick a fork in each one…you have to do this…it’s important…bake until you can see the tiniest bit of brown on the bottom – no more.

“See?”

She smiled and we brought some of them upstairs and put the rest in plastic bags in the freezer.

That first Rosh Hashana, I made a triple batch of them.

We ate some on the chag. I put some in plastic bags in my freezer. The rest, I brought to my brother.

“Taste it,” I insisted. “It’s just like Bubby’s. I watched her.”

He put them in plastic bags in his freezer.

And then years passed. A lot of years. Too many years.

And today I thought of them…fleetingly.

I almost missed it.

But then I added some things to the list.

Orange juice…poppy seeds.

I pulled out my notebook…I measured…I mixed…I added a bit more flour…mixed some more…and I made sure to poke them all with a fork…and I took them out as soon as I saw the slightest tinge of brown.

I bit into the first available one.

The memories flooded me…poured through me relentlessly…and now I sit, with poppy seeds stuck between my teeth…and my heart full of a past begging me to let live on these pages.

So I write…

…about a car full of kids, traveling for forever until the sounds and smells of New York waft through the windows and suddenly no one is cranky anymore and everyone seems to have too much energy for one seven-seater van stuffed with at least ten people.

We’re finally here, but we have to work out the parking first. The driveway is never empty – no matter what year it is, and no matter that we are expected. Someone runs upstairs to announce our arrival and plead for help with the tricky navigation.

After circling the block too many times, we’ve squeezed in and now have to figure out how to squeeze us and our luggage out.

It happens somehow, and we race up the front stoop and across the porch, through the doors that squeak, up the stairs that creak, careful to skip those three steps that are mere triangles attempting to stand in for a gradual turn as we stumble through both the door to the living room and the door to the kitchen and suddenly stop in our tracks because at the end of the day, this is foreign.

The language is foreign, the people are foreign, the neighborhood is foreign and we are looked at here and made to feel like we are foreign.

“Ma?”

She always calls out to her mother in question form…and follows it with words jumbled together that make no real sense but we know it means she’s saying hello.

It smells like fried onions – never garlic – mixed with industrial cleaning agents and a hint of pine from an aerosol can.

It sounds old…creaking and cranking and gravelly voices speaking in tongues…and it’s maroon and orange and brown…but there’s some green and blue and even pink if you take a step back and really look for her little artistic touches.

When all our senses readjust to accommodate all…all THIS…we focus on her.

She’s smiling…not too broadly, but enough to put us at ease. She half hugs us all because there’s something in her hands because she’s always doing things when we arrive.

It’s late and we really should go to sleep, but first we need a little something to eat.

There’s marble cake in the pantry, and popcorn and chips…chocolate mints in the fridge…and yeast cake in the freezer…and always plastic bags of frozen poppy cookies…mahn kichelech…but we never say it like that because it doesn’t come out sounding right.

We drink weird soda…Half & Half or 50/50, depending on the era…and we split up for sleep.

There’s the orange room…the one my mother used to share with her grandmother…and it still smells like her, especially in the closet where a lone dress hangs.

The blue room is the boy’s room, even when the girls sleep there. The laundry line hangs out the window and when all the beds are pulled out, it’s like a giant trampoline.

The living room is sometimes the favorite…when you get the bottom of the pull out couch…because then you’re sleeping under the table. The sheets are shiny brown and you know it’s going to be a slippery night.

Then there’s the little room.

It’s off the master bedroom and there’s no real door. The piano is stuffed into the corner and covered with bags of old clothing. The bed has a pile of linens and blankets on it that slowly goes down as everyone chooses a spot and settles in.

I stretch out on the bed, my legs raised slightly above my head, and I know that I will wake up in middle of the night feeling like I have been folded in half and have to rearrange my body on the lumpy bed quietly as my Zaidy snores and my Bubby’s breath whistles through the air.

We wake up early in the morning.  Zaidy is already sitting at the dining room table after eating toast and cottage cheese, or stale cake dipped in milk, and Bubby is bustling around the tiny kitchen because, of course, it’s Erev Pesach…or Erev Sukkos, depending on the year.

There’s only so much we can do to stay out of the way, but we manage to do it all each time.

The porch game is the best. We step out onto the old, crumbly porch that’s off the room that’s off the master bedroom, and we play something we don’t know is called chicken. We have to venture away from the wall and slowly walk across the porch. It takes a good five minutes to get to a spot deemed far enough by the others, and less than a second to be back against the wall on more stable ground. We know someone is going to fall straight through the floor and die on the porch below. If not this time, for sure next time.

One year we arrive to find a new, smaller porch attached to the house made of something safer like iron or something, so the game is over.

We explore the attic. It is so scary. Scarier than the porch. The stairs are wooden and you have to lean over the banister to pull the string to turn on the light. Sometimes that part is too scary so we go up in the dark.

The rooms are gigantic and there are treasures we’d love to play with if we didn’t keep hearing ghosts.

We have to come up here if the bathroom is occupied downstairs. We try our best to avoid it. Sitting on the toilet in the corner, behind lines of laundry, not sure if you had locked the door but unable to run across the massive room to check, you do your business quick and only wash your hands for like a half a second.

The bathroom downstairs is normal in size, but the claws on the tub and the sloping floor that makes you feel like you might go flying head first off the throne and have to be rescued with your underwear around your ankles is almost as scary as hearing the drums in the attic while you’re trying to remember whether or not you locked that too-big bathroom door.

I live the days out with little care.

I don’t know that the cow’s tongue I see unrolled on the counter will affect my taste for certain delicacies for the rest of my life.

I don’t know that I will remember the washing machine in the kitchen, or the way twenty people will shift around so that the kitchen door will open so that another family of ten can wiggle in and go looking for treasures in the pantry and the freezer.

I don’t know that the sights and smells and sounds that I am experiencing are imbedding themselves deep in my soul and creating memories strong enough to make me stop in my tracks and forget to breath.

All I know is that I am at Bubby’s house, and I am starting to feel a little less foreign than I felt when it was dark outside and the day had been long and I didn’t really want to sleep in a human sandwich-making bed and think about falling off the house with the porch.

A little piece of poppy just won’t come out on it’s own as the memories wist away and I pick at my teeth thoughtfully.

I once called my grandmother, at the insistence of my mother-in-law who feels strongly about that sort of thing.

Hallo?

Hi Bubby, how are you?

Who is this?

It’s Bracha…you know, from Israel.

Ah! Bracha’le! How are you?

I’m good. How are you?

Oy, Bracha’le, you don’t have to call. Your mother tells me everything.

Ok, Bubby. Have a good Shabbos.

But now, as my house fills with the smell of something old and precious to me, I think that maybe I’d like to call again…before it’s too late.

This is not a eulogy…this is a memory…one that I’d like to share with my Bubby, who still has a freezer full of treats that have the power to melt me and turn me into the child I thought could never live again.

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | January 13, 2014

Orange

It was summer and we were young and somewhat naïve.

Marriage was new. Living in Israel as responsible adults was new.

Political talk was new.

It was an orange summer.

We were so convinced that orange would be heard.

We wore it everywhere. We raised our orange banners and we screamed so loudly it was impossible to be ignored.

Orange, the color of hopes and dreams, dissolved into the color of fire it has always been.

We were young and life was new.

There was another soul we were thinking of at the time, so the orange sort of faded and turned into the long nights of winter.

We went to an appointment. At 25 weeks gestation, it was a big one. The doctor pointed out every limb and told us how healthy and whole our son was.

In the cab ride home we heard the news.

Arik had a stroke.

There was a moment we had, where we looked at each other and thought it, but the driver said it first.

Thank God.

I squirmed.

But the child inside me did too so I forgot all about it.

We didn’t know what the future would hold.

We didn’t know that our son was healthy and whole inside me, but didn’t stand a chance two days later in an incubator.

We didn’t know a man could lie in a bed for eight years and never wake up.

Thank God, he said.

We were young. We didn’t know anything. We didn’t know him.

We knew about orange bracelets and a land we would never give up.

We knew there was a man who was hurting us, so we thought he was bad.

We didn’t know.

Tovah knew.

She said she was sure.

She would know.

She knew what it was like to drive through a town every day and interact with the locals like neighbors do.

She knew what it was like to suddenly have to change your attitude and begin a safety method which involved locking the doors of your car and hitting the gas as hard as you could, praying you would get out through the neighboring town alive. You weren’t supposed to stop for anything.

She also knew about a man they called the butcher.

She knew to trust him.

She had to trust him.

Everyone had to.

So she knew exactly what happened.

She told us about the man.

She told us he would never give in.

She told us he couldn’t give in.

She said he had to have had a plan.

He was going to leave the land and wait…however long it took…and then when that first rocket hit our soil he was going to rise up and strike.

He was going to raze down buildings and hunt down the people who dared defy him.

He was going to take it all back with a vengeance and fill that land with all the orange he could find.

Then he would turn to the world and say, see? I told you so.

Tovah knows this to be true.

I have to believe it, too.

He didn’t roar…for eight years he didn’t roar…and then he faded away and took all the orange with him.

If I don’t believe with Tovah, what am I left to believe?

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | December 31, 2013

Superpowers

If you had to choose one superpower, what would it be?

Speed…

Telekinesis…

Strength…

Invincibility…

I have a superpower.

I am invisible.

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I sit on the sidelines…or right in the middle…and observe…and listen…and no one can see me.

I have heard things I wasn’t supposed to hear…

I have seen things I wasn’t supposed to see…

Because I am invisible.

Sometimes, I like my powers.

I can move about discreetly and make no impression on people.

I don’t have to answer to anybody because no one is ever asking.

But sometimes…

I wish my invisibility came in cloak form so I could throw it off…

So that the people talking over my head will notice I’m right between them and either move aside or include me…

So that when I go out and see someone I know they will acknowledge my existence with a smile or a nod…

So that I could belong.

There are times when my invisibility is breached.

There are times when people seem to only see me…at the center…to only see my faults…to only hear the things they think I’m saying and cannot see past their idea of me and uncover my core.

Those people have a filter running over their eyes that can penetrate my wall but only…just enough…

Just enough to torment me…to accuse me…to take who I am and twist it into who I could be…if I didn’t care to work hard not to be…

Just enough…

To call my acts of fear acts of hate…

To call my open mind condescending…

To think that when I separate myself, it is because I am a snob…instead of realizing that I am so damn insecure of my relationships with them because I never know where I stand with so many people who walk around my life as though they have earned a place in it.

My superpower should be protecting me from those people…the ones who are too close to me…who know about me…and can see that I am here…and sometimes resent that I am here…in their lives…

But no…

They can see me…

And I am stuck…being invisible…and semi-invisible…in the places I wish I could be seen…

If I could choose one superpower…it would be…

The power to be…

Truly…

Seen.

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Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | December 16, 2013

Flutters

The sun is setting.  It is time.

I strike the match.  I light the flame.

I cry.

I need to light the other candles now.  The ones to bring in Shabbat.  And pray for my family; my husband and my children…all my children…

So I strike another match.

I light one…two…three…four candles.

Four candles to represent my family…

Plus the one on the counter…the one that will burn all night…and all day…to represent the child we buried…

Five candles.

I set the table…one…two…three…four plates…and look over at the candle again.

We take our seats.

We eat.

We talk.

We look at the candle.

We tuck the kids in…one…two…beautiful, healthy children…and the candle still burns…

We slip under our covers.

He falls asleep.

And I start to feel…those flutters…

I stare at the ceiling.  I try not to go there…but my hands are already resting on my stomach…pressing down to find the flutters…to release them…and I am trying not to imagine…but the images are too powerful…and they flood my mind.

I am cutting through my body…digging…hands soaked with the blood of my child…and I am desperate to find the beating heart I feel within me…and hold it…and protect it…but no matter how much I dig…how much I search…I cannot find it…and all I can do…is lay here…in a pool of pain…and feel…fluttering…deep inside me…where I cannot reach.

Later, I tell my husband…cautiously…because I don’t think this is normal…how I have been feeling our child…move inside me…for eight years…every single night…and he reminds me…how people can feel…a limb that’s been amputated…and I suddenly have the words…to describe the phantom flutters of my phantom child…and I cry…and cry…and cry.

Posted by: Bracha Goldstein | December 8, 2013

Truths

Today I saw myself differently.

I saw how others see me…how others misunderstand me…how others judge me…

And I understood why.

Not because I am secure…confident…in who I am…or what I believe…

But because I am honest…about who I am…and what I believe…

And I refuse to pretend.

I saw how it can hurt…to feel like you have to try to be…something else…and how I can come along…and tell you to be you…and you can’t…for thousands of reasons I will never understand…but for thousands of reasons that are valid and true for you…and how you might resent me…maybe even hate me…because I am doing something…you think you want to do…or you think I believe you must do.

But…I can’t pretend…and I have thousands of reasons why I can’t…and those thousands of reasons are valid and true…for me.

So take your reasons…and your truths…and live them…to the best of your ability…and let me take my reasons…and my truths…and do what I need to do for me.

But please know…that even though I believe something…strongly…openly…loudly…I do not judge your beliefs…no matter how hard it is…for me to hear them.

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