A Million Shades of Green

I’m like Garfield, just different, she says as she pulls on Freddie Mercury’s orange fur, baiting him.

I like lasagna, but I hate Sundays.

She laughs as Freddie pounces. I don’t bother disciplining her about the cat again. Their love is wild and free-spirited. Plus, she likes the way he makes her look like a warrior.

Get it Ima? Cause Sunday here is like Monday and I hate going back to school.

I’m half smiling as I settle into my seat on the bus.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

I didn’t tell her how I relish these quiet mornings at the start of my week, how I put my best foot forward and make commitments to myself I know I won’t keep. I didn’t tell her how I hate Fridays and the crippling disappointment I feel when I realize I didn’t change the world since Sunday. I also didn’t tell her to withhold her love from the cat so he’ll stop biting her.

There doesn’t seem to be a point in full disclosure here.

I like the way my brain races along with me just outside the window. I think thoughts I know will become words I’m going to have to release.

My thoughts are green now.

It’s so lush outside. Just a few small downpours and the fields came alive. They’re dancing with shades of green; bursting with something so natural it aches.

I breathe deep. When the earth is resurrected, I become more alive.

The bus rolls up to a stop. My forehead is pressed to the cool glass. I am calm, and the kind of thoughtful that means overflowing with thoughts that pull me in every direction.

The green is still flashing by. Now it is tinged with olive and adorned with red, black, brown and metal.

The kids are heading back to base.

This green is freshly laundered and smells like home. This green is hulking bags full of more clean green slung over slight frames, tiny young frames, supported by laced up boots. This green boards the bus again for a week, two, maybe six. This green is going back to serve.

My thoughts are muddled green and Sunday, tossed with fresh blades of grass and topped with goodbyes.

…I hate Sundays…Separation Sundays…green plastic soldiers…blowing in the wind…grass is greener…on which side?…teenage warriors…mutant green turtles…samurai swords and M-16s…turning tween, then green, ya’alla gever…crisp slacks and burlap sacks…holding on a moment longer…sending out a teenage soldier…see you on the flip side…don’t forget to tell the world I tried…

Green churns through me as I head to Jerusalem to make something of my life. Green gathers at the Central Bus Station, showing up to serve all over this sprouting country.

Don’t forget to pick up candles.

Colored candles, bright and bold and full of light. We’ll light them one by one and talk about gratitude.

When the yellow and white and orange and drops of blue dancing flames flicker in my windowsill, I’ll be thinking of green-clad children saying goodbye.

Source: Times of Israel

Doing Something

For 515 days, my sister and I shared my Facebook profile picture, smiling to the world from a little circle above my name. My cover photo was taken that time we went to Jerusalem and she posed with my children on Yoel Solomon Street.

515 days ago I sat down and looked through all my pictures to find one of her actively living after 22 months of watching her actively dying.

 

Now, I update the images.

Update.

My heart trembling, I write:

Changing my profile and cover picture feels like a betrayal. As if Hudis should be everywhere I am, leading me with every interaction I have online the way she walks ahead of me wherever I go. But it’s also relieving in a way like I’ve let her be my little sister again and no longer hold her above me. She’s plastered on my heart, etched on the inside of my skin…her image, a collage of the face I met when she was born, the face I kissed when she died, and every moment I saw her in between, is bright and beautiful and tucked away in the drawer of my soul where the most precious parts of me go.

My daughter is watching me closely, reading over my shoulder.

“Ima, your words…”

She kisses me gently and wipes the tear that formed when I saw that she gets me.

The night my sister died I couldn’t sleep. Words were marching across the inside of my brain, demanding I let them out. I sat up in bed and wrote my goodbye.

“I figured it out,” you said.

“I know what death is.”

It was last August, at the end of an epic summer, and you were saying goodbye.

It was in the living room – on the couches you hated and in typical fashion, you spoke bluntly and decisively about the topic most people avoided around you.

“It’s just my body.  That’s all it is.  And I am not just my body.  My body is sick…my body will die…but I am so much more than that.  I am everything else that I am, and that will never die.”

Oh, Hudis…

You are right.

You will never die.

Your body is here now – finally pain-free…finally unhooked and untethered from everything that you are…

And Hudis you are everything.

You are the strength of a thousand people…

You are the courage of one lone soldier against a mighty army.

You are the love that binds hearts together….

You are the innocence of a million children

You are the joy and laughter of uninhibited play…

You are the song that rises from the brokenhearted…

You are the notes teased from ivory keys, rising and falling with every breath you no longer need to take as you write the lyrics to the greatest song on earth…

Hudis – we will play that song…

We will add notes and harmonies and a baseline that keeps us moving forward.

We will write the stories of our heavy hearts and weave them through your lines.

We will create a bridge that connects it all and we will sing it…

And we will surely sing it too loud and too intrusively and off-key – the only way you can possibly sing a song that can never die.

Achrona, achrona chaviva Hudis.

Save the best for last.

You’ll always be the best.

It was read to her body before we took her to a hole in the ground and covered her with dirt.

We sat.

We sat in our puddles of grief and people came and tried to comfort us.

But I am not comforted by words spoken at me.

The words that comfort me fly from my fingertips, race across the screen and scream with intensity as my lips close and my heart slows and I can feel my lungs fill with life.

Still, I have to do something.

My father set up a table with a box.

Chai Lifeline.

People dropped their dollars in as they left the weeping house. Death makes you want to do something.

I sat at her computer and wrote again.

A lifeline is a rope…a chain…a ladder
thrown into the depths of hell
pulled back into a safety net
where there is air to breathe.
A lifeline is strong…sturdy…unbreakable.
A lifeline is a last hope…an only chance…a leap of faith.
A lifeline comes at a moment of despair
a moment of panic
a moment of confusion
and slows down time
so the path can be seen.
It is a painful path
a broken path
a path full of pitfalls and craters hidden under beds of green
but all along the way
the lifeline is there
ready to jump in
ready to provide a hand
ready to descend into the pit
and pull.
That is a lifeline.
Then there is Chai Lifeline.
And suddenly
there is a way to be more than
the only possible way.

I sent it to myself and printed it out.

Her name was on the top like she had written it.

from: Hudis Storch
to: Bracha Goldstein

We made copies and put it on the table with the box of money. When we got up and walked around the block we had done something.

We started living again.

But we still wanted to do something.

Hudis was determined to run the Miami Marathon for Chai Lifeline. The day she was supposed to fly out, she woke up with a fever. She took her suitcase with her to the hospital. She never made it to Miami. She made her own finish line in the pediatric oncology ward in Robert Wood Johnson and crossed it with a smile that tricked us all. She looked so alive. We couldn’t have known she only had four months left.

Two of my sisters decided to finish it for her. They started raising money before we even go up off those chairs and they ran and walked and pushed themselves harder than they ever thought they could.

I watched them and felt something stir.

I wanted to do something.

I crossed the ocean when it was a year and kissed the slab my sister lies beneath. I wrote again because I don’t know how to do anything else. This time I read it out loud and my voice shook.

I can’t fly to Miami and run. I can’t keep the picture of my baby sister in front of me always. I can’t get my revenge on cancer. I can’t dig up the dead and force the world to stop and remember my sister and all the people actively dying while we passively live on.

My older sister is running the marathon again.

I can do something.

I can write.

And I can tell you about this life and this world and the bits and pieces of who we are as we pass through. I can string words around so that you get how it feels to want to do something as you watch people who have more courage than you can imagine walk into hospital rooms, look cancer in the eye and ready their weapons to fight, no matter how many battles they may have lost.

Chai Lifeline does something.

You can too.

Support my oldest sister as she runs for my baby sister.

Please. 

Click here and donate.

“Ima, you’re writing again?”

I look up at her, knowing she will read my words one day.

“I’m doing something,” I say.

Source

Ceasefire

In between war and peace, there is a space where words like ceasefire float around as though they mean something more than pause.

For me, a ceasefire is like a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. You know it’s something you’re going to have to deal with. You just don’t know how long you have to brace yourself for whatever this ultimately means.

I remember the pit in my stomach that formed when we knew my sister was full of colon cancer. For 22 months, it sat and grew thorns that jabbed at me incessantly. When she died, the mass inside me emptied so fast that I was left with a gaping hole I didn’t know how to live with. It took me a long time to replace it with things that brought me pleasure and comfort.

I’ve been here through intifadas and wars. I’ve seen the cycle enough to know what it means to be given a ceasefire. And the pit is growing again. This time, I feel the entire country twisting around with me in discomfort. I don’t know the answer. I wonder if there even is one. But I know that we cannot go on much longer like this.

This is what Ceasefire means to me.

* * *

I have been here before.

So many times before.

Words depicting bloodshed and war shot from the only weapon I’ve ever held comfortably in my hands exploded in empty fields of papers no one will ever read.

I wrote of pain and suffering and heartache and confusion and the humanity inside me that is ripped apart by my need for safety and my need for peace.

I am flesh and bone, so I duck and cover, but I am heart and soul, so I rise and resist.

I don’t understand any of it.

I don’t know why I am chained to my history and my people any more than I understand why I am sympathetic to mothers on the other side of the wall I hate but hide behind as I teach my children tolerance and love and how to communicate effectively to end conflict.

This region at the center of turmoil and battles in the name of gods who don’t have the decency to show up and put a stop to this endless loop of hatred and fear eats me alive and sustains me at once.

Sinatra croons in my head as I watch my country flirt with war.

“Bang bang, she shot me down

Bang bang, I hit the ground

Bang bang, that awful sound

Bang bang, my baby shot me down”

Bang bang.

Ceasefire.

Bury the dead. Bandage the wounds. Build another wall and burn another bridge.

Ceasefire.

Regroup, reload, relaunch.

Cease.

Cease to what? Hate? Exist? Believe?

This land has hooked me, reined me in and entangled me in her torment. I cannot pry myself away from her now.

Ceasefire.

Simmering in the quiet air, raging deep beneath broken trust, our fire holds still another day.

Ceasefire.

Hanging for a moment in time, it is too heavy to remain suspended between hope and reality and will come crashing to the broken ground.

And I…

I am here, planted in a land that was buried alive in a shallow grave. She is slowly decomposing, her stench cannot be masked. I can’t describe how her wretchedness roils my insides yet fills me with a yearning hunger never satiated. This is not prose – it can’t be written from imaginative thoughts. It is a vivid description of the land I feel beneath my feet. It is more real than I will ever be.

This land cannot cease to fire; it is the only way she knows how to breathe.

Originally published on The Times of Israel

Meet Me Where You Left Me

Watching the news one night, my husband raised the feminist flag. Four women awkwardly crossed their bare legs on the couch. One man, his legs spread wide to accommodate his shrinking masculinity, sat in the center. On our side of the screen, my husband squirmed and called it out. And I rolled my eyes.

We talked about it. He blamed his background and thanked me for helping him see the reality but didn’t appreciate that I don’t allow him into the conversation. I said I spent too many lonely years screaming to now pat him on the back when he sees misogyny. I’d rather he fight where it makes a difference, calling men out when they say that stupid joke or comment or gesture from an upright position as it happens, not as casual commentary when we’re alone.

We didn’t do a good job validating each other and went to bed upset.

The painful conversation the next morning covered my loneliness and the fact that for years I was convinced I would lose him.

I knew he had to find his way on his own but I didn’t know if it would end up at my side. He explored every aspect of Judaism; the cracks and corners where the grey turns vibrant and the black and white pages of his youth. When the walls caved in and he saw his truth, I stood next to him while he found his footing. When he did, it was solid and purposeful. And he walked ahead, leaving me where I had been waiting, exploring a world of ideas that excited him and broadened his mind in a way that overwhelmed me.

I was still lonely.

We cried, and we talked, and we promised to find a blank page we could write in together.

Then, because he was searching for something to help understand me better, he found a path that led straight to my open wounds.

Our relationship is not strengthened by what we have been through together. Those experiences, the cycles of life and love, have shaped who we are as people. What draws the outline of who we are together are the things we overcame as we circled around each other desperately trying to wrap our arms tight around the individual experiences the other had without us, soothing the loneliness we carry in our hearts.

This is how the love of my life discovered the crater between us and, without bothering to build a bridge, leaped over to my side and made us more than we ever were.

* * *

The panel is comprised of Orthodox women actively fighting the status quo. They are strong and intelligent and hell-bent on being heard. They talk about women disappearing and how it is not their Torah. They speak of holiness and femininity and their right to learn and teach and participate in the halachic discussion.

Then they open the floor to questions.

“How do you explain the halacha that states when a man and woman are drowning, you must save the man first?”

There is a moment where I, sitting on the other end of the couch reading about the different ways humanity is working to abolish hatred from the world we share, raise my head in mild hope to hear what wisdom the women my husband is trying to learn from can possibly have that I have not heard before.

I’ve learned to lower my expectations so I’m not that disappointed when the answers fall where they have always gathered, exposed on the ground shamefully.

But his eyes are widening and he is turning to me in shock. He can’t believe the way they have walked around the question, claiming to have accepted the bad with the good because it was different then. He can’t believe they dismiss the inconsistencies and ignore the way their bad answers leave more questions in their wake. He is bothered by it, bothered by my eyes rolling up in response because these, and more sophisticated pacifistic answers I have spent my life combating, are just a drop in the vast bucket of inadequacies I have been made to feel as a woman made from the ribs of a man.

He is racing through it all now; hearing the ways I have been explained since I realized my vagina made me less than. He is learning the tones and nuances of words falling flat against an ever-expanding sense of worthlessness. He is walking in the imprints my shoes made as I wandered around and around in my loneliness and he is gutted by the pain I never could describe.

“I didn’t know,” he says. “I mean, you told me…but I didn’t really get it. I never heard these words said these ways…I never looked and looked and couldn’t find a way to make it feel right…I never walked a second in your path, and I didn’t know how lonely you were.”

I thank him. He is sorry it is so late.

But I am grateful because he gets it.

“I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to me that I am valued to you, not only as your friend and partner but as a woman who faced this alone my whole life.”

I pause as I think of the weight we carry when we walk along our destiny.

“To have you take my hand and stand with me makes it all feel a little lighter.”

I remember how years ago, I stood at a crossroad and watched him walk down a path that didn’t suit me. Watching him disappear, I wrote.

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 yearning…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.

And I smile because there is a place in my little corner of the universe where I have finally been given the strength to fly farther than that road ever could have taken me.

This Temple Speaks for Me

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

Broken bodies stumble across the floor as sunlight beats against the windows, demanding the right to shine in this desecrated space.

Pages, soaked in the bloodred color that paints my history, rustle in the winds of hatred blowing through these trembling walls.

The temple heaves in uncontainable sorrow.

I cannot speak as the vigil gathers outside, swarming the streets with wretched grief.

Candles flicker in shaking hands. Eyes well with loss and disbelief. This is not where we were meant to gather together and remember.

I cannot speak as the graves are dug. The soil of a foreign land swallowing up vessels punctured by bullets that drained the lives held within.

I cannot speak as the world spins again and the sun knocks against my darkened heart.

I cannot speak because my tongue is bound by words too shallow to hold the depth of pain that rises from my roots and rips my carefully constructed identity down to the naked truth of who I am and who I will always be.

I cannot speak as a Jew, alone in this crowd of comforting rhetoric that leaves me feeling wrung out and dried.

I am persecuted and hated. I am thrown to the lions and left to die. I am misunderstood, mislabeled and misbelieved. I am held as a beacon and obfuscated in contempt. I am riddled with gunshots, stabbed with steel terror and run over with crushing rage.

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

This temple speaks for me.

 

 

The Prison Cells We Hide In

I always struggled to maintain friendships with women. It was easier for me to hang out with men. I knew exactly how to talk to them, how to act around them and was confident in my direct approach.

Women scared me. We always seemed to be hurting each other. The idea of a united front, working to overcome inequality and patriarchy as a tsunami of feminine strength seemed implausible.

Over time, I learned how to approach female relationships. It requires a real effort for me to connect with other women, even though it sometimes seems futile. The few friends I did manage to make are extraordinarily patient with me. I know that I wrap myself in yellow tape and dare them to try.

And then #metoo and #timesup happened, and I saw women emerging from their own prison. I dipped a toe in at first, wanting to test the waters I couldn’t trust. But I fell in hard. I found myself swimming in a school, sometimes wildly as though being chased, but most times with direction and purpose. Every once in a while, coming up for air, I saw some of what I knew deep down was still there; we weren’t all prepared for this.

The other day a woman called out from her prison and she got swarmed. There was a pounding on her door, a demand for her to open up, and I saw that there are cracks that are widening.

We need each other. But we need to tunnel into each prison and sit a moment inside. We need to see her space, feel her boundaries, and hold her hand when she decides she wants it to be held. Then we can be the force that will break us free.

This is what my prison looked like. It’s empty most of the time now. If you ever see me inside, come in through the back door I hide behind my unsmiling eyes. I’ll be waiting for you.

* * * * *

I keep the women in my life at bay.

Held off by my rigid tone, they circle for a moment before wandering away.

I don’t blame them.

The door is bolted and covered in skulls.

I am not very inviting.

I throw a line, teasing it a bit before I reel it in.

My words fall from my tongue with force I don’t even try to control. I am unbridled, wild and free in this prison I have constructed from the rubble of my demolished childhood.

It is warm in here.

I touch the splintering walls, piercing my fingertips with rusting nails. Watching the blood flow, I patch the roof where sunlight dares to shine through.

It is stifling in here.

Betrayals decompose in heaps strewn about the floor. Expectation died here long ago. The stench of rotting dreams reminds me not to close my eyes.

It is burning in here.

The men who knock are well received. I learned to navigate their world the moment I heard one moan. They trip over the warning signs. They don’t understand the game I play. They take me as I am; as I project myself to be.

I host them in the darkness. There is nothing here for them to see.

Lingering outside for a moment, the women stare through the glass walls of my prison where I meet their gaze with my empty plea.

Uncovered

Orthodox Judaism has a uniform. It varies according to sect and strictness of observance, but it’s always there, worn as an identity.

As a child, I wore long, mid-calf skirts, sleeves below my elbows and necklines that covered my collarbone. I was lucky I could wear kneesocks, I couldn’t stand the feeling of tights, and I had room for expression with my hair and earrings. I pushed the boundaries as far as I could which wasn’t very far but made me a rebel. I got long cowboy boot earrings and rolled my socks down to my ankles. I pulled my sleeves up and stretched out my collars.

When I was a teenager, I exchanged that uniform for the one that branded me as trouble. I wore provocative graphic t-shirts I had cut so they fell off one shoulder. I stole my boyfriend’s jeans and cargo pants and sported big black clunky boots. My hair hung around my face, stringy and unkempt. My hands, encased in homemade fingerless gloves, smelled like an ashtray and constantly twitched.

When I tried sobriety on, I bought wrap-around skirts that swept the ground and kept my t-shirts closer to my body.

And then, when the boy who wore flannel shirts on top of sweatshirts and baggy pants added tzitzit that flew behind him and a kippa that got lost in his wild hair, I thought about another uniform. He asked me to dinner one night. I got a haircut, put on my sister’s clothing, and said yes when he asked me to marry him sporting short hair and a clean collared shirt.

Very soon after, he walked down to meet me, a black hat I had never seen on his head, and the white fabric I uncomfortably wore constricted around me. The hat never reappeared, but a different kind took its place, and a beard grew with sidelocks, and black and white only on Shabbat, and I didn’t care because when you don’t believe in god, you don’t shake a marriage over a uniform. And anyway, my skirts and shirts were changing with every season, every pregnancy, and every time I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.

But my head stayed under wraps. Always, I kept my hair tucked beneath fabric I fought with each morning.

Until he started sharing his doubts with me.

We started to strip. Slowly, we took off the bits of cloth that weighed us down and told the world the lie we once believed. And then it was down to a little bandana wound around my brain. Every day I would look at it and cry.

I was tired of crying.

I walked out of the house without it late one Friday night when I knew no one else would be outside.

It took a while to feel comfortable without a uniform. I still feel naked at times. But that first time will stay with me always; an unveiling that is seared in my memory with a plaque reading: Here lies a woman of valor.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The air is cool and brisk. It has been a dry, moody winter and when the cold rain fell this morning a sigh of relief spread over me like a blanket. I am reminded that my sneakers don’t absorb water with a misstep into a pool of rainfall gathering in the groves of uneven pavement. It is dark and this section of sidewalk is poorly lit. My damp toes are worth the protection night has given me.

We are walking around the block. The kids are excited to be out in their pajamas. They chatter and skip, burying their noses in coats someone sent us from a place where winter means snow. Their cheeks are beginning to flush; I’m glad I left the windows open at home.

My husband walks beside me. His every stride is two of mine. No matter how hard we try; we are never fully in sync. He hums, occasionally adding a whistle, the way he does whenever he is lost in thought. I snake my hand into his pocket and find his welcoming fingers.

My heart is pounding.

My entire body is shaking.

I can feel every hair on my scalp.

I want to lower my head. I want to put my hood on. I want to run back home. I want to cry and laugh and cry.

A breeze blows towards me. I can feel the wind run through my exposed strands gently, almost lovingly. My eyes, stinging from the storm raging deep inside my tortured body, tear and swell, spilling sorrow down my cheeks where winter licks them softly dry.

We turn the last corner. We are alone on these cold, wet streets. We are performing a ritual we barely understand ourselves. They are accompanying me as I walk away from the crushing burden I know more intimately than the bare-head reflection I see in the mirrored lobby wall.

She smiles at me as I pass, her eyes are bright and bold and beautiful.