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

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.

 

 

A Stroll Through a Lifetime

I need to preface this blog post with a bit of an explanation as well as an apology. I have been toying with an idea for a while now. I did not know how to begin until today when I was struck by the love and understanding I have for the ultra-Orthodox world my husband and I left in stages over the past four years. During our process, we searched for anything relating to what we were going through and found that our situation seemed to be different than most.

Firstly, we had been raised Orthodox and had, because of different issues with abuse and an anger I can only classify as rage, acted out in extreme behaviors. Our adolescent years were spent rejecting religion, but also rejecting social norm while indulging in irrational and destructive habits. When we grew up enough to marry and start a family, we shed ourselves of the emotional burdens we had accumulated and embraced religion wholeheartedly. Our 20s brought reflection and philosophy so that when we decided to leave Orthodoxy, it was with thought and quite a lot of cautious compartmentalizing. We had to constantly check in with our emotions to ensure that our decisions were not tied up in feelings. When we did finally make our exit, we did so with an understanding of where our emotions lay and where our conscious led us. How that felt is the subject for a different post.

The second difference we saw was that we were making this choice with children old enough to understand. It was so difficult to factor them in. We looked for other families and could not find anyone open to talk or write about it. We spent an entire year weighing every factor carefully and included our children’s thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, they were given a vote before we took any action.

I really wanted to document the different struggles we went through as a family and individually. I feel that there are other families out there who are in a similar boat we were in and are searching, as we did, for someone to share their experience. I didn’t want to write another OTD blog full of resentment and I also didn’t want to write a theological blog sourcing every move with the research we did and intellectualizing our experience.

In one five-minute walk to the bus stop, I found the tone I would like to take. The breadth of emotion I felt as I walked through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood at my doorstep floored me. I have so many conflicting feelings and they played a huge part in everything we went through. I’d like my voice to come from my heart and remain personal. If someone can relate to it, I hope that it will help them find expression and in no way influence the decisions they are grappling with.

Before I begin, I would like to publicly apologize to those who will be hurt by my story. I love so much of what I left behind and would never want to destroy the relationships we’ve worked hard to rebuild. Hearts and souls were put into creating us. If you had any hand in teaching us, loving us or lifting us up out of the mud, know that we understand you have every right to be disappointed that we rejected your beliefs and traditions. We love and respect you. We needed to do this for us and as much as it hurts, we understand that there is a part of you that can never accept that. I know the idea of publicizing what you believe to be intimate is difficult for you. I respect that, although I wish you would look past your discomfort and try to understand my point of view. I try to keep an open mind when I encounter your thoughts and feelings and wish only for you to do the same. I wish this didn’t hurt you and I am sorry it is at my hand. Thank you for loving me despite this.

With all that said, here is the beginning of a reflection that may never end.

***

Today I need to take the bus to the other side of the city.

It is a five-minute walk from my house to the bus stop.

I turn right at the corner and walk into the crack between my timeline and the one I left behind.

I pass a school and hear the recorded voices of little girls set to the beat of a solitary drum. It is the camp theme song. They must have recorded a few and multiplied each voice so it sounds like a choir of hundreds.

I am reminded that it is now the three weeks. The girls will make sure to keep the mood somber even as they skip and play. No one will attempt to travel or jump from a too high rock into too shallow water. Everyone knows someone who had an accident during this time.

The girls are wearing blue skirts I can feel against my legs as I adjust my jeans. My pleats never managed to stay down and my hems liked to droop. I can feel the zipper, stuck again, and the pin that always opened and pricked my side. My throat constricts a little and I glance at the collars of the crisp button-down opaque white shirts. The top button closes against my neck. I will wait until I am alone to defy it and expose the bone it conceals.

I steal one more glance at the girls milling about the schoolyard. There is longing in my gaze.

My hand reaches to feel my bare neck. I trace the outline of my loose cotton t-shirt. I am relieved to feel my skin as I inhale and move on.

Now I hear the sounds of boys learning in unison. I find my lips turning up in a gentle smile. I know the beauty of this singsong. My eyes have welled at the sight of torch-bearing children leading a canopy swarmed with joyous men down a street lined with women and girls. Sitting with my legs dangling, my fingers sticky sweet, I’ve watched the dancing blur circle over and over again. The pride when someone I knew held the sacred scroll jolts me forward on my two-minute walk towards the bus.

A woman scurries past me pushing a stroller. She is wearing a black scarf and a black blouse with a pleated black skirt. Her stockings are three shades darker than the color of her skin and her shoes are sensible and comfortable. I see the little flash of pink in her ears and the small floral pin fastened to her collar. I smile as our eyes meet. She turns her head away and quickens her pace. She doesn’t seem to see the recognition in my eyes. She doesn’t see me as familiar because I look like a stranger to them now.

I have less than a minute left on my walk. I notice the men looking down and the wide eyes of passing children. I see the garbage in the streets. I smell the heat wafting up from the layers of clothing.

But the songs are still stuck in my head.

My heart sees this world as I pass through. It feels it’s beat. It hears the sounds and can taste the comfort. My heart sometimes sees this world more objectively than I do.

My mind reminds my heart to settle.

I will always see the beauty. I will always feel the love and warmth of that world.

The further away I go, the fewer details I see. I am not the little boy cowering from his teacher. I am not the little girl pulling up her socks in resentment. I am not getting touched in the classroom or in the basement. I am not standing before judgment at all times. I am not hiding in an alley with a cigarette and then going back to shul for the blessing over endless whiskey. I am not sitting with a man who calls himself rabbi as he is telling me that he is sexually attracted to me because all men are sexually attracted to girls, even if they are fifteen years old. I am not defiant and angry because my dreams were denied me. I am not holding on to what could have been. I am not the details anymore.

The crack between the worlds closes up behind me as the doors of the bus open and I climb on board.

I sit down wearily.

Five minutes takes a lifetime.

13 Years

We stand under the canopy separated by the discomfort we feel at the display.

You are wearing the uniform of a team you don’t really play for. Your hair is cut according to someone else’s taste. Even your shoes are a stranger’s style.

I am in white for the first time in my life. My face is covered by a thick veil that holds significance to other people. I hate that I cannot see you.

We stand in the stifling heat and we listen to people bless and pray us into our future.

You break a glass; we sip the wine.

You grab my hand and we run towards a few moments of privacy.

I am in your arms and we are happy because we are alone and also happy that we are certified now and they approve and also dreading the rituals and the obligations we are about to face.

But we are together so we can draw strength from the power we found when we became us.

We are so young. We are so desperate for acceptance. We will do anything to prove our love is the right kind of love…the kind that we were raised to believe in…the kind that builds the acceptable kind of family…the continuation of the Jewish bloodline…the kind of future our ancestors would be proud of.

So we face the hundreds of people who have come to witness this return to the fold. We dance on opposite sides of a curtain. We wash our hands for bread and we make the blessings with all the truth we can muster because we are determined to begin our future the way we have been brought up to believe is the only way.

We are happy.

We are together so we are happy.

We make meals and we invite friends and we beam and we pray and we hope and we continue to love as we become the adults our parents prayed we would be.

We lose a child and we thank God.

We are happy because we are together.

I immerse every month and I pray and you slip away as you doubt and then I slip away as I doubt and then we are staring at a little girl and we are so in love and so happy and so together.

Our love looks different from what we saw love to be so we think maybe it’s not the right kind of love but she loves our love so it has to be right. She laughs and sings as we hold her between us and dance to songs we were kept sheltered from when we were babies. She knows Led Zeppelin and Santana and grows to idolize Queen even as I adjust my head covering and you grow your beard long and your side-locks even longer.

We are unconventional and learning to be fine with that.

We move closer to our family and we think our little life is so normal and then we see that our way doesn’t match their way and we feel isolated and unsure.

We are so in love that I hurt when you hurt and you choose me when I hurt and so you lose people.

We are happy because we are together.

We are back in our homeland because we have found out that family cannot replace the soil where our roots grow deep.

I am flat in bed while you work all day and we are poor and we are getting angry and we are stuck because we are so in love that when we aren’t together we are scraping at our skin and bleeding ourselves to death but our love is standing against the fears of our youth that are shaking our foundation.

Now we are five minus one and we are broken and complete and we are ready to face things because we know it is time for our love to expand into our days so that we can build on us and not them.

I shave my head because the noose is tightening and you stroke my cheek and untie the cloth that proclaims my allegiance.

You torment your soul and bare it before me and I squeeze your hand and promise you forever.

We are slowly moving away from everyone else and closer to each other and even though we are scared we know we can’t lose.

We are happy because we are together even when we are alone.

The air is heating up around us and is getting heavier so we shake off the chains that bound us and we face the mirror side by side. We know we will become an island if we peel it all off but if we don’t we will become strangers.

We have to be together because we have to be in love.

Our love is stronger than the faith we lost. Our love is accepting and forgiving and we don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore.

But I am falling and gasping for air and you aren’t falling with me because you need to be the one to catch me and your arms reach out the length of two years while I tumble and turn down a rabbit hole I didn’t see coming.

I slam into you and think I broke you because it is taking you so long to stand back up until I realize that my arms are still around your neck. I peel myself from you and you stand me at your side and you slowly lift my shoulders until I can meet your eyes.

We are together and we are crying and we are still happy because we are crying together.

We laugh and dance and sing and cry and rage and lose and grieve and search and change and live together.

We are in love and we are so lucky because we are in love together.

IMG_20180126_131047775.jpg

It is 13 years since we stood beneath a canopy and couldn’t see the future.

Happy Anniversary.

Someone Called the Rabbi on Me…

I debated writing this post…I thought that maybe I shouldn’t stir any trouble…that if I did say something, I would only be hurting myself more.

But I have to write how I feel and I have to put it out there where it will be seen. This is who I am; this is how I can keep going through all the twists and turns of my life.

So here it is…here is how I felt when I found out that the Rabbi of the community I am currently living in was called about me and my family…how we had left Orthodoxy…and the subsequent tangible murmurings and distance we’ve felt.

Making this decision was agonizing for me and my husband, and extremely challenging with children old enough to understand the process. We never really felt a deep connection with this community, but we had built friendships within it and had a surface-level kinship with most of the members as coreligionists.

Now that we have even less in common with so many of the people in our small community, the emotional baggage of our childhoods has resurfaced along with the need to fit in or blend in so that we can avoid the pain of living on the outside. We’ve worked on that, and we have embraced our decisions and our truths and no longer feel shame or fear about who we are.

I write this for that person hiding in the pack, afraid of someone finding something out and having the shame of the protective blanket of lies wrapped around them ripped away in unwanted exposure.

You may be feeling alone right now, but feeling alone with a truth you can live with is far better than feeling alone with a truth you cannot face.

I don’t know how old I was when someone told me telling the truth was shameful and should be avoided at all costs.

I did not want the shame I already felt to be seen by anyone else so I made lying my truth.

When I was 12 years old, someone called my mother to tell her that somewhere along the way, I had not learned to read. My skin burned red and no one wrapped me up in comfort and told me I did not have to lie.

When I was 13 years old, someone found a packet of my lying truths I wrote to test the waters of friendship and trust and returned them to sender. My parents read my spun tales and believed me when I said I had lied but the shame washed over me like he had said it would so I dug the truth deeper under my skin.

When I was 15 years old, someone thought I had disappeared and searched all over for me, finding me walking back to safety with a boy who had bought me pizza and listened to my hopes and aspirations without judgment. I was dragged back to the security of taped mouths and bound bodies and saw shame in my parents’ eyes. It felt like daggers stabbing a dead corpse and I knew that my heart had been stolen.  

When I was 16 years old, someone called my father to tell him about something I had done in a dark garage at the end of a long driveway where my heart was pounding and fear was forcing my eyes shut and my body to learn the fine art of floating into the trees outside. We didn’t speak about it because I no longer existed.

When I was 17 years old, someone called someone every time I came up for air.

When I was 20 years old, I found something deep within that felt like a truth and everyone I loved was able to breathe again because they could bear the truth I wore.

When I was 30 years old, I could no longer let that truth that had been a lie drain my soul. I decided I was going to learn to love that little girl who was so afraid of shame.

When I was 32 years old, I found that I had absorbed all shame and could finally live a truth that was mine.

Then someone called the Rabbi on me…

And now I am 10 years old again and I am nodding my head and promising that I will never tell.

Unmasked

I have worn my face behind something other than my skin for so long I don’t know if I can recognize my reflection.

At first, I wore the way I felt outside my heart. I didn’t know not to do that. I didn’t know that hearts exposed make people feel uncomfortable.

I learned to hide my heart when one too many people wore it down.

Instead, I took my anger and hate and wrapped myself up in loneliness and presented me to the world.

When I couldn’t bear myself anymore, I found belief to peer out from under and I made myself shut down.

I wore a skirt and then a headscarf. I looked down and kept quiet. I blended in.

I was miserable.

I was lost.

I thought there was no one left behind the face I put on beneath the years of expectations and the demands of my past dictating each step I took.

One day, broken, misunderstood and fed up with how I was seen, I tore my hair covering off my head and felt the wind.

It was as if I tapped myself on the shoulder and turned around in surprise as I met someone I use to know.

We are getting to know each other, she and I.

I think I like her.

I am standing on a wire now, between skins. I am slowly peeling off the layers.

What I find brings me comfort and peace, even while it hurts the ones I love.

I know you wish I could accept the mask I was handed at birth and learn to embrace it.

I want you to know that I tried, I really did.

This mask didn’t fit me. I squirmed beneath it until I felt like I had died.

But I haven’t died…I have just discovered that I am alive.

The mask is coming off now…

I am about to shine.

A Giant Falls

When a giant…

…comes crashing down…

…from heights unknown to man…

…it is only natural…

…that some…

…will try to climb…

…his fallen frame…

…and proclaim…

…something…

…or other.

I only wish…

…I was strong enough…

…to move a mountain…

…to reveal…

…the crater…

…formed…

…when the giant fell.