Chapter 1: Jerusalem of gold
When Ezra had his bar mitzvah he thought that his coming out would be his downfall. Turned out he had both under- and overestimated his family. His mother just rolled her eyes and said she had known it from the moment she gave birth to Ezra. His father and siblings said they had known it since his mother mentioned it having given birth to Ezra. Anyway, nobody lived up to Ezra's expectations. Instead they immediately (a few years later, but it felt immediate) engaged in thorough matchmaking. "Ezra might like that guy from the accounting, he seems nice and likes Proust." "Ezra might want to meet that lovely man from my schul, he likes baking." "I don't know if he's gay, but I bet everyone is gay for Ezra."
At first it was rather lovely. Ezra realised he had much to be grateful for. He realised he couldn't blame them for lousy matchmaking like "my neighbor's cousin's son is gay, and they must immediately like each other". It was more along the lines of something so complex and thoughtful that it might put any dating app out of business. "Shmuel is specializing in the Jerusalem Talmud, he and Ezra might like each other." "Razi made a magnificent dvar Torah the other week, Ezra could go out with him, right?"
Ezra just wanted to be honest and a rabbi. He opted for the Schechter. Jerusalem seemed far enough from London… It wasn't. Ezra didn't want to go to the States, though, so he had to accept Talmud-based matchmaking. It could have been worse, really. Ezra considered himself lucky and blessed and happy. Jerusalem wasn't always safe or even nice, but no Jew could ever entirely suppress the urge to stay somewhere dangerous and recite Shma twice a day in the stubborn belief that it might help. (It didn't. It never had. Next year in Jerusalem all the same.)
It happened during his last year. It was spring, two days before Pesach. Many of Ezra's friends were raiding the shops storing up chametz. Even more of Ezra's friends were frantically getting rid of chametz. Ezra was looking forward to a week of matzo brei and gefilte fish.
They said Rabbi Joseph Crowley would speak after Pesach. Somehow it added up to the excitement, even to Ezra's excitement, although Rabbi Joseph's teachings had escaped him. Rabbi Joseph came, saw and conquered. He opened his lecture with "HaShem is queer. Non-binary, non-conforming, universally loving. Now anyone who thinks it's too much should leave. This is the tamest of my notions".
Nobody moved. Rabbi Joseph nodded, his auburn hair shifted and his hand flew up to fix it and push dark glasses farther up his sharp nose. He was young, he was gaunt, he had a smile to light up any room.
He proceeded to prove his tamest notion and moved on to speak about the passion of Torah, about the subjectivity of the prophets, about eight genders of the Talmud, and most of all about the interpretation. "Whatever might a humble shepherd with PTSD have understood when HaShem spoke with him?" Rabbi Joseph asked. Then he proved that Dinah was a transwoman and Joseph was non-binary. Then he mentioned that Jacob must have had passionate sex with the divine presence and then decided to call it wrestling, and maybe he wasn't so wrong, but really, of all the bones, only his hip had been damaged? HaShem jumped Jacob's bones and why not? Jacob dwelled in tents, Jacob grew up with women. Maybe he even was seen as a woman and only his clever mother knew that he was a transman, and HaShem approved of it and gave Jacob a shitload of ungrateful children. At the end Rabbi Joseph kindly asked to always mention Bilhah and Zilpah in the amida and waved his hand as if it might help the people to disappear or at least leave.
Ezra couldn't leave. No, he tried, but then he was stopped. "Aren't you Ezra Fell?"
"I am, rabbi."
"Oi, no, Joseph is enough."
"A student of mine stole your paper. Had to get rid of them… legally, of course."
"He didn't steal. I gave it away. He needed it! How could you! He was depressed and lonely, and afraid of dropping out…" Ezra had transformed from awed to disgusted in a matter of seconds, and somehow Rabbi Joseph seemed rather enchanted by the whole process.
"So you gave him your paper and didn't tell him to seek out help, did you? Didn't tell him to talk to his mentor. Just a quick and easy solution." He must have known what he had been talking about.
"Yes." Ezra admitted it sadly, and then his anger caught up with him. "At least I did that! And what did you do? Lived up to his fears?"
"I paid for his therapy for a year, then recommended him to another professor. Hasn't he been in touch?"
"People tend to be ashamed of those who tried to help them."
"Indeed. I wanted to take you on as my student, your paper was… perfect. So clever."
"You… you did?"
"Of course. Decided to avoid breaking your mentor's heart."
"How very generous of you." Ezra huffed.
"See you, Ezra Fell. Have a good one." Rabbi Joseph sauntered out of the room.
Anthony Joseph Crowley was the only son of two rabbas. One of his mothers was a Reform Rabba and the other, a Conservative. Rabba Leah, the Reform one, was stricter than Deuteronomy. Rabba Sara, the Conservative one, was kinder than most things one tended to find in the Torah. Rabba Sara's mother was one of the most influential Conservative rabbis in Britain. Her husband had left his Ultraorthodox community to marry her, the Ineffable Rabba Elie Haiman. Joseph spent his summers with them in Oxford, and the rest of his time, in Jerusalem with his mothers. He smiled rarely, studied well, babysat happily. He came out during his bar mitzvah year and his mothers were proud of him, but said that he should still study better. Later that night Rabba Sara asked Rabba Leah, "What did you mean better? He's the top of his class!" Rabba Leah shrugged and said that the sky was the limit.
Joseph was practically blind in one eye. The eye barely moved and had a perpetually dilated pupil. The iris faded out. The other eye was Royal yellow and betrayed the owner as a being of mischief and trouble. Joseph loved both mischief and trouble and was hopelessly bad at mischief and troublemaking. Whatever he wanted to somehow ruin, just turned against him and into something better. He insisted on serving in the army, despite his eyes. After, he spent two years on a dairy farm in Arava. Ten years later he returned there as a regional rabbi and settled on the kibbutz where he had already known everyone anyway. He ran away only once to study early childhood education and then returned for good adding work in the kindergarten to his list of responsibilities. He read and wrote a lot, he was active in the community. Everyone suspected he dated, because someone who moved their hips like that, couldn't help dating. In reality he didn't care to date, he wanted to play with kids, lead services and write articles about how queer Tanakh was, not to mention the Talmud. He had students, and there once was a moment when he wanted that brilliant young rabbi-to-be to become such.
Most of the events in Rabbi Joseph's life took place within his head, his thought process was unstoppable. He rarely wanted something and didn't get upset when he couldn't get what he wanted.
Ezra went up to take his things when Rabbi Joseph's voice called him again.
"You know, I'm really glad you're not my student." Only Rabbi Joseph's head was back, the rest of his lanky form had apparently made its way to the exit.
"How very flattering."
"It is." Rabbi Joseph pondered. "You know, I'm going back to my kibbutz in the evening, and my moms are visiting my grandparents back in England, so how about we have lunch and you can tell me everything you despise about me? As one rabbi to another."
Ezra dropped his bag and looked at Rabbi Joseph. "Why… lunch?"
"Because it's lunch time. Also, we should maybe switch to Hebrew. It will make out discourse more serious."
"I don't think I should…" Ezra blushed. His mother's voice in his head was whispering "Oh, he's a rabbi, and a child of rabbis and a grandchild of a rabbi. Perhaps you could like one another… oh look, you are totally smitten already." I'm not smitten, replied Ezra to his mother's voice. He's obnoxious. I don't know why yet, but he must be.
"Personal question, rabbi-to-be," said Rabbi Joseph's head.
"You haven't even bought me lunch yet," replied Ezra. His mother was possessing his body. Amazing Jedi powers for a woman who had often claimed to have never watched "Star Wars".
People flirted with Rabbi Joseph a lot, so he didn't miss a beat and instead saw an opportunity. "So lunch it is, then. Personal question?"
"Did you date him? That student of mine."
"Then you are kinder than I thought. He wasn't your friend because he had never mentioned you. He wasn't your lover which might have explained him failing to mention you, but really, why would he have done it? So you just helped someone who meant little to you… I'll buy you lunch, rabbi-to-be. What do you like?"
"I have a personal question too."
It was quickly becoming rather unnerving to talk to Rabbi Joseph's head exclusively but he seemed quite alright hanging there in the air.
"For the record," said the voice of Ezra's mother, "he invited you for lunch, not asked you out, and you began flirting with him, and everyone likes you, so it's fine." Oy gewalt, I flirted with a respected Rabbi, he must be about ten-twelve years senior, what have I done?
"Ezra, are you talking to someone via brain waves?" Asked Rabbi Joseph's head.
"Why, does it show?"
"I'm afraid it does. Hachapuria? It's a pleasant walk… if you like waking… oh!"
At the mention of Hachapuria (and with it the implication of getting pleasantly lost in Mahne Iehuda) Ezra's eyes lit up with holy fire, divine inspiration and a sparkle of expectation. Rabbi Joseph's head was finally joined by the rest of his sharp angles and lines. Feeling inspired and giddy with the promise of khachapuri, Ezra allowed himself to take in the sight. How come he failed to notice his colourful Bukharian kippah? Or how well it looked on Rabbi Joseph's red locks. Or how graceful he looked in his casual black clothes, worn-out and tight. The day was so full of promise.
"Shall we?" Ezra asked.
"Ah… Ngk… sure. Lead the way. Or I'll lead the way. I'm flexible… I mean, metaphorically," clarified Rabbi Joseph and turned to look at Ezra in such a manner that made Ezra doubt Rabbi Joseph had bones.
Ezra moaned. Now, Rabbi Joseph wasn't easily persuaded that the sensual side of things was its truest. Plato and Maimonides along with the responsibility of changing diapers lead to incredible changes to one's perception, yet here he was, his fork, hand, the whole body frozen because Ezra moaned.
"Do you… always eat like that?" Rabbi Joseph asked, in the name of sanity.
"Like what?" Ezra replied.
"Like… like you are about to come untouched."
Rabbi Joseph didn't expect that shade of red on Ezra's cheeks. "It's delicious. Don't shame me!"
"I'm not shaming you! I'm just… I admire your ability to cherish the food so… sensually."
Ezra lifted his fork and looked at Rabbi Joseph intently. "This is beauty, Phaedrus, discovered by the senses." Ezra quoted.
"And senses lead to passion, Phaedrus, and passion to the abyss," continued Rabbi Joseph.
"Oh, so you like "Death in Venice". Good." Ezra seemed indeed pleased with his conclusions.
"In all shapes and forms… Listen, Ezra, why did Rabbi Akiva entered the garden and left it in peace?"
"Because he was relaxed and open to Hashem's words. He didn't try to interpret it before receiving it. What, still glad I'm not your student?"
"You seem to be quite pleased with being someone else's, Ezra, rabbi-to-be."
"Well, I am very lucky."
"Surely. I have a very simplistic understanding of right and wrong, but maybe my innocence would make me a better rabbi."
"Innocence wouldn't. Such notions of right and wrong tend to lead to the conviction of your own good being the right kind of good for anyone."
"So, you suggest I suspect ill will at every turn, don't you?"
"No, Ezra, I suggest you leave each person to their own free will."
"That's very Nietzsche of you, my dear."
"No, it's very rabbinical of me, angel. The worst dispute is the one resulting in the definite answer. I don't like definite answers or linear equations."
"Yet, the simpler has always been the better."
"Not at all. Then Vivaldi's music is simple, and his simplicity is an illusion."
"Of course it is. He's a baroque composer. Now, take Haydn…"
"Wicked sense of humour. Never simple, never simplistic. Read Brendel?"
"Certainly. Doesn't mean I agree with him."
Rabbi Joseph rested his elbow on the table and his head on his hand.
"So, what do you agree with, rabbi-to-be?"
"True, easy simplicity is the product of hard work, of empathy. I knew what that student needed at the moment, and I helped him. You presumed to know what he needed in the long run."
"I didn't presume. I wanted him to make an informed choice."
"Did it make him feel better, though, Rabbi Joseph?"
"Joseph is enough, angel."
"I'm no angel."
"I'm aware. I'm mocking you, because otherwise I'd have to concentrate on your obscene moans."
They ate and drank, or rather Ezra did, because Rabbi Joseph had to drive back to Arava. He left his car near the Old City, and they meant to part their ways there, but decided to walk to the Western wall together, and then they walked some more. They heard the call of the muezzin to evening prayer. They heard streetcars tinkling through the old streets.
"But as I come to sing to you today, and to adorn you with crowns, I am the youngest of your children and the last poet to do so, because your name is scorching on my lips like a seraph's kiss… If I ever forget you, oh Jerusalem, you are all gold," recited Ezra drunkenly.
"I dwell where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dwelled. I belong there, with my people, where they wandered for forty years." Rabbi Joseph answered, and he wasn't even drunk, but coherence and Jerusalem syndrome don't get along. "Muezzin belongs here. And a priest. And a rabbi. That's why it's of gold…" He whispered. "I'll come back on Shavuot. Please, never hesitate to call me, Ezra, and you are all of gold…" Rabbi Joseph bowed and disappeared into the dark. The whole city suddenly breathed into Ezra's face heavily, a seraph's kiss, a vague promise of a kiss by one rabbi with auburn hair and mismatched eyes, his clavicles showing from behind the collar of his shirt, his whole body turning into a city, then into an ancient song of endless yearning for the presence of HaShem in every mundane thing.
One would assume that living in Jerusalem one becomes immune to Jerusalem syndrome. Oh yeah, it's all nice, I guess, no need to overreact etc. For all his sensitivity, Ezra had never experienced Jerusalem syndrome acutely, had never indeed felt the gold, the copper, the light, as the song goes. Ezra chose to see Jerusalem as heritage, as something to be cherished and kept, and while it was true, Jerusalem was bustling with life, always changing, always human, for humans made Jerusalem what it is, and one couldn't forever avoid seeing that side as well. That night, somewhere around the Armenian quarter, when a muezzin's call made its way through all other sounds and noises, it dawned on Ezra that Rabbi Joseph was Jerusalem, gold, copper and light, Jerusalem of endless prayers and yearning, Jerusalem incarnate of Ezra's prayers and yearning, but Ezra didn't know it yet. Suddenly Ezra understood that Rabbi Joseph's words weren't innate bumbling of someone hit on the head with a brick from the Western Wall. Jerusalem dwelled where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dwelling. Jerusalem was as old as the covenant, and ever since the covenant each Jew had Jerusalem within, long before the actual city was built. Rabbi Joseph's Jerusalem just rhymed so well with the rest of him, the gold of his healthy eye, the copper of his hair, the light of his whole demeanor.
From: Anthony Joseph Crowley
To: Ezra Fell
Said rabbi Joseph in the name of rabbi-to-be Ezra Fell, do you know why I'm glad you're not my student?
From: Ezra Fell
To: Anthony Joseph Crowley
Said rabbi-to-be Ezra in the name of rabbi Joseph, because I disagree with you so much?
From: Anthony Joseph Crowley
To: Ezra Fell
Said rabbi Joseph in the name of rabbi-to-be Ezra, it's because I can ask you out. I wouldn't be able to ask my student out.
From: Ezra Fell
To: Anthony Joseph Crowley
Said rabbi-to-be Ezra in the name of rabbi Joseph, was it a date?
From: Anthony Joseph Crowley
To: Ezra Fell
Do you want it to be? Quite forward of me, but I'm 300 km away, so.
From: Ezra Fell
To: Anthony Joseph Crowley
I can't talk about it in an email. Shall we talk when you come here for Shavuot?
From: Anthony Joseph Crowley
To: Ezra Fell
As you say, rabbi-to-be.
Rabbi Joseph closed his laptop and rubbed his eyes. It was Friday morning, and normally he loved Friday mornings, the promise they held. He always felt giddy with the expectation of Shabbat, of rest and prayer and another meeting of the 929 group Rabbi Joseph had organised. Right now, though he felt like the whole world could see him being flustered, uncomfortable and shocked by his audacity. Rabbi Joseph never asked people out, he was asked out and politely refused every time. There was so much to do! There was so much to study! There were children he needed to educate, play with and teach to hold a pencil properly. There were rabbinical duties to attend to. There were kibbutz matters to discuss and settle. He never felt lonely, he never felt the need to reach out. People reached out to him, he wouldn't presume someone might really need him, he was careful with his involvement and could immediately understand if it was unwelcome.
He noticed Ezra during his lecture, noticed him at once and had a sort of epiphany. He saw Ezra and couldn't make out his face at first, but he seemed familiar like a figure of a friend one had been waiting for and finally saw approaching. He was a spoiled brat and Rabbi Joseph couldn't get enough of those wiggles, slight movements of shoulders and hips, bright blue eyes, soft pale curls, astonishingly beautiful face, not to mention the moans around a forkful of cheese-filled pastry, gentle, clever mouth on the rim of a glass. The recognition was so clear, that for once Rabbi Joseph forgot to think of the other's perspective. What if Ezra didn't recognise him as an approaching friend? It was like waiting for rain, Rabbi Joseph learned to see the subtle hints of it, but what if Ezra didn't wait for the rain? After all it rained much more often in Jerusalem then down here, in Arava, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dwelled, here, so close to Egypt where his namesake spent many fruitful years.
What was he supposed to do now? Wait for Shavuot? Wait for another visit to Jerusalem? Could he find a good pretext to go up to Jerusalem earlier? Did he have time to go up to Jerusalem earlier? His few students either came to him or wrote to him. Moms would get suspicious if he came to visit out of the blue, and moms shouldn't know he had been presumptuous enough to consider another man gay and interested. Or that he flirted with him using the Talmud. Probably, they would approve of that, but not enough to skip the first part.
"So," said the voice of Ezra's mother on the phone. "Was that a date?"
"I begin to regret telling you about it."
"Oh poor baby! This whole… occasion has an air of a Greek myth."
"When an arrogant hero challenges gods or when an arrogant god challenges Cupid."
"How have I challenged Cupid?"
"Well, enough of pagany. HaShem gave you the ability to love. I most certainly helped too. You avoided it, you refused your family's matchmaking, well now the ultimate matchmaker is involved, and boy, HaShem is having so much fun right now."
"Matchmaking defies free will, mother."
"Don't be smug, let HaShem have fun."
"Good bye, mother. I'll speak with you after Shavuot."
Ezra was to be ordained in August. He had no idea whatsoever what to do next. He wasn't interested in pastoral care much, being a rabbi to him implied studying and teaching, which meant he probably had to remain in the Schechter as a professor. Ezra considered it the best option, and had done nothing whatsoever to forward the issue. Staying in Jerusalem he'd be far from Crowley… gewalt, gewalt, gewalt! Why would his thoughts fly to Crowley immediately? They spent several hours together, how come those hours made Jerusalem so full of yearning, made Jerusalem as unreachable as it used to be for two thousand years? I dwell where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dwelled. Rabbi Joseph's voice in his head was wistful and kind and just a little bit self-mocking. When the nights grew longer, against the season, the voice turned harder, more resolute, defying. I am Jerusalem and where I am, Jerusalem is. I am the gold, the copper, the light, and you are a violin for all my songs.
"The book of Ruth is one of the rare occasions in the Tanakh when we see women free of marriage, childbearing and housekeeping. Of course, it ends up with safely pushing Ruth right into all of it, but for the most part Ruth and Naomi are friends, partners, family. Ruth's love for Naomi can be read as romantic, but I choose to see their story as one about friendship. Ruth's love is all-encompassing, absolute, and it's not a romantic love, at least in my opinion. We see countless examples of men in the Tanakh experiencing all sorts of love, romantic, familiar, friendly, patriotic, love for truth, love for HaShem. Women get to be prophets, but Miriam is still a wife and there's argument over Deborah being someone's wife too. Women get to be heroes, they are clever, intelligent, scheming even, but at the end of the day they are reduced to their traditional roles, and it happens to Ruth too, but again, we live through the story of the most important connection in her life, and it's not a connection to a husband, child, homeland. Ruth chooses Naomi as her homeland, as her best earthly companion. She lives in poverty, and she's fine. Naomi arranges for her marriage to Boaz out of many reasons, mostly economical and social. Ruth's heart, though, stays with Naomi. Boaz is Naomi's relative through her late husband, so Ruth remains a part of Naomi's family. Boaz is everything Ruth is, he's kind, just, pious, attentive, he's basically Ruth in a male body, and we might interpret him as a construct, an image created to make the story of Ruth more traditional.
Ruth holds all the power over their relationship. She refuses to seduce him, as per Naomi's instructions, she asks for a legal act of marriage. Her self-respect is remarkable for the times. She is the master of her fate, she is the noble knight here. Through her Naomi gets her family back, having lost both her husband and their children. Through her Naomi recovers from her bitterness over the losses she went through.
People tell Naomi that she has a son in Boaz. Ruth gave her that son.
Now how does all this connect us to Shavuot? On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moshe, and as Zionist as I am, I believe that in the Torah we received our eternal homeland. It traveled with us through the desert and it remained with us after we lost our homeland. It let us preserve our language, our culture. The Torah ends right before the Jews enter the promised land. The Torah is our Naomi and we are Ruth, we followed, we refused to be parted, we stayed loyal to it through everything. In the end we returned, and in a way we never left. Our eretz, its promise stayed with us and is still here.
You see, written culture is very difficult to destroy, to obliviate. There are examples of course, although I have none. From stone to parchment to paper, from scrolls to cheap editions of the Tanakh we buy for school children, it remained. As long as we carry it, as long as there's just one rabbi with one student, we are immortal, and even if there are no rabbis and students left, the word remains, and someone will find it one day.
Our relationship with the Torah is not romantic, it's a kinship of choice, it's following something we chose to follow, promised to follow. We are supposed to visit Jerusalem on Shavuot, but even if you are far from Jerusalem, you have it within. You can find it somewhere in your mind. We've always adapted, always searched for new meanings, and the fact that the Torah allows us such exercises in hermeneutics is the evidence of a mischievous and clever author, blessed be She. G-d of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, Rachel, Bilchah and Zilpah, but also G-d of Sapho, of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Marylinne Robinson and Elena Ferrante. G-d of strangers, of outcasts, of the oppressed, of the queer, blessed be ze. Thank you. See you around, rabbis-to-be."
Ezra missed the lecture, naturally by choice. He didn't want to talk to Rabbi Joseph who he had been thinking about for seven weeks, he didn't want to… Actually, he did want to, very much so, he just thought that Rabbi Joseph had forgotten about him, and confirming it would bring him only pain and disappointment. His friends were gushing about Rabbi Joseph's lecture and Ezra cursed himself for letting his personal insecurities stand in the way of knowledge. He went to Mahne Iehuda with the intention of eating everything he might fancy, getting drunk and, and, and…
"I'm really sorry to be a creep, rabbi-to-be, but you said we might talk when I come to Jerusalem, and you didn't show up," said a calm and mocking voice behind Ezra as he was about to eat his tenth baklava. Ezra turned around and saw Rabbi Joseph.
"Did you follow me?" Oh, did he follow me? Was he looking for me?
"I didn't. Just got lucky. So… could we talk?"
"It's been seven weeks, Joseph, and I don't think there's something to talk about." What the hell are you saying? Why do you have to be such a brat?
"Alright… well then. For the record, I'd love for that evening to be a date, you know. In case you might still be… or ever were… or… whatever. Let me buy the biggest box of baklava for you as an apology."
Ezra would never say no to baklava.
They meant to part their ways at every turn and they didn't, or rather Ezra didn't let Joseph go, but Joseph didn't seem to be opposed to the idea. They ended up in a small pizzeria on Jaffa street, right in front of a dingy bookshop where they had spent an hour.
"Oh, look, Ezra, I found Rambam! Good translation, by the way, my Arabic is not that good."
"Joseph, never tell me such a thing. It's unforgivable! What, did you read Rambam in translation?"
"I didn't say that, rabbi-to-be! I said my Arabic is not that good! Don't be such an arrogant arse."
"I'm not! What did you find?"
"His medical treatises! I love them!"
"Oh Joseph… they are obsolete."
"Ezra, don't call Rambam obsolete, ever."
"I found the complete works of Judah HaLevi."
"You've eaten all your baklava on the way here, let me buy you Jehuda HaLevi."
"That's tempting, but… it won't be the same, you know, if you buy it. It will remind me of you, and…"
"Alright. I have to visit my moms and I'm going home tomorrow. Shall we have lunch over there? The pizza is great, and…"
"Yes, I'd love that!"
So they sat and ate pizza. Ezra moaned obscenely, and Joseph couldn't help staring at him.
"I'd better go, Ezra. Angel. Rabbi-to-be."
"Oh, stop toying with me! Do you… fuck! Ok, personal question."
"You seem to always have some, my dear."
"Do you… do you… oh, bugger that. Bye, Ezra."
He got off his high stool, put the money on the counter and moved to go.
"Wait! Tell me your lecture. Please."
Joseph obliged. Ezra felt like a proper bastard. And whatever for? I can't just tell him, oh you know, let's date, right, you don't live here and I have no intention of moving to Arava, and… oh good Lord, let's date. And get married. Or something.
The girl behind the counter was listening, transfixed, a few more patrons forgot about their pizzas and listened, transfixed. All this treasure, gold, copper, light, for me, just for me over a slice of pizza.
All this treasure, attentive eyes, small smile, naughty look when he thinks of a clever comment… all this is for me, even if just for now.
"I should go, angel."
"Joseph, I've kept you with me for a reason."
"I… I want to visit my moms."
"Of course. I'm sorry. Maybe, you could… call me? I'd love to talk to you some more."
"Ezra, what did Rabbi Akiva see inside the garden?"
"Whatever G-d chose to show him. My personal opinion is that he saw something he wanted to see, and it was just the garden, in all its blooming glory."
"I think he saw Goethe. Just because."
"Interesting… Tell me… no, sorry. You need to go."
Rabbi Joseph tilted his head and smiled. "How about we go together? They'd love to meet you, they wouldn't mind."
If I go with him now, thought Ezra, I will not be able to let go. It's too much, it's too fast. It's not enough, it's alright.
Joseph's phone rang.
"Yes, mom?.. oh… Alright... No, it's fine actually… Maybe you could come and visit me next week?.. Sure… Love you too. Bye… So," he looked at Ezra, mischief and trouble and giddiness. "My mom's friend is here. They studied together and they haven't seen each other in years. It's all rather unexpected and it means I have to leave today, but I can leave anytime. Walk some more? I'll tell you all about Rabbi Akiva and Goethe."
"Your moms prefer their friend to you?" Ezra couldn't believe his luck but also couldn't help being a brat about it.
"I live here, in Israel. Their friend is a communal rabbi in Melbourne. Of course they want to spend some time together! He didn't plan to come, something must have happened… I didn't ask about the details, as you heard. Just… jumped at the chance to spend an evening with you."
Ezra felt himself beaming as Joseph felt himself blind. They walked out and just kept walking, with no particular direction or destination in mind, although both knew they would end up in the Old City.
"I'm sorry for being so… bratty about everything," said Ezra quietly.
"It's alright. I like it." Joseph shrugged. "When is your ordination, Ezra?"
"August. I don't know what to do next… like, I don't see myself being good at pastoral care, I'm a scholar first and foremost, and…"
"So, staying in the Schechter then?"
"I don't know. I think it's selfish."
"Nothing wrong about it. There's a kibbutz near mine, they are looking for a rabbi."
"I'm a Masorti rabbi, I mean I will be, most of the kibbutzim in your area are either Reform or secular. The only Masorti one is yours."
"Looked it up, didn't you?" Joseph smirked.
"I did. Seven weeks is a long time."
"You could have written to me. My phone number is right there, under my name."
"I didn't want to assume and… come on, Joseph, look at you."
"I'm busy, I'm looking at you and trying to maneuver our way through the crowd."
"Joseph, you are what, ten years older than me?"
"I don't know. How old are you?"
"I'm forty-two. Alright. Is that a problem? I can find someone to forge me a more appropriate birth certificate."
"You are older, you are a brilliant rabbi, you help people, you work with children. I'm nothing like that. And you live so far away. How do you see it?"
"I didn't plan it this far. I didn't know if you were interested."
"I am interested, Joseph, I'm very, very interested, but I can't… get attached to someone so different. We're on the opposite sides of the country."
"I get it, Ezra. So… we keep walking, right?"
"Right. Please, don't be angry with me."
"Angry with you? You are the reasonable one here. No wonder you look more Oxonian than anyone I've seen in Oxford, and I used to spend every summer there."
"I was told I look like a cream-coloured pony and crisp apple strudel."
"Eww, "The Sound of Music"..."
"Yes, watching it for eternity is my idea of hell."
"And your idea of heaven?"
"Can we be friends, Joseph?"
"Of course. And let me tell you, you ain't never had a friend like me." Joseph smirked.
"I do hope so. Will you be alright driving at night?"
"I will. It's fine. It's beautiful, when you get down to Arava, it's just so… It feels like creating the world anew. Everything is dark, and out of that darkness small places appear, lights and calmness, cows go to the milking or just rest. A cow looks very lovely when it sleeps. They have long, long, long lashes, they are curious, they can be remarkably stupid and awfully cruel too, but what's new about that?"
"You worked on a dairy farm, right."
"Ezra, you had the cheek to suspect me of following you, but you've been researching me. You should have called."
"I will, I promise. Tell me about Rabbi Akiva and Goethe."
"So, G-d shows Goethe to rabbi Akiva, and rabbi Akiva is not puzzled because if G-d is showing him this handsome man with lively black eyes, then it should be so.
"You see him?", G-d says. "I made him, I chose him, I loved him and loved him so much that everyone and everything around him are touched by My love, so everyone and everything seek him, his company, his attention and love him passionately. Sometimes he loves them back, but the workings of mind, trembling of soul, the way everything is built is what draws his attention and love.
Now, Akiva, you can go in peace. The rest wanted revelations and secret knowledge and what not, and you were kind enough to let me show you him. Talking about things we love is pleasant and ever so sweet."
Ezra remained silent for some time. He bit his lips and fidgeted with his fingers.
"What? That bad?"
"It's beautiful, Joseph. You do live up to finding HaShem's presence in every thing, and I think I envy you that. I see the divine presence in words, in the way… as you put it, the workings of mind, trembling of soul. I'm a bookworm."
"Then you are the handsomest bookworm ever."
"Friends, Joseph, we settled for friends."
"Friends can call each other handsome. Hey, Ezra, do you find me handsome?"
"See? It's a friendly thing to say. There is nothing wrong about being a bookworm. Rabbi Akiva was a bookworm, I am a bookworm. I think it's part of a job description for a rabbi, to be a bookworm."
"But you are out there, helping, counseling, and I don't want it! I want to sit with my books and write scholarly papers and maybe teach some other bookworms."
"Then this is what you will do. May I put a word for you in the Schechter?"
"Thank you, I'd love that."
"Walk me to my car, will you? Our steps will always rhyme and I'll drive you home."
I realised I didn't provide a link for Jerusalem of gold, so here is my favourite rendition.
Side effects may include weeping, crying, getting angry, experiencing immediate desire to make Aliyah.
Chapter 3: The whole damn place goes crazy twice
CW: queerphobic, awful parents of an autistic child. They will be properly punished in the future. Yet, beware, there's queerphobic language.
Also, THERE WAS ONLY ONE BED
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"My dear, are you quite alright?" Ezra rubbed his eyes and sat up in his bed.
"I'm very excited and a bit worried and honoured beyond measure."
"Are you getting married?" Ezra asked in cold sweat. He had several absurdist nightmares about his very own Jerusalem marrying someone who looked like Ezra but was less reasonable and more courageous.
"What? Are you nuts?" Rabbi Joseph finally caught his breath. "What the fuck are you saying?"
"Joseph, you are not supposed to curse. You are a rabbi." Ezra chided him, but felt much calmer.
"I'm your ordaining rabbi! I'm ordaining you, rabbi-to-be! Isn't it just totally awesome?"
Ezra had to get up. "You… you are ordaining me?"
"Yes, I'm ordaining you. Are you deaf?"
"I'm not deaf! I'm… I'm actually honoured, and happy."
"You are? Good. Because they weren't completely sure, and I told them I was your friend… I am your friend, right?"
"You are, my dear, of course."
"Great. How are you?"
"I'm still waking up, to be honest."
"Oh, aren't you a hedonist, rabbi-to-be! Lovely. I mean, sorry. I have to be at work in half an hour and I told them yesterday I wanted to tell you."
"You are a dear, Joseph. Thank you."
"So, the good word I put in… Did it work?"
"Well, if you told them I was your friend, I can't see how it could work. Nepotism, my dear, I don't like it." Ezra pouted.
"Are you pouting? For fuck's sake, Ezra, I told them how brilliant you are and how foolish they would be to send you all over the place. You are a magnificent scholar, I've read all your papers, and trust me, you are the first person to make me get a grasp of Ramban. I admire you and…"
"Joseph, you know how much I… admire you too. It's an honour. I was offered a position at Schechter, and I'm glad it was you who helped me. What are you doing?"
Rabbi Joseph was actually shaving, half-naked, excited and with a copper mess on his head.
"Well, if you must know, I'm shaving."
"What, are you naked?" Ezra forgot for a minute that they had agreed to remain friends.
"Half. I'm just skin and bones, rabbi-to-be. Nothing to fantasize about, if it worries you."
"It doesn't," lied rabbi-to-be. "Tell me something, my dear."
"I'm going to grab something for breakfast in the kibbutz dining room, then I'm off to work."
"What age do you work with?" Ezra gently touched his phone and closed his eyes. There it goes, my voice just a flow of particles, a wave… Stop it! You are the one who insisted on being friends!
"Three to six. Ministry of education age. I used to work with babies and toddlers but in the end… I guess, I'm too talkative and need talking children to restrain me with their infinite wisdom."
"So, you work six hours and have a shitload of holidays?"
"I work eight hours, like everyone else and I do have two days off. I'm being a good rabbi on those days."
"Do you ever rest, my dear?" Ezra shut his eyes so hard he could see bright colourful spots in the back of his eyelids.
"No, I don't. Don't have any reason to rest."
"I think I should let you go."
"Don't you ever let me go, Ezra! What are you having for breakfast, you impossible hedonist?"
"I'm going out to buy some croissants in that lovely French bakery. It's a twenty minutes walk from my apartment. Then I'll walk back and read."
"A proper hedonistic rabbi. It sounds great, Ezra. Will you take me there next time I'm in Jerusalem?"
"Of course. We'll celebrate my ordination there."
"It's a date! I mean it's a plan… I think you are right and I should go. Have a good day, Ezra. Call me whenever you want."
"When do you want me to call you?"
"Anytime at all, all you gotta do is call, and I'll be there. But preferably evenings."
"Yes, so, it's settled then. I'll call you in the evening."
"Splendid. You are my friend, Ezra."
Ezra swallowed. They couldn't be friends, they really couldn't be friends. "And you are mine, my dear. Bye."
Rabbi Joseph finished his shaving and got dressed. Tight clothes were for Jerusalem visits, for his moms, so that they could argue and complain how skinny he is and stuff him with brisket and baked potatoes and every good thing. Kibbutz allowed for a baggier option. He didn't care to adjust his hair and wore a happy smile all through the morning.
"So, rabbi Ezra…"
"Are you back home? Are you alright? Did you have a safe trip?"
"I am, I am, I did. Ezra, are you… crying?"
"It was a very… emotional day."
"Yes, but you seemed happy, rabbi Ezra! You didn't cry when we parted!" Joseph was worried, audibly, obviously worried.
"I am happy, my dear, it's just that… it's so overwhelming and I was so happy to have you near when it happened."
"Ezra, I literally ordained you. What's wrong, angel?"
"Just overwhelmed," lied Ezra. "My dear, my Jerusalem…"
"Are you drunk?" Joseph smiled into the phone.
"You are drunk too."
"I am. I'm sitting on my terrace - remember that short story of Melville's, about a terrace? - and I'm looking up at the sky. The stars are incredible… If you come to visit me one day, I'd like to show you this sky."
"I hope I will come one day, my dear."
"So do I. Please, don't cry, Ezra, you are a wonderful rabbi."
"I think I'd rather go to bed. Sleep should help."
"Of course, Ezra. Sleep tight."
Joseph hang up, lit a cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke right into the stars. He was drunk and therefore unhinged. He let his hand remember the soft feeling of Ezra's hair, the young rabbi's breath, broken and vulnerable, his eyes, his smile… I would love to make you happy, Ezra… I would love to kiss your tears away. When you make your young and vulnerable choice, when you do your best to choose wisely and live by that choice… when you really do it… and then he comes, young, capricious, beautiful, so kind, so kind, that's why Ramban, that's why that eternal torture of a soul taken in fully… Ezra. Ezra, Ezra, Ezra, Ezra…
"Hello, my dear. How are you?"
"I'm alright, rabbi. It was nice seeing you. You made my Sukkot pilgrimage so much more… tangible."
"We had a good time, my dear, we really did. What are you doing?"
"Smoking on my terrace, looking up at the stars. You, Ezra?"
"I suppose we are looking at the same stars, my dear. It feels strangely intimate."
"It rather does… How do you find your job?"
"I love it. How are the new kids?"
"They are wonderful, per usual. So smart, so clever, so original. They make me a good rabbi."
"I'd argue with that… your mothers called. Sent their love."
"Oh my, are they using you now?"
"I'm happy to be of assistance. You seem less inclined to talk to them than I am."
"You are young, rabbi Ezra. Of course you enjoy talking to two brilliant rabbis."
"Have I made you feel old, my dear boy?"
"Boy? Should I remind you..,?"
"You shouldn't, I remember. Nevertheless, my dear boy."
"Well, my dear rabbi. How was your day?"
"Fruitful. I have at least two brilliant students. Keep me on my toes."
"That's lovely. I didn't take any this year. Don't want anyone."
"So sorry to hear it, on the one hand. On the other hand, it means I have you all to myself."
"Possessive rabbi… Ezra?"
"Yes, my dear boy?"
"What music would you set our conversation to?"
"What a lovely question! I adore your questions, my dear rabbi Joseph… Vivaldi, Concerto per la Solennità di San Lorenzo, the second movement."
"Oh that sweet, slow, tender music… I use it sometimes putting the kids to bed."
"It's so much sweeter, tenderer, more intimate than the kids can possibly understand."
"The breath of the oboe… it's so wistful, Ezra, so… sexy."
"Vivaldi is very sexy, dear boy."
"There's something so… sweet, slow and tender in you calling me your dear boy."
"I'm aiming for it, rabbi. Joseph, I'm aiming for it… My dear boy, thirteen years older than me, an admired rabbi, a beloved teacher… Say, what's your opinion of "Kuzari"?"
"It's beautiful, Ezra. Insightful. Full of harsh truths. I love that part about the heart being the king of the body."
"I thought your body's king was your brain, my dear rabbi boy."
"Not since I've met you… oh fuck, I'm sorry, Ezra. I'm sorry, my rabbi."
"Hello, Ezra. What's the music for tonight?"
"Brahms, piano concerto n° 2, the second movement."
"It's heartbreaking and brave, rabbi Ezra. Who had the audacity to break your heart?"
"I did. I broke my heart, and my beloved's heart too."
"Rabbi Ezra, tell me everything about him."
"Oh, he's beautiful. He's my Jerusalem. My heart rejoices in his voice and his demeanor. He's my dark prince, my darkest secret. When I talk to him, I can feel… I can feel like Moshe in front of the burning bush. I am what I will be, he says to me, and I listen and I step closer."
"Does it burn your feet, Ezra? It always burns mine."
"My dear, poor boy. I wish I could calm your pain. What are you doing?"
"Same as usual, Ezra. Stars, cigarettes, wine."
"Then Brahms is the most appropriate, dear boy."
"Indeed… Moms called?"
"Yes, they are worried."
"Then they should visit more often."
"Joseph, do you visit them less because of me? I'm not worth Jerusalem, I'm not worth your moms' love."
"You are mistaken, rabbi Ezra. You're worth eight Jerusalems…"
"But not worth two mothers, dear boy. You don't have to visit me when you visit them."
"I can hardly avoid it."
"Well, you should."
Right before Hanukkah Ezra said he'd come to the kibbutz. There was a long and overall humorous conversation. The one that took place a few days later began in an anxious manner.
"Inspiring opening. Do clarify, my dear."
"All guest houses are full, so my own house is the only option."
"Frankly, I didn't know there was another option."
"Are you pulling your hair?"
"I fucking am!"
"Why? What's wrong?"
"We are friends, Ezra."
"Yes, I remember it."
"Quite difficult to forget, Joseph."
"I forget sometimes."
"Joseph, please! You are not making it any easier, darling boy."
"I'll take the sofa. Yes, I do have only one bed."
"It's alright, besides I can take the sofa."
"No, Ezra, you are soft and spoiled in all the best places and ways, so you are taking the bed."
"I'm sure we can figure it out when I come."
"Yes, sure. Bye."
It was also the shortest conversation they had.
Ezra was expecting to be greeted at the bus stop by an elated rabbi and instead there was a morbid person who informed him that rabbi Joseph was busy, then rolled their eyes and said "Vey is mir! You are a proper faygala!"
"And why are you so fertummelt about it?"
"Vey, vey, vey, he didn't warn me you speak Yiddish." But the morbid person seemed vaguely pleased.
"Now, there's no need to plotz. How is Joseph? Is something wrong?"
"We'll learn in a few minutes. Come!" They grabbed Ezra's hand and pulled him with them. Ezra had never been one for sports in general or running in particular, but the morbid person didn't leave him any choice.
"My name is Bea, by the way," they introduced themselves on the run.
"Could we stop running?" Ezra asked panting.
"No, I'm worried, and you should be too."
They ran to Crowley's house, Bea dropped Ezra's bag inside without entering and grabbed Ezra's hand again. After a few minutes of frantic running they ended up in a small building, in front of a door by which Bea slowed down and lurked.
"Are you eavesdropping?" Ezra asked, shocked.
"Shush," replied Bea curtly. The voices from behind the door grew louder by the minute. Bea turned to Ezra and whispered "If we are discovered, then I'm pushing you forward and say that you couldn't wait to meet rabbi Joseph, fine?"
"Narrishkeit," replied Ezra.
"Suit yourself," Bea shrugged.
The voices became quieter and more furious, and then everything blew out. Bea straightened up and just opened the door unceremoniously.
"Brought your friend," they said. "Hi, Osnat. So sorry, rabbi Joseph was expecting an important guest, I presumed he couldn't wait."
Ezra moved closer and as soon as his Jerusalem saw him, he stood up and blushed.
"You see…" Ezra turned to see the owner of that voice. It was a middle-aged woman, a perfect cliche of everything traditionally expected of a woman. Rabba Leah would despise her and Rabba Sara would pity her.
"You see," the woman continued, "you are a gay man, Yossi, and you can't understand a thing about parenting. You live just for your pleasures, have your weird number two bring your lover into a parent-teacher conference and I can't understand how you are allowed to work with children." She shrugged. Her husband looked a bit worried.
Crowley's supervisor and the head of the kibbutz educational system Osnat looked wearily at everyone in the room. She was old, so impossibly, biblically old, she must have seen Ben Gurion take his first steps, and her face was so wrinkled it resembled a baked apple. She had no time to say anything, Crowley turned to the perfect traditional woman and said, tears in his voice, "Your son is four years old, he doesn't speak, he doesn't interact with other children, he needs help!"
Before he could continue Osnat rose heavily from her chair and said in a frighteningly stern tone of voice "Your son is in need of serious assistance. We've been having this conversation for years, and now you have insulted the best kindergarten teacher we've had, a respected Rabbi, as well as his friend and his number two. Taking care of your child without proper training would imply harming him, so I'm kindly asking you to consider another place. You are not members here, you requested, nay, begged me to let your son stay on the kibbutz, praised rabbi Joseph, and now you seem to be less sure. It's highly unlikely I'm listening to anything else you have to say. You want to stay here, then you have to take your son to a doctor and we'll follow the doctor's advice. Otherwise I suggest you leave immediately."
The woman sneered, her husband seemed more and more nervous.
"You heard me. Until I have a letter from the doctor, neither rabbi Joseph, nor I can accept your child. We'll only cause him more harm."
Once they understood they had to leave, the couple was stopped by Bea.
"Kadokhes, kelev, khamer, khazer," they spat out. Osnat hid a smirk. Joseph dropped his head. "Knyok," Bea continued their assault. "Lign in drerd und bakn beygl!"
"Bea, darling, stop!" Osnat was weak with laughter.
"Oysshteler," Bea kept on. "Schlump! Shmegegge, shmendrik! Shtik drek!"
The couple seemed genuinely terrified, but Bea kept standing in their way, a black-haired mess of eternal Ashkenazic rage.
Finally Bea stepped aside, and once the obnoxious couple left, Osnat grabbed their arm and said "Do walk with me, my sweet. I think I need to reproach you thoroughly." Bea laughed out loud and walked away with Osnat. They giggled once they were out of the building and went their separate ways.
Rabbi Joseph, a scholar, a kindergarten teacher, Jerusalem of gold, copper and light, had his head in his hands and was shaking. He dropped back into his chair.
Ezra kneeled down in front of him.
"My darling boy, my Jerusalem, are you…"
"He can't speak!" Joseph roared. "He can't speak… What could be more obvious than this? They could trash me all they like, I have been out, no, I had the privilege of never having to hide, and… He can't speak. I don't care, I really don't, but he can't speak… were I straight, macho, secular or more traditionally religious, they would listen, but they won't listen to me or to the old kibbitznikit Osnat, and… their son... and they… refuse to see him… and… you can't do this to kids, not to kids, never to kids…"
Ezra gently pushed away Joseph's arms to look him in the face.
"Ezra, what the fuck are you doing on the floor? Only Osnat knows when it was swept if at all. Your cream coloured trousers will be tacky yellow!" Joseph let out another sob and swallowed the following. "I'm sorry. It was… uncalled for. How was your trip?"
Ezra quietly traced Joseph's tears with his thumbs and appeared to have heard nothing.
"I missed you, dear boy."
"I missed you too, rabbi," Joseph smiled. "Bea took you to the house at least? Or did they just drag you along?"
"They dragged me along to the house first and then here."
"Do you want to get up? Just asking… This floor can't be good for your knees."
"I've never seen you so sad."
"Neither have I." Joseph chuckled and then turned very serene because avoiding his friend's eyes and looking every bit like an enchanted mouse in front of a snake, Ezra licked away the remaining wetness on Joseph's face and kissed his forehead.
"Here. I've ruined our friendship. You will accept my apologies, won't you, dear boy?"
"Sure… I don't think it ruins our friendship though."
"Oh good. I was worried about it."
"Let's take you home, rabbi."
Rabbi Ezra's heart rejoiced. He enjoyed seeing how loved Joseph was, he even enjoyed a bit of jealousy he was feeling, but after all, while kind and thoughtful, Joseph never smiled like that at anyone but Ezra, and however modest the meal in the dining room was, Joseph made sure Ezra had the wickedest salad dressing by mixing a few simpler ones into something that made Ezra roll his eyes in pleasure.
"You know, my dear, it's remarkable how our every conversation seems… written. Our phrases rhyme, our thoughts, too." Ezra was sloshed, but so was Joseph. They were stargazing on Joseph's porch and had way too much to drink.
"Yes, I feel that way too." Replied Joseph quietly.
"And… I'm so happy with you, Joseph, I'm so damn happy."
"Yes, but did you like licking my tears off of my face?"
"Of course I did, dear boy… You do know, that had there been only two of us in this world, I'd stay with you forever?"
"That's the cruelest thing you ever said, Ezra."
"Dearest boy, don't judge me because I can't be a dashing hero."
"No, you are just younger. Still greedy…"
"Yet you are my boy. "
"That I am, angel, oh do you know how you look? With your hair and eyes and giving away your absolutely best paper to a sleazy idiot, and… oh I should shut up."
"Don't you dare." Ezra turned to look at Joseph.
"Well, if you say so."
"I do say so, darling boy… I don't think you realise why I call you that. You see, you are gentle, you are tender, you are brilliant, and yet you are so fragile, so sensitive. All I want is to protect you, darling boy."
"Interesting, Ezra. It's exactly what I want to do for you. We should go to bed."
"What did you mean, when you called me greedy?"
"You see, rabbi Ezra, I am considered an established authority. At this point people will mostly listen to me and nod approvingly, whether I talk about the Talmud or developmental psychology. I've made it, as they say. You still want to establish yourself, you still need to feel… How did Cohen sing it? "Except to say it isn't worth a dime." And… and… what does it matter if I can't have you? We should go to bed, angel. We so should go to bed."
"But you won't share my bed, dear boy, and you won't share it because I told you not to."
"Take your words back, Ezra. Please. Please, fuck it all, I'll leave it all, just take it back."
"I can't, rabbi Joseph. You have your life and I have mine. This is what makes it universally… dramatic, dear boy. We both agree on everything, but we cherish what we have achieved so much. You won't give up on the children, and I won't give up on my career. We love each other, but it just… can't be."
"I'd give up my soul for you, rabbi Ezra. I hoped it would pass. It didn't. Each conversation with you just made me love you more, and I know you love me..." "Human circumstances, usual boring circumstances, careers and obligations. Just think about it, darling boy. We are lucky enough to pay no attention whatsoever to the fact that we are both men, but we still need to remember that you are a brilliant rabbi and a remarkable kindergarten teacher, and I'm just at the start of it all."
"It doesn't hurt any less, my rabbi, my Ezra, my righteous angel."
"We'll go to bed now, dear boy."
Joseph was too drunk to pay attention to anything, so Ezra undressed him and put him to bed, settling for the sofa himself.
Translation of Bea's Yiddish-speak.
Upon meeting Ezra: woe is me, you are a proper gay man.
Ezra's reply: no need to be so flummoxed about it. His next reply: no need to freak out.
Narrishkeit: Engaging in foolishness or folly.
Then Bea just curses in every way possible calling them stupid, bigoted and stuff.
Chapter 4: Lecha dodi
And there was evening, and there was morning, day one. Ezra woke up and before the rest of the world caught up with him, relished in the smell of Joseph, in the cozy, quiet air of his house, organised as if by the right button click.
He got up and dressed, walked out of the house and into the empty porch. Walked around the house and out to the terrace and saw him, rabbi Joseph,talit on his shoulders and tfelin around his head and arm, rocking gently in the cold morning air.
Oh my beautiful, impossible, beloved Joseph… Ezra thought. Rock, rock, rock like this, rock like this into me and under and around me. Rock my fucking world, you wonderful creature.
Joseph froze. Then he said, calmly, oh so calmly, the established authority, "Good morning, Ezra," and turned around.
"What I said last night was inappropriate and stupid. I'm so sorry." Rabbi Joseph took his talit and tfelin off.
"I'm not making it easier. May I use your tfelin, dear boy? I have left mine back at home." Ezra pouted. His mother's voice in his head reminded him that no mortal creature could refuse his pout. Rabbi Joseph was very mortal indeed. His tfelin were still warm, and as Ezra was looking out in the pink, cold morning sky, that mortal, fading warmth hit him like a sudden nausea, made him sway in weakness, not in prayer, forced him to realise that… He stopped his thoughts and concentrated on the prayer. When he was finished, he was so nauseous he could barely stay upright.
"Are you alright, Ezra?"
"Nauseous… I'm very nauseous."
"It must be the cold. Come in," Joseph gently guided Ezra inside and sat him at the table where a cup of tea was waiting for him. Joseph took Ezra's tfelin off and set them aside.
"I suggest you rest, Ezra. It's Friday, so I'll be back from work early. I'll bring you lunch. Call me if it gets worse."
Joseph kissed Ezra on the forehead and before Ezra could even lift his heavy head, the older rabbi was gone.
My beloved is kind and my beloved is generous. My beloved is my Jerusalem.
"Yet there's this pull, right?" Said the voice of Ezra's mother in his head.
There's this pull, yes, to active intellectual life, to having a teaching position in a prestigious institution, to being in the centre of it all.
"You know, it sounds like a temptation."
It does. It's tempting to stay there and it's tempting to stay here.
"Or you could suggest you try you know, see each other every weekend. Many people work like this, up North, and then come back for Shabbat."
You're not supposed to know it, mom.
"I'm in your head. I know what you know."
I want to share my life, each tiny bit of it. I want to come home to a partner…
"Find another partner, then."
Nobody compares to Joseph. I don't want anyone else. I do want me, though. I want to be something more than a young rabbi at the arm of an older one. Want to be… his equal and rival. And it makes me sick, physically sick, to think of leaving him after this week.
"Got yourself in trouble, son. Proud of you."
Ezra gathered up his strength, drank an insane amount of herbal tea and decided to take a walk. It was about one in the afternoon, and the parents were slowly drifting towards the kindergartens. Joseph sat by the door of his, smiling, eyes attentive and fiercely protective. He was like Daniel among the lions, only he felt like a lion guarding a bunch of loud Daniels. A quiet, meek child was sitting next to him. Ezra walked up to his friend.
"Ezra! Feeling better?" Joseph looked up at him and squinted at the sun.
"Much better, dear boy. Thank you."
"This is Adam," Joseph nodded tenderly at the child by his side.
"Adam!" Called an unpleasant voice which made the boy wince. Adam's mother gave Joseph a tired look. "What is your lover doing here?"
"First, I'm his friend," corrected Ezra cooly. "Second, I believe the kindergarten is closing in two minutes, so any discussion you want to have with my friend, you will have to postpone. He has Shabbat to get ready for." He was speaking so strictly, with so much authority even Joseph wouldn't be able to argue with him.
"Alright. Sorry," the woman lowered her eyes. Adam clumsily walked to her and refused both her hand and embrace. "You know…" she began guiltily, "I'm… I had him checked. Months ago. And… and you were right. I… I'm sorry, it's difficult to accept."
"Of course," replied Joseph, stunned. "I can't imagine what you are going through, but… I'm here to help."
"Thank you." The woman sobbed and held Joseph, then Ezra (what fresh hell is this? thought Ezra). "We'll talk next week. Promise."
"Shabbat shalom, Ofek."
"Shabbat shalom, rabbi Joseph. Rabbi Ezra."
"You are awfully scary, rabbi Ezra… and look, one stern glance from you, and behold…"
"I was inspired by you, rabbi Joseph."
"Well, you sat there, gentle, mild, tender. How dare she speak so rudely to my dear boy?"
"Oh… right. Gonna coo, I'm afraid." Rabbi Joseph cooed. "Good, now it's out of my system."
"She must be going through hell, and I… provoked her." Ezra stopped and examined his shoes.
"You didn't. You dealt with it sternly and strictly, but not unkindly, and most importantly, Adam will get help now. Oh, Ezra, you are…" Joseph appeared rather lost for words.
"What?" Laughed Ezra.
"A treasure, my dear rabbi," replied Joseph with a hint of wistfulness.
"Hush. We have Shabbat to get ready for."
I think this is really creepy that I'm talking about it to my imaginary mother.
"Whose voice would you rather hear in your head?"
I hoped for G-d's voice.
"My arrogant child. Your mother's voice might be the G-d's voice. It certainly explains a lot of self-loathing, self-doubt and the while theodicy thingy."
Mother, you are brilliant.
"I sure am."
"You beat the carpets, rabbi Ezra!" Joseph handed him his meager three carpets (doormat that says welcome in high Gallifreyan, TARDIS carpet from Joseph's sitting room, a colourful carpet that a very hippie father of one of Joseph's charges wove for him) and a carpetbeater. "I do the rest."
Rabbi Joseph, judging by his energy, would clean his house every Shabbat as if Pesach were nigh any moment. It took two hours of intensive running away from the vacuum cleaner, floor rag, duster and vey is Ezra's, a trip to the recycling station (He should drink less, thought Ezra sorting recyclables into more garbage bins than he had previously thought was possible to find in one place) and deliciously smelling challah dough to dissuade the younger rabbi from succumbing to the Pesach frenzy. Joseph was braiding challot, and Ezra resided to braiding Joseph's hair with the aid of a YouTube video.
"I doubt I have strength for schul tonight, my dear." Rabbi Ezra confessed having finished a Dutch fishtail.
"No way!" Argued rabbi Joseph adding challot to cholent in the oven. (When did he have the time to get the cholent going?)
"When did you put the pot in the oven?"
"Ehm… I believe it was when you were hiding from the vacuum cleaner in my bedroom."
"And the things in the pot?"
"You were hiding there for quite some time."
"I absolutely detest you," said Ezra adoringly.
"Yes, I can see that," replied Joseph smirking.
"I still insist on some semblance of afternoon rest."
"Aw, stubborn rabbi! Such an admirable quality!"
"And look like an angel, too, and angels are notoriously stubborn, my dear boy. Also, I can make eyes with millions of eyes!"
"Angel, your flirting is radioactive." They laughed together, but as the laughter subsided somewhat Ezra was again hit with a wave of nausea. He tried explaining it to himself, connecting it to something. It had hit him twice during the day and both times when he felt calm and free and so fully happy and content. Ezra excused himself and Joseph worriedly insisted that the younger rabbi should take the bed.
"Sit with me," asked Ezra.
"Hey, what's wrong, rabbi?"
"Why am I so nauseous when I'm happy? Usually I talk to my mother's voice in my head, but she's been having divinity issues, and I'd rather talk to you."
"That's sexist, Ezra. I'm a rabbi, having divinity issues is my job description." Joseph, however, obliged and sat next to his bed. His fingers absent-mindedly went through Ezra's white curls.
"Is it because I chose wrongly?"
"What do you mean, rabbi Ezra?"
"I mean that I should have said something else. I should have said "let's date and see how it goes, let's not fire up a crush and turn it into yearning", that's what I should have told you."
"Maybe you were yearning already. I know I have been." Joseph gave Ezra a shy smile.
"See, and now I'm making you unhappy too!"
"I'm not unhappy, quite the opposite, Ezra. I'd say you are being noble and careful. You don't let us lose the charms of everyday mundane intimacy."
"Yes, by taking that intimacy away altogether."
"I'd say we are pretty intimate, rabbi. You licked my face yesterday. No one has ever done that for me." Joseph grinned and remained serious, both at the same time.
"I want more."
"You want to lick something else?"
"Don't flirt with me. We are having a serious conversation and you don't have enough eyes to make eyes at me." Ezra rose up to the challenge and smiled and stayed serious simultaneously too. "And yes, I'd happily lick something else, if you don't mind. I mean, generally speaking."
"No, I don't mind at all."
"And stop playing with my hair, it's very distracting."
Joseph untangled his fingers from Ezra's hair and the spoiled bastard that the young rabbi was, he immediately whined at the loss.
"So… what do you want? Are you suggesting we should stop talking, stop seeing each other?"
"Stop talking to me and I'll never talk to you again."
"Oh, that hurts, rabbi Ezra. Bea would have inserted a good Yiddish curse here."
"How do they even know Yiddish?"
Joseph rested his elbows on Ezra's pillow and his chin, on his hands. "They ran away from an ultra-Orthodox community in London. Their lucky star made sure they met moms a few hours after their escape. Moms brought them to Jerusalem. For a while Bea was a sort of a foster child to them, then suggested Bea should move here and work with me."
"I changed the subject. Sorry, Joseph."
"It's alright. Ezra, I can't ask you to give up your career for me, you can't ask me to give up my life here. We're sparing ourselves a difficult commitment."
"Isn't it foolish, though? We might have been happy together."
"We are happy together. We're just…"
"You might meet someone, you know." Joseph said it a bit jealously.
"I might not. I met you, and you are all I need, rabbi Joseph."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"I don't know…"
"See, we are having a perfectly Talmudian dispute that doesn't end in a clear agreement. You are a joy to be around, rabbi Ezra. I'm going to turn the oven off and then I'm going to get ready for schul. I do hope you are coming with me. I'm leading kabbalat Shabbat."
Isn't it interesting, Ezra? He's standing there, looking awfully chic in his tight black trousers and black sweatshirt and Blundstones that he must have walked out of Egypt in and wandered for 40 years, and you can't take his eyes off of him. Not to mention that red bukhara on his head. And look, it has Jerusalem embroidered all around his head.
"Mom, stop it."
I'm not exactly mom. Well, I am, but I'm the Almighty Mom. You wanted a word, didn't you?
Yes, that's me, and you, my rabbi Ezra, in your impeccable and frankly ridiculous suit, are unable to concentrate on the prayer. He hasn't even begun Lecha Dodi. When he does… How do they say it? He's gonna ruin your entire career.
"Lord, it's difficult enough without you."
No, I'd say everything is much easier until I'm involved. Consider yourself lucky. You might have had to worry about your sexuality, about your peers' and family's acceptance… You might have hated yourself. But you are lucky enough to only worry about mundane things. Rejoice… Oh, here he goes, my copper-haired rabbi Joseph, the joy of my ears."
And indeed, there he was, a rock star of a rabbi, thin, angular, palms open up and head thrown back and a smile on his lips, joyous but not ecstatic, never overly excited.
"Faygala, you are staring." Ezra jumped or his heart did, but regardless of anything, Bea was sitting next to him, smirking. "I knew he was smitten with you, I didn't know it was so obviously mutual."
Here, young people voice the painful truth. By the way, you need to get up and greet the bride.
Before Bea went up to replace rabbi Joseph and lead Maariv, Ezra grabbed their hand.
"You're dining with us, aren't you?"
"Apparently I am." Bea winced unconvincingly.
You know, for all his mighty spirit, I never talk to him like I am to you.
"Lord, for your own sake, it's two in the morning, I had a very intense dinner and I'm doing drash tomorrow, and…"
Time is relative… Oh me, I'm trivial. You know why I don't talk to him?
Sassy rabbi. I admire it. He sees me everywhere, but you, my bookish rabbi, need direct contact. He's more of a poet, you're more of a scholar.
"I don't think I see it as a compliment, but thank you."
You've been complimented enough, rabbi Ezra. I'm here to torment you and I have so much fun doing it.
That I am and thus I've always been.
Joseph, you're staring, and I love it. He's so serene and brilliant, so wickedly flirtatious. Isn't he perfect.
"Lord? What the what are you doing in my head?"
I reside here for the moment. I've spent the night tormenting rabbi Ezra, and I thought it's fair that I should torment you as well.
"Don't torment him, please. He's young, he's passionate, and he loves me."
Many people love you, Joseph. I love you myself. I think it's more important that you love him, and oh boy, how you tried to avoid it…
"I want to talk about Hannukah and Purim," began rabbi Ezra, messy and obviously restless. "Both holidays celebrate rare occasions of the Jewish people rebelling and in case of Purim getting down to the level of the oppressors. Neither holiday is mentioned in the Torah, both holidays are exclusively ours, human. Both take place in winter, during the darkest time of the year, and we are trying to drive the darkness away, but there's too much of it, and out of it, I think, comes the dark nature of both festivals. We are not exactly ourselves on Purim (costumes) and we are not exactly ourselves on Hannukah (the oppressed for once rising and defeating those who try to shape them differently). Darkness defies and defines the lines, blurs our morality and puts it to the test. Will we forgive? Will we do unto our enemies what's been done to us? Will our victories last? Will the Almighty support us? We are continually told that of course, the Almighty's support is a given, what we do is approved of in advance by the highest authority. Is that so? Our ultimate weapon is free will. We won't let someone shape us according to their standards, but apparently we will have no problem doing the same to them. We are proud. We are questioning. We require conversations. Last night I had a few wonderful conversations with my friends, and our talking, our arguing was the true light that kept the night, the darkness at bay. We didn't let it define us or decide for us. We didn't let it put us to slumber before everything we wanted to share with each other was shared, and this is what I want to wish to all of you the first day of Hannukah. Let us talk to each other every night, around the fires, around the candles our before our sleep. Let us question the darkness the way it questions us just by being unclear. We can be equally unclear ourselves. We can share the fruit of our knowledge and sufganiot and the warmth. We can stay human, bright, caring and most of all kind."
Chapter 5: Dvarim
cw: autism is discussed; there is a Talmudic dispute about sex (it's the last part of the chapter)
Huge thanks to natalunasans for her invaluable help with information about autistics.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"It's freezing," admitted rabbi Ezra from his end of the old sofa rabbi Joseph used as his terrace furniture.
"How very observant," complimented rabbi Joseph from under his blanket. In all honesty, Ezra had a blanket of his own, but it just wasn't doing it for him.
"I'm going to make a move," announced rabbi Ezra.
"What move?" Rabbi Joseph asked scared. The next moment rabbi Ezra moved across the sofa, snuggled next to rabbi Joseph rearranging their blankets in the process, and there they were, warm and comfortable. Joseph softly laughed into Ezra's hair.
"Quite a move, rabbi Ezra."
"I know, so presumptuous of me, dear boy, but if you decided to stargaze in this weather, the consequences were inevitable."
"I'm quite satisfied with the consequences."
"Then roll the canopy, or I'll lick you and you'll have a frostbite," threatened Ezra. Joseph burst out laughing and fished for the remote somewhere between Ezra and himself.
"Well, guess who's sitting on the remote!"
"Well, guess who's put the remote where I wanted to sit."
"I adore you." Joseph pushed the button and the canopy rolled up with a soft swooshing sound revealing the star-spangled, dark sky. "I really liked your drasha, Ezra."
"You told me so. Ten times. Thank you." Ezra snuggled closer to Joseph. The older rabbi was looking up, dreamy smile and relaxed limbs. Ezra gingerly turned his head to steal a glance at Joseph.
"You are rabbi-gazing, Ezra."
"Stars are always there, they'll barely change during my lifetime, you, on the other hand…"
Joseph sharply turned his head too. "So sorry, my dear boy."
"Don't apologise, Ezra. Nothing to apologise for. May I rabbi-gaze too?"
"As long as we are both awake."
Joseph chuckled, his right index finger slid down Ezra's face and tilted his head yet higher.
"You can't look at me like that, Joseph. You shouldn't look like that at anyone else either."
"Whatever should I do with you, rabbi Ezra?"
"Tell me something? About stars for example?"
"Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me."
Ezra chuckled into Joseph's shoulder.
"Are you crying down there, rabbi Ezra, light of my days?"
"I am," Ezra lifted his face back to Joseph. The older rabbi sighed and gently wiped Ezra's tears off of his face with his sleeve.
"I'm thinking of something… a move of my own, if you want," admitted Joseph. His face hovered so close to Ezra's, that the young rabbi felt his warm breath ghosting his skin, a ghost of a kiss on a haunted face.
"Listening," Ezra said swallowing.
"You look too smitten to listen carefully." Joseph observed.
"Shut up. And tell me. Do both. I don't know."
Ezra, child, you are doing beautifully. I'm interrupting though. Ah, nevermind, I'm going to go and catch a falling star.
"Since… it's so cold outside… how about we sleep together for… warmth. Also I have a hot water bag, it's tartan just like your kippah."
"I really don't know, Joseph. You are not tartan at all, and maybe I shouldn't… But seriously, I'd love that."
"Seriously you'd love what?"
"To sleep together."
"Ezra, my dearest rabbi, the only boundaries here are those you set. I'm your man whatever you need."
"Then let's go to bed."
They slept together all through Ezra's stay. They went for long walks together, and ate at home and in the kibbutz dining room together, and if Joseph was at work, then Ezra would sleep like a lovesick dragon until the time was to get up and go and meet Joseph. On Wednesday Ofek stopped Ezra by the kindergarten's door and said, "There will be a meeting next Thursday, about Adam. Us, Osnat, Yossi, some highly recommended child psychologist and… I would… It would be very helpful… we would appreciate it if you'd sit with us. You're a rabbi, and growing up, I didn't know rabbis like you or Yossi… or Yossi's parents. So, please? I know, I was rude and…"
"Of course," Ezra interrupted her with a smile. "I'd love to be of assistance, and I completely understand why you were rude… Please, don't be rude again."
"Oh, I won't. Thank you." She opened the door and let Ezra enter first.
"You agreed to do what?" A raw egg splashed landing on the immaculate floor of Joseph's kitchen.
"Dear boy, there's no need to lose your… eggs."
"These are not mine, you asked for shakshuka. Ezra, you have work…"
"Yes, thank you. Also, I'm a rabbi, and someone asked for my help. Are you jealous?"
"Jealo..? What? Why would I be jealous? I can't be their teacher and their rabbi, despite the fact that it's literally the same, and I'm glad she asked for help. You were going to leave on Monday…"
"And I won't leave for another week. I said I have a… personal emergency."
"What have you done to rabbi Ezra who didn't want to interact with people?"
"I must have dropped him somewhere… No! I gave him away!"
Joseph was doing his best to retrieve the egg. Excited and over-excited as he was, he wasn't doing a very efficient job, and Ezra enjoyed the sight immensely.
Are you going to help him?
"No, Lord, he's glorious like this."
Rabbi Ezra, you are sassier than the platonic ideal of sass, but get off your tukhes this minute and help my sweet Joseph with the blasted egg.
"I might have a better idea."
And when did it end well? Actually it always ended well, go on… oh boy, I love your idea!
"Don't you dare look into my dirty mind, Lord."
Rabbi Ezra, I love you. May your days be long and sassy. Go on.
Ezra stood up, walked to where Joseph was fussing over the sticky floor and kneeled in front of him.
"Ezra, for fuck's sake, get up immediately, your trousers…"
"Shut up, get up and look at me, rabbi Joseph."
Rabbi Joseph indeed shut up, got up and looked at Ezra.
"I don't like looking down on you."
"Suit yourself. Listen, rabbi Joseph. You love me and I love you, and I don't think I will be able to leave you, not even for a few days. Shabbat is the queen of time, but Shabbat is also timeless, and I want time with you. I want to come home to you, I want to share your life… Stop sniffing, cry all you like, but look at me."
"Alright," Joseph bit his lip. "What if you don't like how I taste?"
Ezra rolled his eyes, yanked Joseph down by his TARDIS apron and gave him a quick open-mouthed kiss.
"I love how you taste, and you haven't brushed your teeth today and smoked too much." Ezra let go of him, and Joseph straightened up again.
"You helped," Joseph said.
"I did. Do you like how I taste?"
Joseph nodded with passion.
"Good. Where was I? Right, we love each other. I'm sorry to waste your protection but I will resign as soon as I can. You do your research and write and read here just as well as I do there. I want you. It might take some time for me to adjust and find myself a place here, but it's worth it if you are the end of my day and its beginning, if you are the evening and you are the morning…" Ezra took a small ring off his pinky finger and handed it to Joseph. "I bought it in Oxford when I was there on a school trip. Someday I'll get you a proper one, but this has been with me for years travelling all over my fingers… What say you?"
"You didn't actually say anything…"
"I've said a lot, my naughty boy. Time for you to say something."
"I love you, and want you to be happy. Will you marry me?"
"I'm proposing here, rabbi Joseph, don't steal my glory."
"Alright. Fine. I do. I mean I will. I mean whatever. Care to get up now?" Joseph sniffed particularly noisily and helped Ezra to his feet. "Never, and I mean, never ever get on your knees in front of me, do you understand?" He looked terrifying, hair aflame and his dead left eye black and empty. He kissed Ezra on the lips, on the forehead and on the lips again.
"You scare me, dear boy… Why would I not kneel in front of you?"
"I don't deserve it. Nobody does. This is the second time you've kneeled in front of me, and you'll never do it again."
"I won't… what, not even..?"
"Not even," replied Joseph blushing. "Now, go, read your Heschel and wait for your dinner and let me go all flustered Jewish mom."
"Then do it properly, Jewish way, my lover boy," insisted Ezra.
Joseph shut his eyes, breathed in deeply and took his apron off. He held up the ring Ezra had given him and said, gently and quietly, "Behold, thou art betrothed unto me, with this ring, in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel."
Ezra realised he was crying, grinning and shaking.
No, none of that. Take the ring and put it on his finger.
"That's not how it's done, Lord."
Are you even mildly impressed that I'm present at your betrothal?
"No, I'm impressed by my betrothed."
You should be. Anyway. Do as I say for once.
Hear me, Lord, you reside in him and in him You revealed Yourself to me in your full glory. Thank you.
Oh, it's nothing, Joseph, sweetling, you deserve the world. I'm so happy it might rain.
It did rain, so bnei mitzvah who were supposed to light the candles on the giant hannukiah in front of the dining room, didn't do a thing for an hour while the grown-ups pulled the blessed thing inside. They called rabbi Joseph for moral support, but moral support wasn't something he was remotely good at, so he ended up helping, and then everyone was wet and cold and the kids were having the time of their life outside…
"Dear boy, I think you need a bath." Rabbi Ezra remarked trying to peel the clothes off of rabbi Joseph. "I also hoped to undress you in more pleasant circumstances."
"It's very pleasant for me, I assure you. I don't have a bath."
"I've noticed. Now it's my turn to be fully flustered."
"Suits you, rabbi. Hey…"
"Look at me."
Ezra happily looked at his dirty mess of a husband-to-be.
"I love you, and I haven't told you that for a few hours. I love you."
"Love you too, rabbi Joseph. We still haven't talked to our families."
"Ah, it can wait."
"They are going to be furious. Your moms will marry us, right?"
"One of them will. Then we'll go to England to get married by the state, then we'll get back here and have this state recognise it."
"Sounds about right. Get in the shower."
"What, am I naked?!" Joseph looked at himself and discovered that he indeed was naked.
"Oh, good Lord, Joseph, get in the shower, I'm a rabbi, not a saint!"
"Get in the shower with me then!"
"But we haven't talked to our families!" Pouted Ezra.
"What, you need their permission to have a shower with me?"
"I had a more… sophisticated plan, darling boy…"
"Oh, Ezra, what are you doing to me!"
Rabbi Ezra had enough and just pushed rabbi Joseph into the shower.
"I'm not showering with you, you forbade me to get on my knees."
"Rabbi, you are better than that…"
Ezra turned the water on, and Joseph yelled - the water was freezing.
"Who said I'm better than that?" Ezra smirked.
"You are wicked, rabbi," Joseph spat adjusting the water and getting bluer by the moment.
"Darling, you are blue, literally." Ezra made quick work of his clothes and joined Joseph, held him close, blissful and happy and somehow not cold at all.
"Osnat, so how exactly did you manage to get Dr Device to come?" Joseph asked walking with Osnat to her office.
"Yossi, I have connections."
"No, be honest."
They entered the room, where Ezra was waiting with Ofek and her husband, who to Ezra's shameless delight turned out to be Ofek too.
"Yossi, I'm not sharing this information with you!"
"What's wrong?" Asked mother Ofek worriedly.
"Nothing at all! Yossi wants to know how I got Dr Device to come on such a short notice…"
"I wondered too," said father Ofek. Everyone looked at him in surprise - nobody had heard him speak during the previous meetings.
"Alright, if you must know, she is the daughter of my classmate!" Osnat sank into her chair, Joseph perched himself on the table, so that his knee was mischievously close to Ezra's shoulder.
Dr Device flew into the office in the cloud of colourful skirts, messy black hair and armed with huge glasses she hastily put on her face.
"Right!" She stood in the middle of the room, two rabbis amused, Osnat happy to see her and both Ofeks awed. "Here's the plan!" Dr Device announced.
"This is Ofek and Ofek," introduced Ezra politely and gleefully. "I'm Ezra, and it's nice to meet you."
"Manners, got it." Dr Device nodded. "Manners won't get us anywhere, and I have a lot of wheres to be."
"Spectacular. Care to sit?" Ezra stood up and pushed his chair to Dr Device.
"Manners," diagnosed Dr Device with some distaste. Ezra stood next to Joseph.
"So," continued Dr Device without further ado, "I've seen the boy in question today, and I saw his file, and thank you for sharing it with me," she smiled at both Ofeks reassuringly. "What I recommend is the following…"
"She's very good," whispered Ezra to Joseph.
"... following. Adam has a very good connection with Yossi, which is great and needs to be used."
"He has no connection," said mother Ofek. "He doesn't speak… he's… he's unreal sometimes." Her husband took her hand.
"He's real. That's who he is and how he is. There's no "real" Adam underneath. This is your Adam. In his mind he's totally hanging out with Yossi when they sit together, and Yossi, my compliments, you don't force him to speak."
"Ehm… goes without saying, no?" Mumbled Yossi and began playing with Ezra's cufflink. Ezra slapped his hand away.
"No. You let him be. Now, he needs several things. First, he needs to play with other kids, and I remind you, that if he sits there when the others play, he's playing with them. Yossi, you bring him to a group of kids and sit there together. Slowly you might move your skinny rear and move away, bit by bit… You!" Dr Device turned to the parents again and they jumped in their seats. "You mimic him at home all the time… Yossi has been doing it instinctively, but it's the right thing to do. Communication doesn't have to be verbal."
"Yossi kept telling us it has," said father Ofek somewhat bitterly.
"You've been through a lot, and you were not ready to share it with anyone. Yossi didn't know it though, and lack of speech is the most obvious sign of many things that I refuse to call either problems or disorders, but may indicate a physiological issue that could potentially be dangerous." Dr Device somehow managed to be both comforting and strict. Ezra liked her more and more. "But he doesn't have any physiological issues, he's healthy. Moving along, is Adam interested in iPads and suchlike?"
"No, he prefers flowers, animals, walks," answered mother Ofek and Yossi in unison and smiled proudly at each other. Osnat smiled proudly at everyone and Ezra allowed Joseph to play with his cufflink.
"Alright. So… let him be. Let him do his thing. Our job is to teach him to…"
"Fit in?" Suggested father Ofek. The general consensus on the room appeared to be that he needed to remain silent.
"Look, this is important," said Dr Device a bit threateningly. "Adam will not change. He will grow and develop, but his communication skills may improve, or may not. He is what he is."
"And it's good enough for the Almighty," supplied Ezra.
"Precisely! I like you," replied Dr Device.
"How come?" Father Ofek risked opening his mouth.
"This is how the Almighty introduces Herself to Moses," explained Ezra.
"Not exactly, but closely," said Joseph.
"Two rabbis… wonderful. And I'm an atheist," said Osnat dreamily.
"I'm sure so is the Almighty," Joseph shrugged. "Doubt is the essence of divinity. Sorry, wrong place."
Ezra slapped Joseph's hand away from his cufflink again.
"Yes. Quite…" Dr Device frowned. "So… this is what I recommend. I pulled a few strings in the centre for children development in Eilat, and Adam can start visiting a specialist there, and trust me, Dr Pulsifer is a treasure." She blushed. "Also, he's my husband, full disclosure, but he's the nearest string to pull."
"I think, if I may add," said Ezra, "that we might need your assistance with arranging for some help for the parents."
"Like you a lot! Congrats on your engagement." Dr Device made a vague gesture of victory.
"What, you're not married?" Asked father Ofek.
"They are idiots," clarified Osnat. "How do you know though?"
"They glow," replied Dr Device as if it had been evident, and in a way it was. "I will look into it, and I'm sure Yossi as a regional rabbi…"
"I'm their rabbi," interrupted Ezra. "I am. I will see what I can do."
"Then you didn't have to ask."
"I needed your approval."
"And I like you all the more for it! That's it. Dr Pulsifer will give you a call. Good luck. Adam is a sweetheart, and he's a happy child. The fact that he doesn't look conventionally happy… Well, conventional things suck."
"But… it's not… entirely normal, isn't it?" Asked mother Ofek.
"Normal is an illusion. For some, a female rabbi is abnormal, or two idiotic gay rabbis or me, a woman, being a psychologist. We are all mad in here, Ofek, each in their own way, the only important thing is that we work together and do no harm. Right. Gotta go."
Neither Ezra, nor Joseph could sleep that night, so they talked.
"You think they will learn to accept him?" Ezra asked.
"I think they will try. I think you will help them a lot. Oh, my rabbi, you were irresistible."
"Keep talking, darling boy."
"And you won't stop my mouth?"
"I have an unrelated question though."
"Apparently not. Yes, rabbi Ezra."
"If I am to pleasure you orally, I have to get on my knees even in bed. How would you solve this problem?"
"Not necessarily. You may lie down between…"
"Yes, between those limbs you call legs, but it might be more comfortable for me, especially in this weather, to be on my knees…"
"That's not on your knees, that's on your elbows and knees. I accept it."
"But it's still kneeling in front of you. Oral sex is tricky in more ways than one, but I've never considered the Talmudic aspect of it. I mean I have never been so opposed to kneeling… Joseph, you are blushing so hard, I can hear it."
"Keep going, rabbi, keep going."
"You take my kneeling as a sign of worship, and kneeling can be many other things."
"Yes, but in many other things there's no partner…"
"Wrong! What if we play twister?"
"Hm… Interesting. Alright, I'll clarify. No partner who's delirious with pleasure from your ministrations, rabbi Ezra."
"Applies to twister, rabbi Joseph. Applies to cleaning the floor together."
"Rabbi Ezra, first, I insist we play twister, second, I think I'm delirious with pleasure from all we do together and I don't want to…"
"Rabbi Joseph, you are in a theological corner. Give up, give in."
"Never, rabbi Ezra! Besides, if I am to pleasure you orally, I am ready to do it without kneeling, by stretching myself along your infinitely beautiful and always warm body, which in turn implies that we might pleasure each other orally simultaneously, to our mutual benefit."
"Fine, rabbi Joseph. What about rimming then?"
"What about it?"
"Can you perform rimming…"
"I most certainly can!"
"I wasn't doubting it. I was asking whether you are ready to ensure you never kneel while rimming? Joseph, really, you are a grown up man, stop blushing."
"You know what, I'm going to try and fall asleep. Good night, rabbi Ezra. I love you to pieces."
"You'll have to kneel to gather the pieces though, my darling boy."
Poem is by W.H. Auden
Chapter 6: Covenant
Fair warning: there's non-explicit smut, and if you want to skip it, go straight to the first asterisks
Each one's head between the other's legs, kissing, sucking, latching on the other's pleasure, to the climax and then to oversensitivity, too much and never enough, right into more pleasure. What a handsome beast, two backs, two mouths, two spines, ready to withstand anything, together, but not a second of separation.
Ezra came up for breath first, Joseph followed him, as they crawled to each other, clumsy and greedy and in love. Lips, teeth, tongues, saliva, blood, seed, anything to give, anything to take.
"Open me," whispered rabbi Joseph.
"Of course, my lovely boy."
Blasphemous, obscene, sacred, happy, holy, enough oil for a lifetime, hidden, smitten, blessed, in love, so much love that no flood could wash it away, and there he was, rabbi Joseph, and there he was, rabbi Ezra, an ouroboros, a complex organism built of colonies of single cell organisms, then two multicellular organisms joined together, from an atom to a galaxy, from North to South, from Egypt to Jerusalem, just the two of them, kissing, sucking, latching onto one another.
Wistful whisper at dawn, cold lips, cold tears, no sign of warmth and tenderness, and the worst was that I wanted to spare us both that torture, as I regret nothing about that torture, about tasting you and pushing inside you, enveloping you and being enveloped by you… each one, the other's primary law of creation, each one governed by the other.
"It's only a few days, rabbi Joseph."
"You've squeezed decades of happy partnership into our week together, rabbi Ezra. I'm afraid I'll find myself squeezing a lonely eternity into a few days without you."
"Then focus on this, on us, our coupling, our love, our joining. Focus on us touching, focus on us spending a happy eternity between each other's thighs. Focus on our happiness, rabbi Joseph."
"This is exactly what we tried to avoid, rabbi Ezra, isn't it?" Joseph asked rubbing his sleepy eyes.
"It is, my lovely boy. But I will come back to you so many more times over, and I'll come back to you much more often than I'll leave you. Are you smoking?"
"No. Too cold outside, rabbi Ezra, and you are not there to sit with me."
"Darling, I swear, as soon as I can leave without letting everyone down, I will leave, I will stay with you."
"What are you doing, rabbi Ezra?"
"I'm in bed, thinking of you, missing you, looking forward to seeing you again. How is Adam?"
"Oh, you won't believe it! So, he broke the fly killing machine by throwing Lego pieces in it."
"Wicked!" Approved rabbi Ezra.
"Precisely! And then I asked him about it. He looked away and… smiled. Uri, the chief troublemaker of the class, was the mastermind behind the whole affair. I questioned him as well. He… oh my, this is glorious! He said he told Adam, "Hey, you are reliable, because you won't tell anyone." Adam replied him, "Of course I won't, I don't speak." I'm so proud of them both!"
"You should be proud of yourself as well, rabbi Joseph."
"I don't think so. I've done nothing. Uri is a bloody magician! All kids are, but this one… he's really, practically magical. I punished him all the same, he won't play with Lego till next week."
"Rabbi Joseph, am I a magician that I got you to finally date someone?"
"You are definitely magical, rabbi Ezra, my unicorn. But we are not dating, we are to be married."
"And Uri is not a magician. He's a properly mischievous child, and he did well…"
"He's a magician in the sense that his innocence, his innocent mischief helped Adam. I guess."
"I see what you mean, darling. As their rabbi, I feel obliged to advise caution."
"My sanctimonious rabbi, I told Uri that it's wrong to rely on someone because normally they don't speak. That Adam deserves his trust because he's a good boy, a good friend and not because he doesn't talk like everyone else does. That they should have broken the blessed thing together, because it's funnier that way, and because both of them would be punished… Next thing I know, Adam is sneaking Uri Lego!"
"Without a word?"
"Without a word. Uri told me, very seriously, once discovered, that Adam is a good friend who doesn't run telling on his friends immediately. Apparently our chief troublemaker really appreciates quiet understanding."
"How very wise of him."
"It is. They've been playing a lot together lately. Adam is showing him every little bug he finds. Uri is terribly afraid of bugs, and he runs away from Adam and Adam chases after him, oblivious to Uri's fear, but in the end Uri gets to know the bug and Adam looks magnanimous."
"I talked with that kibbutz. They are alright with a Masorti rabbi if I… adjust myself a little bit, and I have no trouble with it. So, I'm a regional rabbi too. I have a job."
"I love you, Ezra. I love you so, so, so much."
"And I you. Do you still remember me, dear boy? My taste, my touch?"
"Had to shower and brush my teeth. Sorry."
"I'll have to remind you, then, right?"
"Yes, I'm in need of a thorough revision."
"I'll provide it for you, my dear, I will."
"So, Lord, everything you hoped for?"
Ezra, I don't hope. I set things up and watch, and even this I do sporadically. I just love you both so much… Alright, I loved your Joseph so much, and then you came. I wanted two of my favourite children to be together, but I could never ensure it. The thing with the absolute power is that you can't violate your own rules, otherwise everything collapses. He chose you immediately, and you took some time, but that's why I love you two. I have a question for you.
"You? A question? For me?"
Yes, yes, do keep up, will you?
"You know my answer anyway, what's the point?"
Rabbi Ezra, you are definitely underestimating the fact that the Almighty is talking to you, do you know that?
"I rather think that that's the reason you are talking to me."
Sassy clever rabbi!
"But I still want to know why you're asking me questions."
Well, dear rabbi, how many times have you heard Beethoven's Ninth? Or you prefer the Seventh? Doesn't matter. How many times have you heard Beethoven's Symphonies? Rather more than nine, right? So, my question is what am I writing about?
"It sounds like a test, and I'm sure this is the one where I fail."
You can't fail, rabbi Ezra, the light of my Joseph's days. Answer.
"You are writing mostly about love, I guess, yet it's not the content, the pulp of things, although it should be… it's more like a symphony, indeed, so it's blood and betrayal and cowardice and excuses and so much cruelty, but always in a certain key, and the key is love."
Young, happy, lucky rabbi Ezra. How I wish everyone thought like you! This is why Joseph chose you for himself.
"Good Lord, is this just a way to talk about Rabbi Joseph?"
It sure is. Objections?
"None whatsoever. Talk to me about him, I miss him so."
See, in the world where I'd control everyone every step of the way, that would be the problem, the one from Shakespeare's funny ones, the one that can be easily solved from above. Do me a favour, rabbi Ezra, live according to Shakespeare's funny ones.
"Joseph will make sure of this, my Lord."
Oh he will, but he would have even if it had seemed entirely impossible, that's my Joseph.
"Indeed… Hey, Lord?"
Yes, rabbi Ezra?
"Could you… could you tell him how much I love him? Human speech is good and all, but I would like him to know that I love him and for him to hear it from you."
Rabbi Ezra, Joseph would never cherish a love confession from me the way he cherishes the one coming from you.
"But… surely he'd like a…"
No, rabbi Ezra, you require a divine blessing, maybe even an intervention, but my rabbi Joseph, he rejoices in his free will, and rejoices in yours as well, yet he knows he has to thank you for your choice and me, for giving you one.
"But you'll talk to him, right?"
Rabbi Ezra, I absolutely adore you for your chutzpah!
Sleeping, rabbi Joseph?
Yes, that's me. Calm down. Your betrothed asked me to tell you he loves you, and I told him I wouldn't but then I took a chance to outsass him.
Now, watch your language, rabbi Joseph. I might curse myself every now and then but my children shouldn't.
"He loves me?"
Stop melting. Yes, he does… I really shouldn't have listened to myself.
"This is a very interesting theological dispute."
Why, thank you, Joseph. I'm rather good at theology.
"Wouldn't have thought so."
You sassy rabbis… I do sound very affectionate, don't I? Wait a minute. SASSY RABBIS! You don't look scared… and that melting face of yours suggests you are an awful sap.
"Almighty, if you decided to… double-cross yourself for the sake of my beloved's sass, then you are a rather sappy entity yourself."
Joseph, I created puppies and kittens, sloths and dodo, which I can't forgive you by the way. Of course I'm sappy. Divinely so.
"My heart rejoices in it, my Lord. If it be your will, may I return to sleep?"
What, instead of talking to me?
"Lord, I have a very intense day tomorrow. A picnic, a trip to the desert with the kids, pining, missing Ezra, calling Ezra…"
Right, stop there. Don't skip your shacharit. Again. I do like your prayers, Joseph, my dear child.
"I love giving them to you, Lord."
Just one thing… I asked rabbi Ezra what I am writing about.
"He must have said love."
He did. I made you two perfect for each other. What do you think?
"Judging by sloths, dodos and quantum physics, mischief."
You know, rabbi Joseph, I love your answer.
"Thank you. Love you."
Oh my sweet boy, my darling child, I love you too. Now, I want you to think about that theological paradox… Good night, Joseph.
Rabbi Joseph didn't sleep a wink and had to cancel the picnic and fell asleep in the middle of the desert, so that Bea had to kick him to spare him any embarrassment.
"That was naughty, my Lord."
Said rabbi Joseph in the name of the picnic. You did say that my key was mischief. I hate to prove you wrong, dear child.
"So, Ezra told you it was love and you let him sleep?"
"I'm an awe."
That's the whole point, Joseph. But I sent him some pretty mischievous dreams about you. Haven't done that for a few millennia. Getting a bit rusty there. Did he tell you his dreams?
"He did. I didn't blush. I was in the dining room."
Such restrain, Joseph, is to be admired from afar, from behind and kneeling… Stop choking. I made those bodies for joy.
"Yes, I know. Just… should I be terrified that you are talking to me about sex and not about you know… theology?"
You are good at theology, almost as good as I am, my sweet rabbi. I love seeing you all… flustered. Theology never gets you flustered.
"Did you talk to Ezra about sex?"
That's between me and Ezra. Have a good sleep, good rabbi.
"Good morning, my lovely boy."
"Good morning, rabbi Ezra. How did you sleep?"
"I had a very peculiar dream, my dear. Do you have enough time for me to tell it to you?"
"Sure. I'll skip shaving."
"Oh, I'd love it if you grew a beard. You'll be so much more rabbinical, my darling boy."
"The dream, Ezra."
"No, I'm dreaming of your beard now."
"It's going to give you an itch… everywhere."
"So I guess I'll need to come back when it grows soft… my love, I can't wait to come back to you, I'm sorry for my stupid flirting. I miss you, give me as many itches as you see fit."
"Angel, don't do this to me again, alright? Because… because, my lovely boy, who in thy power Dost hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle, hour… Because, I'm old without you, rabbi Ezra, and time is eating me up, and… there's nothing romantic, or sweet or gentle about the way I miss you. I want your time, our time, and if you in your youth and splendour find it worth teasing, then… then do it here, do it with me in your arms."
"I'm sorry, darling. It won't happen again, I swear. I miss you too, my sweet love."
"Tell me about your dream."
"Oh, right, so…"
As it often happens in dreams, he wasn't in Jerusalem as he knew her, but was sure it was Jerusalem. He was walking aimlessly, or at least so he thought at first, but the streets grew darker, and his feet, wearier. He had a vague memory of a purpose, of the need to reach someone, something, but each time he thought he recognised the place, it changed almost imperceptibly, and so he found himself again at the crossroads, alone, lost and impossibly late. Then he ascended, over the roofs and streets, until he could see the city from high above, only it wasn't Jerusalem anymore, but Joseph, his lost, tired, sleepy face, eyes unmoving, mouth half-open, yearning, calling, starved and lonely. Ezra whimpered and let himself fall back, yet once he was down again, he couldn't see Joseph, only the sense of purpose grew stronger and with it the feeling that he was lost within the place and the person he loved the most. The streets became narrower and Ezra could barely breathe with yearning. He shut his eyes, tried to wake up. When he opened them he was standing in the desert, in a valley where he and Joseph walked hand in hand. He felt rather than heard a swift movement of the wind. There was a promise in it, something both uplifting and sad. It whispered in Joseph's voice, right into Ezra's face, "Wherever you are, I'll come to you."