How do we write again after Friday’s events? I have cut myself from reading any sort of coverage except for the stories of the people lost. I always have it in me to hear about a life; what I don’t have in me is to listen to people pontificate on why someone else takes lives. I have been focused on taking Dyke in the Heart of Texas’s challenge to remember one of the people lost. I’ve also chosen Noah Pozner because he was a twin. Because he looks like the sort of boy my twins would have played with. Because both of our families are Jewish. Because I’ve been thinking about his surviving twin sister.
I’ve been trying not to think about the event itself, looking at the coverage out of the corner of my eye. Do you know that is a preemie survival technique? Their brains become so overwhelmed from stimulation that they cope by looking at things out of the corner of their eye instead of head-on. So I am looking at the events at Sandy Hook out of the corner of my eye, trying to distract myself.
Sunday was the last scheduled day that our bakery was producing sufganiyot (little filled donuts served on Chanukkah), but they mentioned on Facebook that they were considering extending the baking run. I jumped into that immediately, writing them that they needed to keep baking. To give myself something to say that is not connected in any way with children dying. Just flour and yeast and sugar and raspberry filling.
A small good thing, as Raymond Carver would say.
I need to think for a few minutes about something other than Sandy Hook because every time I allow it to get to the forefront of my mind, I feel like I’m drowning.
Last Tuesday after school, I picked up the kids and we went to the Israeli bakery a few towns away to buy sufganiyot as a Chanukkah treat. Shula, the owner, was working the cash register, and we ordered two sufganiyah — a chocolate one and a raspberry one (the Wolvog does not eat sufganiyah, deeming them a “white food” even though they are brown) and then stood back to wait for them to come out from the back kitchen, still warm.
A man stepped up behind us and started to speak to the owner in Hebrish, moving back and forth between Hebrew and English every few sentences. When we walked out of the store, the ChickieNob grabbed my sleeve and whispered, “they were speaking Hebrew.”
It wasn’t that she meant the obvious — that Hebrew was being spoken — but more the underlying message: we’re near home, it’s a language she only hears in the house or Hebrew school, and here she was out-and-about in what looked like an everyday store and finding that otherness amid the ordinary people around her. It’s an otherness that I think Jews feel even more acutely this time of year, when the surrounding world is very vocally and visibly telling you they’re Christian through their greetings (which always assumes that we’re Christian too or that we’d be happy to celebrate their holiday) and decorations.
I feel the same way when we’re in that area with the Israeli bakery, one of the many small Israeli or Jewish pockets around the city. The neighbourhood is overwhelmingly Jewish, and it contains several Jewish private schools, kosher restaurants, and Jewish stores. I enjoy being there very much. There is an ease to being there, a comfort to being there. I don’t have to reframe questions so they’re understandable to a non-Jewish population. I can ask my question in Hebrew, if I wish. If the schools in that area were better, we’d consider living there.
When we were in London, we went to 7 or 8 churches. We thought going to England would be this easy introduction to inter-country travel since we wouldn’t have a language barrier. We thought anything out of the norm would be taken on face value as something that is “British” and is therefore interesting because it is different. Isn’t that why we travel; to experience a place that is unlike our own? Most of the time, the experience transcends meaning.
But we discovered that with 8-year-olds, churches don’t transcend meaning. One church is fine, but many churches one after the other aren’t enjoyable if you don’t know what you’re looking at. I sat down on the floor of Westminster Abbey, giving them a half hour version of the Gospels while they looked at the depiction of the Last Supper. Eyes glazed over. It got us through a few more churches, but I can’t say they really enjoyed any of them. Let me put it this way: if I had to listen to someone speak Japanese for a few minutes, it would be cool. But if I had to sit in a four hour meeting where everyone around me was speaking Japanese (with a tiny break here and there to point out something in English that I didn’t find particularly interesting), I would be daydreaming by the 10 minute mark.
Because that was what it was like for the twins. Walking through a church for four hours as a Jewish kid was like listening to Japanese, with your parents bending down every once in a while to explain something in English — that wasn’t that interesting in their opinion — only to have the conversation return to Japanese.
On the last full day in London, we went to Bevis Marks, the oldest shul in the UK. We got there too early so we had to wait in the cold while they finished up morning prayers inside. We considered skipping it, but the kids wanted to wait. We went inside and you could visibly see the ChickieNob’s body relax. She was finally in a space where everything was just different enough to be interesting, but not so different that she couldn’t understand it. We spent a long time just sitting in there and then exploring every nook and cranny.
Bevis Marks looks nothing like our shul at home; and not just due to age and the history that comes with age. Our shul at home is completely different — egalitarian (and with that comes all the ways egalitarianism changes a space). But with a few questions, they could bridge what they knew from home with what they were seeing now. They were so enormously happy to be in Bevis Marks, to be able to lead their own exploration vs. having it handed and explained to them by someone else. They could just be themselves.
Josh and I have chosen to raise our kids in mainstream America and all that comes with being part of mainstream America, which means that there is usually an otherness carried into all moments outside of the home. But being in the bakery was like being in Bevis Marks, finding home in a place where one did not expect to find home.
And it’s a tiny bit of comfort. Also a small good thing.