For the past five years, since joining Friday Fictioneers, I’ve written or posted a flash fiction at least once a week. My favorite genre is historical fiction, but that hasn’t stopped me from writing humorous anecdotes, realistic fiction or just plain nonsense. But any and all who know me very well will tell you that Jewish themes are my favorites. Nu? Why shouldn’t they be? I am after all, a Jew. All four of my grandparents came from Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms in the Pale of Settlement or the Russian draft.
Last month I met Eve Brackenbury, a gifted poet who co-owns Inklings’ Books & Coffee Shoppe in Blue Springs, Missouri, on Facebook. Social Media is my friend.
Not only did I make a new friend that day, I also made a valuable connection on many fronts. Our first conversation dealt with the challenges of marketing. As we chatted in an IM she said, “You write Jewish Historical Fiction. Are you Jewish?” Is the Pope Catholic?
Eve told me about the CloudBursT Jewish Poetry event and gave me Martha Gershun’s email address. Although I don’t write what I would call poetry, I thought perhaps Martha might be able to point me in the right direction as far as reaching a Jewish audience. I inserted one of my Jewish themed flash fictions in my email to her and, not five minutes later, the return email came with, “That’s really powerful. Would you like to come and read?”
I must’ve changed my mind twelve times as to which stories I would read. Finally, the day came, Sunday, May 21, and I’d narrowed it down to four of my favorites. The lobby of Congregation Beth Torah teemed with poets and their guests. We were warmly welcomed with food, wine and friendly conversation.
So much Yiddishkeit. I felt like I’d come home. I particularly enjoyed Ellen Portnoy’s piece “The Nuances of Nu.”
Out of 19 who read, I was third to the last, just before Eve. The ones I read are as follows:
THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT
In preparation for his bar mitzvah, twelve-year-old Harvey Weinstein opened the book to his parashah. His stomach rumbled. “I’m hungry.”
“Sh’mot beginning with Chapter 16,” said Rabbi Shmuel. “First in English, then Hebrew.”
Harvey fumed. “I’m tired of Torah. I’d rather play Xbox.”
“This is the perfect reading for you.” The rabbi winked and pointed to the page. “The children of Israel kvetched day and night in the wilderness. ‘Oy, Moses, we’re wet. We’re cold. We’re starving to death.’ Nu? Is there something we can learn from them?”
“Yeah.” Folding his arms across his chest, Harvey smirked. “Jews don’t camp.”
“‘And they lived happily ever after.’” Leah shut the storybook.
Shifra’s raisin-brown eyes, round as bottle caps, sparkled. “Bubbie? Did you love Grandpa at first sight?”
“He was only eight when we met. Mama took him in…hid him from the khappers, bad men who snatched little Jewish boys from their homes and made them serve twenty-five years in the Czar’s army.”
“Did she hide him in the closet?”
“No she was smart, my Mama.”
“He was like your brother, right?”
Leah pointed to a tintype on the table of two little bonneted girls and grinned. “More like my sister.”
THE HEAVIEST WHEEL ROLLS ACROSS OUR FOREHEADS
When I was a little girl in the 1950’s, Mom used to take me to visit my aunt in St. Louis. I so looked forward to those train rides. Sunlight dazzled through the trees as they whizzed by and the rhythm of the wheels along the track soothed me.
Dad, on the other hand, hated trains, but would never tell me why. Only once did he accompany us.
As we left Union Station, tears trickled from the corners of his faraway eyes.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?”
“The stench was unbearable. Fifty of us crammed into a cattle car. I alone escaped.”
HATH NOT A JEW EYES?
Do you know the word “Jew” is a common insult among Norwegian teens? Should this bother me? After all, I am a Norwegian Jew.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
Reptilian? I’ve been called this. Do people seriously believe this mishegoss—that Jews are lizard creatures from another planet?
“If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”
I will never forget holding my father’s hand as we strolled along a mountain path. Two youths shoved him and shouted, “Child murderer!”
The memory of warm spittle dripping down my face sickens me still.
“If you wrong us, do we not revenge?”
Not in Norway. Instead, we hide in plain sight.
Last summer a group of Hasidim invited us to a Jewish gathering in Oslo. We cranked up the music and danced in front of Parliament.
I’ve heard that work makes us free, but we’re not falling for that again.