CLEANING THE SLATE – Part I

The rabbi’s words resonated with a situation my husband and I had been dealing with for the last three weeks. From the pulpit, the rabbi delivered his sermon to the congregation as we all sat ushering the Jewish New Year. As he recounted the story of Babel I couldn’t help but marvel at the connection between that story and what we were going through. The concept of splintering one language into many, thus causing unity between human beings to shatter into as many differences as eventually emerged from that event, seemed to illustrate our situation clearly and metaphorically. Let me explain:

On Labor Day weekend, we invited a couple over for dinner. We had been friends for over seven years. I had met Viviana (not her real name) through work, one day when she came to the store I own with my husband to purchase towels for the facility she worked for at the time. She immediately detected my accent and asked where I was from. She was thrilled to learn I was from Argentina. “I’m from Chile,” she said, excited. We shared jokes about our marital situation, and marveled at the coincidence of our similarities. Being both Hispanic women married to American men, we laughed at the cultural differences that make our marriages work—and sizzle— and then, before leaving, she childishly asked, “Would you like to be my friend?” I must confess as genuine as such invitation sounded, a shadow of apprehension crossed my mind. I debated for a split second before openly taking a sheet of paper and scribbling my phone number on it. We were in America.

A week later, we made plans to have dinner together, and we had a great time. Conversation flowed, and we found we had a lot in common. The third time we shared dinner, it was at their house, and she popped the question: “Where did you guys meet?” My husband and I exchanged looks, knowing our cover had just been challenged. We approached the inquiry the way one treads the slippery surface of a mud-covered swamp, murky, treacherous, dangerous. Having a flair for storytelling, I embellished my account of how I had spotted a handsome and athletic single young man across the dance floor of the synagogue’s singles dance one winter Saturday night, and how I had felt with unmistakable certainty that I had found my soulmate. “Synagogue?” she asked. We clarified that yes, in fact, we were Jewish. “More tea?” I heard her say as she got up from the table in search of boiling water. Was this an attempt to change the subject? Was it a celebratory gesture for having found Jewish friends? Was it a desperate attempt to buy time so she could process the shock and somehow package the information?

We didn’t get the answer right away. We forged a bond that would last seven years. We had dinner at each other’s homes, sharing recipes and the closeness that results when good friends get together. We celebrated birthdays, work promotions, and my writing achievements. We supported each other through tough times, and we strengthened a connection that superseded our differences in opinions and religious beliefs. Or so I thought.

Fast forward seven years, and we are at our home having dinner with them on Labor Day Weekend. As we sweetened our palates with key lime pie over a conversation about politics that became more heated with each bite, I sat in silence, letting my husband and her exchange their differences while her husband nodded at each one of her statements. What could have been—and should have been—a healthy exchange of opinions, became the ax that severed our ties, cleanly and permanently, as she announced with sharp glassy eyes that “the Jews” were responsible for keeping the lower class down, that they were at the top of the chain, that they controlled the world, and that in fact, were completely responsible for all the ills in the world. Yes, Hitler’s argument.

We saw how our friendship dissipated in the moonless night as they drove off for one last time. Just as we said goodbye in our bruised hearts to a relationship that ended on such a bitter note—despite the key lime pie— another storm was brewing in the ocean. A week later, we prepared for Hurricane Irma, unaware of the powerful lessons this destructive force of Nature would bring to us as gifts in its wake. Stay tuned for the next blog.

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