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  May 2006
volume 4 number 2
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  Kevin Stricke-9
 
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Kevin Stricke-9 May 2006
   

 

bio

Kevin Stricke-9 was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Los Angeles. If pushed to describe himself, he might say he is an "African-American, Jewish Hip-Hop, Metal-Hippie Macktivist."

Stricke-9 is part of the Poets of the Round Table Collective. As a spoken word performer, Stricke-9 is a veteran of LA stages such as 33 1/3, Mic & Dim Lights, Da Poetry Lounge, Poetic License, co-lab:ORATION, Green, Red, and even though he scores very badly at Slams, he has love for everyone.

These days Kevin Stricke-9 is all about the prose. He is currently working on a fictional portrait of West LA's Jewish community entitled Passover in LA.
stricke9@yahoo.com

   

 

Bride of Shabbat

    The traffic light turns green. After allotting a few moments for left turns and yellow chasers, Dr. Avi Wolf presses the gas pedal. The black Mercedes sedan accelerates westward along Pico Boulevard. Crossing the sunny intersection of Pico and Robertson, Dr. Wolf looks into the rear view mirror. In the mirror he reads a backward reflection of the words:
    “Moshiach is Coming!”
    Moshiach is the Hebrew word for “the anointed one,” whose arrival will initiate the end of the world as we know it. The billboard message was purchased by the local Haredim. Going big on this particular corner of Pico and Robertson demonstrates a keen understanding of integrated marketing on the part of the rabbis, what with the huge Middle Eastern produce store, the world famous kosher candy shop, and Madonna’s Kabala center all within blocks.
    The good doctor continues down Pico Boulevard. “I don’t know whether Moshiach is coming,” he says aloud, setting up a pleasant sing song question he will answer himself, “but if he does, he’ll find Avraham Wolf following the Holy Commandments.”

    At age fifty-two Avi Wolf’s hair is still black, though he’s lost it all on top. A large yarmulke covers the exposed, light complexioned, skull. He isn’t tall, he isn’t short. He is clean shaven, and prone to smart casual wear. Suits no tie, sweaters with leather patches, you know the kind of thing.
    Avi wears glasses and sun glasses with an extra wide bridge to accommodate his significantly prominent nose. It extends forward a good few inches gathering width and girth. It then dips down and loops back to the face, just above the top lip. From profile Avi’s nose looks like half a mushroom.

    Dr. Wolf takes the night shift on Thursday. His arena is the Cedars-Sinai Emergency Room where he works as a reconstructive surgeon, using hands that are steady as a rock. Religion is very important to the good doctor. Professionally speaking he deals, quite literally, in life and death. His job is to repair the human body, to cut and sew human flesh. His . . . customers either continue to breathe, or they do not.
    For his sanity Avi says he must believe in a Lord of the Universe who is present in the operating room when a patient reaches the brink of death. He must believe in more than his own professional judgment, he must believe in the judgment of an Almighty Lord and His angelic representatives. Avi could not handle the pressure if human life was in his own mortal hands.

    Dr. Wolf leaves the hospital every Friday at dawn. He journeys home along a personalized trail of side streets. His commute includes a stop at one of the Jewish bakeries on Pico Blvd. What a parking spot he now finds!
    It could only be Hashem’s doing.
    As he locks the Mercedes with the remote alarm, Avi’s eyes wander down Pico Blvd toward the always crowded fresh produce market. In sits in what is known as a mini mall, five stores with their own parking lot. This mini-mall includes some restaurants specializing in kosher fast food. Kosher chicken nuggets, kosher pizza, kosher fried rice, and oh how Avi loved those nuggets. He would take his youngest child along to camouflage his own love of nugget batter. Now he turns away.
    “No nuggets, Avi,” he tells himself. “They’re bad for the heart.”

    The bell rings as Avi enters the bakery. It’s louder inside than on the street. An elderly Russian woman hands Avi a brown paper bag. Inside are two challahs, one raison and one plain.
    “Have a good Shabbas, Dr. Wolf, see you next week.”
    “May your Shabbas be joyful too, Channa,” Avi says, handing her a five dollar bill.
    “How come he doesn’t have to wait?” a small boy asks his mother.
    Avi doesn’t hear the answer. Nor does he notice the scowls of women 20 numbers from being served. His feet hit the pavement; he turns right and heads toward his Mercedes.

    While unlocking the car door, Avi’s eyes fall on the photography shop. The business is Jewish, and besides developing film, they photograph weddings and other simchas. This month, the large ornate frame in the shop window displays a photograph from the Bernbaum girl’s bat mitzvah.
    Three adult couples stand side by side, the Greenblatts, the Goldfelds, and Sherman Silverman with his new lady friend Lisa Schwartz.Another three couples are seated in chairs, the Steinblooms, the Bloomsteins, and between them, Avi and Sarah Wolf.
    Sarah had looked beautiful that night, Avi remembered, dressed in a sparkling but tasteful black dress, dark blonde wig nearly the perfect match of her real hair color. Avi looks at the photograph, pride swelling. So he wasn’t a star in Hollywood, big deal. Here he was in the store front on Pico Blvd., a star in Beverlywood.

    Avi gets back into his car and continues west along Pico. He passes the building Aaron Spelling converted from a hospital to a television studio and then sold to a bank. He passes the car wash. He reaches Pico and Beverwil Drive, and moves into the left turning lane.
    While waiting at the intersection, Avi gazes northwest toward the triangular skyscrapers of Century City. Here the Jews had showed their strength. Even with all the money and development our film companies generated, the Los Angeles white establishment didn’t want us downtown or on the beaches. They didn’t want us in their country clubs.
    So the Jews pooled their money, built Hillcrest, and made them play golf on our course if they wanted our capital. We built a legal district in mid city and moved our accounts. And the Almighty Master of the Universe blessed our investments and by Avi’s first born son’s bar mitzvah, the hotel built on William Fox’s back lot was providing a home away from home for that great Israel supporter, President of the United States Ronald Reagan.

    And with this sense of pride and gratitude Avi would turn left every Friday morning on Beverwil Drive and proceed to his three bedroom home in Beverlywood. On the way he would count his blessings: a loving wife, four healthy children, and a thriving career. A fine automobile built by a nation who failed to destroy us, and a home in this West LA suburb of Jewish professional families.
    Every Friday morning Avi parks in the driveway of his home, exits the car and locks the door without activating the alarm. It will be the last time he touches the alarm remote until Saturday evening. He pauses to admire the front garden maintained by a lovely Mexican fellow. Avi praises the Lord for the beauty of His creations. Then he unlocks the front door and after greeting the housekeeper, Avi takes a five hour nap. When he awakens he will have plenty of time to prepare for Shabbat.
    This particular morning is special beyond all other mornings, not simply because it will soon be Shabbat. Although, diyenu, that would have been enough. Not only because this morning they prepare for tomorrow’s Seder to commemorate the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Although, diyenu, it would have been enough. This particular morning is different than all other mornings because when Avi opens the front door this particular morning, he will greet his beloved daughter, Ruth, home from college for Passover.

    Avi and his wife Sarah have five children. David is the oldest, then Michael, the two girls Ruth and Leah, and finally young Joshie. David’s wife is pregnant with their first grandchild.
    Ruth Wolf is eighteen years old. She attends Brandeis University, named after Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice in the United States. Ruth flew home from Massachusetts on Thursday afternoon giving her plenty of time to arrive in California by Friday afternoon, even with delays. She didn’t want any risk of having to travel on Shabbat.
    Her father, of course, had been completely over the top in his joy at seeing her. He was like a game show winner hamming it up for the cameras. Except there were no cameras and she knew he was sincere. It was the same when he returned from work this morning. No, his eyes weren’t deceiving him. His daughter was home for Pesach. It was sweet.

    Pesach or Passover is when Jewish families come together. Traditionally a Jew is expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, a symbol of the 50-year trek our people once made from Cairo to Jerusalem by way of the Sinai Desert. In the modern world that pilgrimage is acceptably made to a table in which you will be in the company of family and loved ones, or at least other Jews. It’s like the Jewish Thanksgiving.

    Friday afternoon Ruth sits with her younger sister in the corner bedroom.
    It has technically become Leah’s room now that the older offspring have left the house. This is a privilege Michael fought for and won when David went off to Brandeis. Once Avi and Sarah succumbed to Michael’s relentless reasoning, they couldn’t refuse Ruth or Leah the same opportunity.
    Leah and Ruth sit on the bed rubbing moisturizer on their legs. Ruth has dark brown eyes which sit underneath a cascade of thick black curly q’s. There is a feverish alertness in her pupils which stands out against her innocent demeanor. Ruth was born with her father’s nose. Even after a surgeon trimmed away some of the girth, it could still hold its own in Judea.
    Leah is fourteen years old. Her hair is fair, a light brown with hints of red in the summertime. Her nose slanted downward to create an angle with the top lip. Leah has been the spitting image of her mother at every stage of her life so far. A blonde her first four years, with an egg shaped torso and tiny arms and legs. Now her suede colored hair hangs straight down above a redistributed C-cup torso.
    Leah looks up to Ruth, who is taken seriously as an intelligent person in most situations. Leah doesn’t feel like she receives the same treatment. Now she wants to know about her sister’s life at college. She wants to know if any non-Jews go to Brandeis.
    There are some black people who play on the basketball team, Ruth explains, and also a Christian girl in her dormitory who is in the process of converting to Judaism.
    “What are they like?” inquires Leah.
    “Who?” replies Ruth confused.
    “The non-Jews.”
    “I don’t know,” Ruth says, annoyed by her sister’s pointed questions, “they’re just people, I guess.”
    “Are they Christians?”
    “I just told you, the girl in my dorm is converting to Judaism. Hello?”
    “Hello . . . what about . . .”
    “The black guys?” asks Ruth. Upon seeing her sister smile and nod, Ruth blushes. “I don’t know what religion they are.”
    “I talked to a black guy once,” Leah says cautiously.
    “When!? You’re lying.”
    “I don’t lie!” yells Leah. “I did. It was at Joshie’s basketball game. They played a church school, remember?”
    “What happened?”
    “Well . . . Aba went to tell the coach to give the ball to Joshie more, of course, cause Joshie is the best player in the world and Aba knows best. So I was sitting alone in the bleachers and this black boy from the church sat down next to me.”
    “You’re not lying?”
    “Stop saying that, Ruth!”
    “I’m sorry. Go on . . . what did he say?”
    “He told me his name, and he held out his hand for me to shake it.”
    Ruth is now absolutely certain that her sister is telling the truth. She searches Leah’s body for some physical manifestation of the changes which have matured her younger sister in the past months. She sees it. Leah had the kind of body that makes boys she’s never met walk up and speak to her.
    Leah, now sure of her audience, continues with her story. “I told him I wasn’t allowed to shake his hand.”
    “You did. What did he say?”
    “He asked if it was because he’s black.”
    “Oh . . . I would have died . . . What did you say?”
    Leah pauses for dramatic effect. She is squeezing a pillow. “I told him it’s because he isn’t my husband.”
    Shrieks.

    Downstairs Avi and Sarah can hear their daughters squealing with delight.
    They smile at one another. Avi gazes at Sarah, Leah looks more and more like her everyday. How Sarah used to look. Already Avi is uncomfortable with the way strange men looked at Leah. Avi starts up the stairs.
    “The girls are happy to see each other,” Sarah tells him, “let Leah have some time with her big college sister. I will clear the Hametz with you and Joshie.”
    Avi is disappointed but agrees.

“Oy vey ismier,” Ruth is breathing heavily. She has been tugging on the collar of her t-shirt. Her neck and cleavage are visible, rising and falling as she laughs and shrieks. Lotion and sweat from the excitement makes her skin glisten.
    Leah continues. “I said I’m religious and the only men who are allowed to touch me are my father and my brothers, and do you know what he said?”
    “What?”
    “He said it was tight.”
    “He did?”
    “Yup, so I told him my name.”
    “Leah!!”
    “Don’t worry, I’m not allowed to go to Joshie’s basketball games anymore.”
    “Good. One thing-"
    “Leads to another, I know.” The younger sister looks down at her bare feet. She feels ashamed of the betrayal in her story. Leah was no rebel, far from it. Ruth was the one always asking challenging questions.
    Leah knew how to accept. Accept people. Accept her role. The story of the nice, black boy was told to impress an older sister she thought would be impressed by such a thing. Any prurient follow through was completely out of the question for Leah. She betrayed her Lord, Leah now felt, by giving her sister the impression that she’d even consider breaking the commandments. Leah felt reassured by Ruth’s outrage.

    Knock, knock. “Come in,” the girls say in unison.
    “I hope everybody is decent,” Avi sing songs the set-up, “because their family is coming in.”
    Avi, Sarah, and Joshie enter the girls’ bedroom. Joshie is still carrying the feather. He holds it up to his sisters.
    “You missed it,” Joshie tells them, “I did it with Aba and Ima.”
    “Why didn’t you come get us,” Ruth asks of her father.
    “We were going to,” Avi begins, “but Ima thought you two were having a girl talk.”
    “Awww, you should have gotten us,” Ruth says with disappointment in her voice.
    “Yeah, we would have come,” echoes Leah.
    Avi looks at his wife in triumph. The girls look at their mother like she is an Angel. Joshie says again, “I did it myself, with Aba and Ima.

    If your family never goes to the synagogue, church, mosque, or temple, or if they go amid a chorus of sarcastic protest, you might not be able to picture the Wolf family preparing for Shabbat. It’s more like an alumni family preparing for the homecoming game, or a family of growers headed to the state faire. They don’t want to miss a single minute of the action, before, during, or after the main event.
    The Friday night services which Avi, Sarah, Leah, and Joshie never miss take place in one of the backyard minyans that speckle Beverlywood. On an average Friday night, the gathering consists of about 25 people. Tonight, with the Holy Day falling on the weekend, there will be nearly 60 people.

    L’kha dodi
    Likrat Kallah.
    P’nei Shabbat n’Kablah
.

    Sundown is the official beginning of the Jewish Holy Sabbath. This hymn, sung on Friday night, personifies the Sabbath as a Bride Queen who enters the synagogue escorted by the Day of Rest. Certain melodies have become custom over the years, the tunes naturally vary per regional tradition. Some say South African Jews have the best Friday night tunes. Others say travel to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to hear the most passionate L’kha Dodi. In my opinion, the best version of the Sabbath Queen Welcome is sung in a rock ‘n roll style by the residents of the Jewish rehab house in West LA.

    Tonight in Los Angeles the weather is warm. The young people are tan, and many wear white, as is Shabbat custom in Israel. Ruth is pale from being on the east coast, but looks exquisite with her long, curly, brown hair dangling down over her covered shoulders. She wears a blue, long sleeve shirt over a white long sleeve. She wears a long, white, cotton skirt which reaches down to her shins. On her feet Ruth wears closed toed leather sandals. She wears a large wood beaded necklace which her father bought in Jerusalem. All the younger women crowd around her. Avi’s pride swells, well-meaning and justified.
    In the little village within Los Angeles that is Beverlywood, Avi Wolf is having his day. Everyone notices the class exuded by Ruth in her role as daughter returned from college intact. In the Orthodox community, respect for such things is paid to the father and mother who have evidently raised their child right.
    If a young Jewish man was interested in making Ruth Wolf a young Jewish bride, he would proceed to her father. The Jews rival any Old World traditional machismo when it comes to marrying my daughter. It is not uncommon for a funeral to be held when an offspring chooses to “marry out” thereby ending his or her limb of the Jewish bloodline. As a matter of fact, that little beauty happened in my own family tree.

    Jeff Gluckstein has an outside chance. He’s an outsider with an in. Jeff is in Los Angeles visiting his Uncle Ivan, who lives in Beverlywood and prays with the Wolfs on Friday nights. Jeff decided to spend the Passover in L.A. instead of Chicago, his home town.
    Ivan Gluckstein noticed that his nephew was intrigued by Ruth Wolf and made a move to intercept. If Jeff had a genuine interest his uncle would support that, but it had to be done properly. Ivan would vouch for him and he would be formally introduced to Avi. The lad would present his case. His cause would certainly be considered more closely if it included a sound financial package, but the main concern would be: do you have what it takes to create a Jewish home for our daughter?
    Jeff Gluckstein has what it takes theoretically. He is handsome, competent and most importantly, Jewish. His family raised him as a Jew, but for Jeff religion isn’t at the center of his perception of the world. For him religion is, well, kind of a pain in the ass. But it seemed reasonable that if he was staying with his uncle and aunt and young cousins he would follow their custom. He would attend Friday night service and actually follow in the book and participate in the prayers.
    The service is now over. Blessings are said over wine and bread and the socializing begins. Uncle Ivan is standing apart with a piece of challah in his hand, composing words for introducing his nephew to Dr. Avi Wolf as a suitor for his friend’s daughter. Jeff is crossing the room to speak with Ruth himself, unaware of his Uncle’s plan.
    Ruth and the three teenage girls she’s speaking with stop talking when Jeff approaches. They look at him trying to appear expressionless. He smiles and says “Shabbat Shalom.” Crunch goes the sound of the ice breaking under Jeff’s calm, confident voice.
    “Shabbat Shalom,” the girls reply in return.
    “I’m Jeff Gluckstein,” he says with emphasis on the Gluckstein.
    “Oooh,” says one of the girls, “so you’re related to Ivan and Rivka?”
    “They’re my aunt and uncle.”
    The girls nod in understanding.
    “What made you come here?” asks another of the girls.
    “I go to school on the East Coast and I wanted to be warm . . . so Uncle Ivan invited me for Passover.”
    “Where do you go to school on the East Coast?” asks Ruth.
    Gluckstein turns to face her. “I’m a senior at Tufts.”
    Ruth’s wild eyes divulge her excitement. It may be the first time since she moved to Massachusetts, that she’s speaking to an East Coaster on the West Coast. Jeff chooses to believe she’s excited about his rugged physique and the possibility of getting her hands on it.
    “I go to Brandeis!” Ruth says.
    “Wow, um . . .,” Jeff replies with a Jewish pause, the kind that locks in your chance to speak while giving you a moment to formulate your words, “that’s just up the road.”
    “Yeah,” says Ruth, laughing.
    Jeff turns his body to include the group of girls and not just Ruth. He smiles. The girls all smile and look at their feet.
    “I am so in,” thinks Jeff. He throws out a question that starts as a group question but ends with his eyes on Ruth. “So what’s everybody doing after this? Any parties . . . or? Anyone wanna go see a show . . .”
    You could not be more out, Gluckstein. The girls all look at each other.
    Out of pity one of them says “we’ll all be with our families, nice to meet you.” One by one the girls walk in separate directions away from Jeff, giggling and rolling their eyes. All four will have a young sibling in their arms within minutes.
    Left alone in the spot where seconds before he had been surrounded by the females of his generation, Jeff looks up. All the men of his uncle’s generation are looking right at him. His finds Uncle Ivan’s eyes. Jeff raises his wine cup in a non-denominational, unspecified toast.

copyright 2006 Kevin Stricke-9