So, the other week, I was in Jerusalem to bargain with God. It’s something I do on a regular basis when I’m in Jerusalem. Usually, at the Kotel. However, I have to be careful when I bargain with him there, because God is a jerk and gives me what I ask for. The first time I went, I’d just met Mr. B casually, and had gone through a horrible break-up, and decided that he would make a good boyfriend.
“If you write a note to the wall, it goes straight to God in the form of a prayer,” the others in my group had told me on my first group trip to Israel. I had a panic attack. What language was I supposed to write it in? Was God’s English as good as his Hebrew? At that time, I didn’t know Hebrew yet. Would it be better to write it in Russian? But what if Russian God was in a different place than English God? What if my note went to the wrong one, like missing luggage and Russian God killed me with post- Chernobyl nuclear waste and English God killed me with bad dental care? I settled down, and wrote the note, asking for health for my family, and at the end, asked him to make Mr. B my boyfriend. A month later, we started going out.
The next time I was going to Israel, I wrote another note, praying that Mr. B and I would get married because in reality I was really hoping that he would become a famous physicist and I could just stop working and watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta all day. Unfortunately, that prayer was answered too, and now, as Mr. B likes to remind me gleefully as I make him nostalgia kasha for breakfast, I am stuck with him until he dies. So, from now on, I take my prayers to God very carefully. Because I know he’s up there, listening. Bastard.
This time, I went to the Kotel and did my thing. Which usually involves squishing into the womens’ section (which is 3X smaller than the men’s because apparently God is also a chauvinist AND a sadist) :
and putting the note in before being overcome with something inexplicably bigger than me and connecting me to every Jew in the world that’s ever lived and that will ever live, including both Billy Crystal AND Zac Efron (yes, yes he is). It overpowers me every time. And then I cry uncontrollably, in an emotional release not unlike the one I felt when I bought my wedding dress for 50% off retail price. It’s very trippy.
So, I got that out of the way and am now waiting for the latest round of wish-granting. Walking backwards facing the wall, because you’re not supposed to turn away from it out of respect, I met Mr. B over in the middle between the men and women’s section, again.
“How was it, ” I asked, wiping away a couple tears and coming down from my God high.
“It’s dirty. There’s grass growing on the wall,” Mr. B fastidiously noted. “They should clean it up a little.”
“Did you feel a connection to the Jewish people? To something more,” I pressed him, Zionistically.
“No. It’s too loud here. There should be a quieter wall. Like, away from the kids or something. ”
I looked up at God. “Thanks, man. I can’t wait for the next 60 years.”
Then, we were walking through the old city of Jerusalem by ourselves. We came upon the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, which is one of the Russian Orthodox churches in the city and the last stop on the Via Dolarosa, the road Jesus walked when he was crucified. Although, when I say last stop, it makes it sound more like the Metro from Dupont Circle to Grosvernor and less like a 30-year old Jewish man bleeding all over the place carrying a cross for all of our sins for all eternity.
Despite the fact that I consider myself 100% Jewish, I have a very deep connection with Russian Orthodox Christianity because my dad is Russian (and not Russian-Jewish, like my mom) although he often says he doesn’t go to church because “it’s not exciting enough,” and he’s not “really sure what the deal with Jesus was.” Also, I have seen him dance a better hora than anyone I know.
Anyway, every time I enter an Orthodox Church, I feel a very deep connection to my Russianness, and even to the religion. There is something beautiful in the icons, and in the Slavonic that calms me in the same way that Jewish rituals do, but doesn’t call me every five minutes asking me if I’m wearing a sweater.
We went in to the church. I covered my head. We sat quietly in the church. I was overcome again, this time by something very Russian, very ancient, and very monastic. Something very, very unJewish. I made sure Mr. B wasn’t looking and crossed myself, a skill I had learned from my (now passed-away) Russian grandma at age four, and one that had made my mom turn pale white when I demonstrated it to her. I was treading on thin ice.
Mr. B ambled away to look at some of the icons, and I crossed myself again just to make sure it stuck. I was playing with fire. I looked at the sad angels on the icons, the evidence of the Tsar’s Russian family worshipping here, the simple evidence of Russia far away from Russia. I looked at the flickering candles and bout one and lit it for my grandmother, something that my dad always tried to do whenever we were in an Orthodox church, but didn’t happen often because the churches we encountered weren’t true Russian Orthodox but often Greek or Serbian. I stood looking at the candle and, overcome by the flickering flame, representing her soul, almost cried. How is it that a person can be reduced to a quiet memory?
I crossed myself a final time. That one was the mistake. God was watching. Jew God.
I walked out of the main chapel and down to where Mr. B was looking at some of the czar’s family artifacts. And I fell down the marble stairs, all 11 of them.
I immediately informed him, “I just fell down the stairs. I might have a brain anuerism soon, and you need to be prepared just in case I die like Natasha Richardson.”
“Did you hit your head,” he asked.
“No, but she fell down too, and I might start hemorrhaging blood soon,”
“Then, let’s at least leave the church at least so you don’t bleed on it,” he said.
“I crossed myself,” I confessed.
“You shouldn’t have done that. Jew God hates you for doing that, and that’s why you fell down the stairs.” he concluded.
I thought about it. It made perfect sense.
But then why didn’t the Russian God punish me whenever I did something Jewish? It was the guilt. Jew God knew I felt guilty when I strayed away from him and made his best to make sure I knew he was mad, like that time I didn’t pick up my phone for four hours and my mom called me the next day and said she was worried I was either dead, at the hospital, or maybe just watching a really good movie with the volume turned up and it was a good thing she only had one daughter to worry about because she couldn’t take more than one. Jew God was that kind of God. Russian God, on the other hand, was chill. I went to the Kotel? It’s all cool. I went to the Dome of the Rock and said the shahada? That’s coo’ too. Just come back to the church and light a candle once in a while. I won’t grant you any prayers, but I will grant you a quiet, calm, reflective resting place and a reflective religion, a break from the loud, boisterous, laughter of Judaism and the Kotel.