Muddy River

an image of a black and white subway car moving in a soft blur through a subway station.By Jen Pollock Michel.

It was the summer of Leiby Kletzy, the eight-year-old Hasidic boy kidnapped from his Brooklyn neighborhood in broad daylight and brutally murdered. It was also the summer I almost lost my seven-year-old daughter Camille on a Toronto subway platform.

When I turned, from inside the train, to see my daughter—outside, standing alone—my feet became bricks of indecision. The doors chimed and began closing. A stranger jumped to pry them open, and I pulled her inside, smothering her small body to my chest. She didn’t even know our phone number.

Six years later, I am preparing Camille to ride the subway unaccompanied for the first time. Almost thirteen, she is the happy new owner of a cell phone. “You’re going to have to look for the stairs that say “Northbound’ on the way home,” I say, rehearsing the route she will take home alone.

The train rumbles in as we stand several feet behind the thickly painted yellow line that portends the sheer drop onto the tracks. I imagine the accident, the surprise violence that sends us, unprepared, over its edge. [Read more…]

My HIV Test

By Paul Luikart

CutHere’s something I never told my parents: some years ago I got an HIV test.

I was working and living at a Catholic Worker house in Phoenix, a place I wound up after college. I had a freshly conferred bachelor’s degree in creative writing (not exactly bait for corporate recruiters) and a swirling head full of idealism.

Imagine: I assumed I could save the world. I thought the world could, in fact, be saved, or even that the world had some notion of its need for salvation in the first place.

Among other things, the Catholic Worker had a soup kitchen, and on Saturday nights I was the staff person in charge of making sure the goulash got cooked and served, the local parish volunteers had jobs to do, and that general peace and order were maintained among the guests.

“Guests” was acceptable terminology for the homeless men, women, and kids who shuffled in for dinner, out of the dusty alleys, wearing their tribulations as ripped up jeans and sunburns so bad they’d sometimes turn black. [Read more…]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 2

prostration-orthodoxEarlier this year during Lent, I visited a Russian Orthodox monastery on an evergreen island out across the water from Seattle. I’d never been there before, but this local pilgrimage felt somehow familiar.

After the ferry ride across the chilly waters with seagulls in the air, the drive through the woodsy, misty island on winding roads, away from major cities or even a simple corner store, and finally pulling up to a locked gate where I could push a button and announce myself as a visitor, I realized this was exactly like my visits to the various prisons in my state over the last ten years.

[Read more…]

My Date with One-Eared Joe

I didn’t get many dates in high school. At the time, I thought I was too tall or too plain or too K-Mart in my style.

Now I know I was just weird.

I fell in love with a surfer boy I saw—but didn’t talk to—at a party one Saturday night. By Monday, I had written a letter declaring my infatuation and handed it to one of his buddies at lunch. But we didn’t speak once: not about the letter, or about anything at all. I just lingered by his classrooms, his house, and the surf shop, hoping to catch a glimpse of his sandy blond hair. I had no plans for what I would do if we actually came face to face.

The surfer boy was not my only victim. A few basketball players fell into my intricate, silent webs of attention, including the one whose jersey number I chose for my own when I made the girls’ team.

My senior year of high school, my pastor told me his nephew Joe would be visiting from Texas. “I’d like the two of you to go out,” he said. “Get dressed up. Show him around. It’s his first time in California.”

He caught the look in my eye. “Don’t worry. He’s about your height.”

[Read more…]

Goy Children and Fallen Torahs

Reflections on the Jewish High Holidays 5774.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I checked my “Good Letters” post of the day before, “Today’s Child Sacrifice,” to see how my numbers were looking.

(Yes, I check—obsessively. Thank you, kind readers, who share my posts with others, you whose approval I seek with every refresh. Practice opportunity: restraint.)

I found this: a new comment! I scrolled down.

From Concerned Citizen: “40 million children have been killed since Roe vs. Wade, but the author is silent about this type of child sacrifice. Why? Because all Jews are Obama-loving liberals, and they are glad the goy children are being killed.”

You probably didn’t get to see Concerned Citizen’s comment. I read it on my iPhone, in my driveway, early afternoon, just after returning from services where I delivered the d’var Torah, an expanded version of the very post on which this “concerned citizen” commented while I was at synagogue.

My first personal experience of anti-Semitism! But what if it isn’t, what if it isn’t anti-Semitic? My middle name: doubt. For a moment, I hesitated. Then I wrote to Greg Wolfe (“Good Letters” editor in chief). A few minutes later: vanished! Silenced! (Thank you, Greg.)

You probably don’t hear that silence, you who didn’t get to read the comment posted briefly, but I do.

Concerned Citizen, too, heard a silence, a silence in my essay that I didn’t hear. And, giving voice to the voiceless, Concerned Citizen roared, an ancient, malicious roar: Jews kill Christian children, Jews killed Christ.

They tumbled from the Ark.

[Read more…]