by Ao-Hui Lin
Let me say from the start, I am not prejudiced. I mean really, after all the troubles my people have gone through, the pogroms, the Nazis, Mel Gibson, how could I be? Persecution is persecution, I always say. But you can’t ignore faith and a common background and how important those things can be in a relationship, right? Especially if your families are very different. Don’t underestimate the importance of culture and tradition. Besides all that, my son doesn’t know that much about this girl. He doesn’t know what she’s made of. If she was Jewish, at least he’d know that she was raised in the proper way.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? I need to start from the beginning, which I suppose was that night that Yeshua came home late from work. That night he was even later than usual, and my boy works long hours, let me tell you.
“You’re late,” I said to him when he came through the door. Which I know was an obvious thing to say, but Yeshua never notices when people take advantage of him. I used to wish he stood up for himself more, but you know what they say about being careful what you wish for.
“I’m sorry, Ma.” Yeshua hung up his coat on the coat rack before settling heavily into one of the chairs at the kitchen table. He is always very neat, just like I taught him. Well, as neat as a boy can be expected to be. I sat down in the other chair, kitty-corner to his. He looked tired, deep lines of exhaustion literally etched into his gray face. There were gouges in his hands and a rip in his shirt, right above where his heart would be.
“Tell me all about it,” I said, like a good mother should. I didn’t want him to ever think that he couldn’t come to me with his problems.
He tried to wave me off, and I noticed those gouges again.
“I had to go all the way across the river today, into the city. I only just got back to the synagogue an hour ago.”
“Those rabbis work you too hard. Why don’t they send some of the other boys once in a while?” I know I shouldn’t criticize the rabbis. I know they’re good men. But they don’t appreciate Yeshua properly; it’s a failing of theirs.
Yeshua smiled and patted my hand.
“You know they can’t, Ma. The others would stand out like a sore thumb. I’m the only one that can go into the city, thanks to you.” He winked at me, and I had to admit that he was right. He’s such a good boy, my Yeshua. Better than those other boys he works with, although I’m sure that you think that’s my pride talking. But it’s not just pride. He’s the best thing that’s ever come out of me, that’s the plain truth.
I looked at his hand covering mine. That gouge was deep, even deeper than I’d first thought. His thumb was nearly falling off.
“Tsk! Let me fix your hand. Yeshua, you need to take better care of yourself.”
“It’s just a scratch.”
“It isn’t!” I went to the cupboard where I kept my special supplies and pulled out a fat lump of clay, warming it between my hands as I kneaded it. I sat down again and made him put both hands on the table, flat and spread out. I couldn’t help frowning.
“How the rabbis can look at this and not feel even an ounce of remorse, I don’t know.”
“Ma, it’s not like it’s going to kill me.”
“Do you think that’s the only thing you have to worry about? What if you get hit by a bus, or smashed under a girder or something. Do you know how much work I have to do to make you look nice? It’s not like I pop open a can of Play-doh and poof, you’re all fixed!” The clay was nice and soft finally, and I started to spread it over his hands, filling in the scratches and reshaping his thumb. “And your clothes! Do the rabbis think that your clothes grow on trees? That they wash and mend themselves? What’s that rip there? Did you get caught on a branch or something?”
He looked guilty, which is how he should have looked. Maybe if he was feeling guilty, he would listen to me better.
“It’s nothing, Ma. I can fix it myself.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course I’ll do it.”
“Please don’t be upset, Ma. And please don’t go to Rabbi Lieberman and give him an earful. It’s my job.”
Yeshua knows me well, because that’s exactly what I did the very next day. I marched myself over to the synagogue and demanded to speak to Rabbi Lieberman right after morning prayers.
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Levine.” I could tell from the resignation in his voice that he was expecting me.
“Rabbi, I have a bone to pick with you.” I don’t believe in beating around the bush.
“If this is about Yeshua…”
“Yes, you know it is. Rabbi, he came home last night all torn up! I know you think he’s indestructible, but he’s not.”
“Actually Mrs. Levine, he is. As long as he’s animated by the magic of the letters inscribed on his body, he is supposed to be indestructible.”
“You didn’t spend three hours last night patching him up and spackling him, Rabbi. That poor boy might continue to move around and do your bidding no matter how many pieces he’s missing, but he won’t look human that way. And it’s only because of me that he looks as good as he does, that he can walk around without causing a scene. It’s because of me that he can talk, that he can pass.”
The rabbi had the grace to look ashamed.
“Of course, Mrs. Levine. We appreciate how much work you’ve put into Yeshua. He is one of a kind, and we owe you a great debt for putting your skills into making him so lifelike.”
“You can show your appreciation by not sending him into situations where he can lose a limb!”
“Mrs. Levine, Yeshua is very important to us, but he’s important precisely because he can do the dangerous things that a human can’t.” He sighed. “Nevertheless, we will take more care next time we send Yeshua out.”
That was probably the best I’d get as far as assurances go. But even if he wouldn’t promise to keep Yeshua out of dangerous situations, at least Rabbi Lieberman could give him the recognition he deserved.
“Rabbi, Yeshua has been working so hard. You keep him out late almost every night, even the Sabbath!”
“Well, especially the Sabbath, Mrs. Levine.”
“Yes, I know. But I was thinking that he could use a little vacation. Some time off.”
“He’s a golem, Mrs. Levine! He doesn’t eat or sleep.”
“And that means you should treat him like dirt?” Although I do realize, technically, Yeshua actually is made of dirt. ”Rabbi, I’d hate to think that you were taking advantage of my boy just because he’s made of clay instead of flesh. He’s got feelings, you know.”
Rabbi Lieberman turned bright red.
“I… I’m sure he does, Mrs. Levine. But we can’t spare him at this moment, what with so many of us rabbis leaving for the religion conference in Los Angeles.”
“You’re taking him to a conference?” I have to admit, I was impressed that they were going to take Yeshua on such an important mission.
“Uh, well, we haven’t finalized any plans, but –”
“Of course you were! For your protection. I know California isn’t exactly Warsaw or Palestine, but there are bad people everywhere, right?”
“Well, I suppose. Yes.”
“I must say that it’s lovely that you’re trusting Yeshua with such important responsibilities.” And by “lovely” I meant “about time.” But the Rabbi looked so remorseful already that I left it at that.
While he was gone, Yeshua called twice a day, like clockwork. Eight in the morning, when I was having my breakfast, and six at night, just before dinner. He seemed excited to be in California, though he said most of his work was following the rabbis around and standing outside of hotel conference rooms looking fierce. I told him not to attract attention to himself, but he told me that in Los Angeles, no one even looked twice at him.
One night the phone was already ringing when I walked in the door.
“Ma?” He sounded worried, probably because I let the phone ring so long.
“Yeshua, yes? How was your day?”
“Did you make sure to wash behind your ears this morning?”
“Tell me about what you did today.”
“Not much.” That’s Yeshua. Even though I gave him a tongue and the rabbis gave him the power to use it, he often doesn’t.
“Have you met any other rabbis?”
“Yes, Ma. There are rabbis from all over the world here. Even China. There are other people too. Christians and Muslims.”
I sniffed. “You be careful around the Muslims. And make sure that they don’t get too close to Rabbi Lieberman.”
“I will, Ma. But everyone has been very nice so far. I don’t think that anyone would do Rabbi Lieberman any harm.”
“There are even some people from religions that I’ve never heard of. Buddhists and Pagans and all kinds of other religions.”
“That’s nice, dear. It’s good that other people can find comfort in their religions, even if they’re those crazy-type ones. I suppose it’s better than not believing in anything at all.”
“There were even people from Inuit tribes that gave a talk about their traditions. It was very interesting!”
I was surprised to hear Yeshua so excited. Usually he’s much more even-tempered, stony even.
“I’m so glad you’re having a good time,” I sighed. “I’m sure you don’t miss me at all, seeing how you’re meeting all kinds of people more interesting than your boring old mother. When this is all over, you won’t want to come home.”
“Ma, don’t say that! Of course I will! I’ll call you tomorrow morning, like always.”
“Oh no, only if you want to. I don’t want to take time away from your important new friends.”
“I’ll call. I promise. And we’ll be home Monday morning.”
After he hung up I went to bed, but I had trouble sleeping. I had teased him about his new friends, but I kept thinking about what would happen when I died, and Yeshua would be all alone.
Monday morning Yeshua wasn’t home when I got up. I thought that his plane would have landed at least two hours ago, more than enough time to get from Kennedy to our apartment. Airlines these days always seem to be running late. I called the synagogue, and the secretary said that Rabbi Lieberman had come in an hour ago, but that Yeshua was running errands.
Waiting for Yeshua was harder than I expected. The apartment seemed emptier than usual, and I realized how much I’d missed him while he’d been gone.
I considered turning on the television, but all that was on now were soap operas, and I didn’t want to watch stories about people falling in and out of love when I was worried that my own son might never get to have that experience. The thought of Yeshua possibly all alone for ever and ever made me so depressed, I had a little cry, right there at the kitchen table.
And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when Yeshua walked in the front door.
“Ma! What’s wrong?” He sounded so upset it made me all the sadder so that I couldn’t stop crying. “Ma!”
“Oh Yeshua,” I said through my old lady hiccups.
Yeshua knelt beside me and put his big gray arms around me. The faint mineral smell of him comforted me.
“Please tell me what’s the matter, Ma,” he said in his gravelly voice.
“I’m so worried for you,” I said. “You know, one day I won’t be here anymore.”
He looked alarmed. “Are you sick?”
“No, not yet. But I’m old. And I worry about you being all alone when I’m gone. I want you to have someone else that you are close to.”
“Ma, that’s crazy talk. You’re not old.”
“You’re so sweet, but you don’t understand how fragile humans are. One fall and I break my hip and three months later they’re putting me in the ground.”
“It’s true. I know what I’m talking about.”
He must have seen that I was serious.
“Ma, you don’t have to worry about me. I promise. In fact,” he paused for a long second, “I met someone when I was in California. Someone special. Someone like me. Ma… I’m in love.”
My heart sped up and I felt a grin starting to appear on my face.
“A girl? Tell me all about her! Does she serve a synagogue in Brooklyn?”
Yeshua shook his head no.
“In New York, then?” Another no. “New York State? The East Coast?” Still no, and Yeshua looked so apprehensive that I realized why he was so hesitant.
“She serves somewhere far away, doesn’t she? And you,” my breath caught in my throat, “you want to move away from me to be closer to her. You’re moving out, aren’t you, and going far away?”
“Oh no, Ma! No! I mean… yes, she is from far away. Greenland, actually. But she’s wants to move here.”
“Greenland! I didn’t even realize there were any Orthodox communities there! Although,” I said, “I suppose it’s a very big country. There’s bound to be at least one.”
“No? Really? How do you know there aren’t any?”
“I don’t! I mean, that is…” He sighed. It sounded like a road paving machine. “Ma, Anyu isn’t Orthodox.”
Well that stopped my mental wandering.
“Anyu? With a name like that, I’m not surprised. I suppose she serves a Reform synagogue?” At his expression, I asked, worried, “Not one of those new-fangled synagogues where they don’t believe in God? Don’t tell me she serves a Humanist rabbi?”
“Ma, Anyu isn’t Jewish.”
“Not Jewish? Now you’re teasing me. How can a golem be not Jewish?”
“She’s not a golem. She’s a tupilaq.”
There was a strange buzzing in my ears. I felt faint. I must have swayed because Yeshua put out a hand to steady me.
“A tupilaq? What…? I don’t know what that is.”
“She’s Inuit. But like me.”
“Like you? How can she be like you if she isn’t even Jewish?” I couldn’t help it, I was yelling at him. For the first time in my life, I was yelling at my Yeshua. I think we were both more than a little shocked by it.
“Ma! You said you wanted me to be happy!”
“How is a girl like this going to make you happy? What could the two of you possibly have in common?”
“We’re both made out of dirt and brought to life by magic.”
“Hunfph! Like that’s some kind of basis for a relationship.”
“What about culture? A common purpose!”
“Ma, I know you’ll change your mind once you meet her.”
“Meet her?” I said. “I don’t want to meet her! Better not to. That way I won’t have to hate her when she breaks your heart.”
“Ma, she flew all this way…”
I sat bolt upright. “She’s here? Now? In Brooklyn?”
“That’s what I was doing this morning. Getting her settled. She’s staying at a hotel in Brooklyn Heights.”
I raised one eyebrow.
“Brooklyn Heights? Fancy. So she’s a big spender, is she?”
“Ma, Rabbi Lieberman suggested the hotel.”
“Rabbi Lieberman! So he knew about this, this — girl, all along?” I was screeching, but I didn’t care anymore. “How could he approve of such a thing? A goyim girl? A shiksa?”
“Ma! Don’t call Anyu that! She’s very nice! And I don’t think Rabbi Lieberman was looking at it that way. I don’t think it bothers him.”
“I wash my hands of both of you! To be betrayed like this, I can’t believe that you would do this! Get out!”
“Stop calling me Ma. Get out. Go to your precious Anyu. I can’t believe that someone I created with my own hands would be so disrespectful. Out!”
Yeshua left. I didn’t know where he went, and I decided that I didn’t care. I was so angry, I cleaned the apartment from top to bottom, even washing the floor behind the refrigerator.
Around two o’clock, Rabbi Lieberman came to see me. I thought about closing the door on his face, but of course I wouldn’t do that to a rabbi, no matter what the provocation.
“Mrs. Levine, can I come in?” He looked chastened, to say the least. I let him in grudgingly and didn’t say a word.
“Mrs. Levine, I know that you’re unhappy with Yeshua and me, but please believe me, Yeshua did not mean to hurt your feelings. He was afraid that you would be upset, and it seems that he was correct in his fear.”
“Of course I’m upset!” I burst out. “How would you feel if your son came home with some girl who wasn’t Jewish? Wouldn’t you be upset?”
He considered the question.
“Yes, of course I would. But it is different for Yeshua. There will never be a question of children, or even marriage.”
“No marriage! So you expect him to just shack up with this girl, live in sin?”
The rabbi blushed. “As I understood it, Yeshua does not have… rather, there is no question of sinning, from what I understand.”
“If he gives his heart to her, it is as if he were to lie with her in a bed!”
“Well, not exactly, Mrs. Levine.”
The rabbi was making me more and more angry.
“You think because he’s not human, that what he does isn’t important? Rabbi, I should never have made him for you if that’s the way that you think.”
Rabbi Lieberman took a deep breath. “Mrs. Levine, it is hard enough for someone to find the right person to love in the world, even with all the people in it. For Yeshua, given what he is, it is almost impossible. Would you have him fall in love with a human girl and pine for her until his heart broke and we would have to erase the letter that gives him life? Reduce him back to a lifeless thing?”
“Of course not!” There were stories, old old stories, of golems who did such things. Gave their hearts to human women. The stories always ended badly. No, I didn’t want that for my Yeshua.
“Can you not agree at least to meet this girl? Give her a chance? You might find that there is more common ground than you think.”
I hesitated. I did not want to meet this tupilaq, this interloper. But I didn’t want a story of tragedy for Yeshua either. He was too blinded by infatuation to see how wrong it would be to take up with something like her. Perhaps he needed me to be his reason, to be an objective eye and make it clear to him how impossible it is. I couldn’t do that unless I met with her.
“Fine. Yeshua can bring her to dinner. But,” I warned, “I make no promises. If she’s a disaster I won’t hold my tongue.”
The rabbi looked resigned. “Fair enough. I’ll tell Yeshua.”
So that’s how it is that I am sitting at the dinner table tonight with Yeshua, this Tupilaq girl Anyu, and Rabbi Lieberman.
Anyu, oy! She’s even worse than I expected! Her people had put her together out of mud and leaves and bits of rock and human bone. It’s disgusting! I won’t deny that there are parts of her that are pretty — her face and her hands, for instance. She has an indecent kind of figure, like Marilyn Monroe, and I’m old enough to remember Marilyn when she was still alive. There are leaves stuck in her hair and when she laughs you can see real human teeth in her head. Twigs and bits of bone poke out every once in a while when she moves.
She tries hard; too hard. Careful to say her pleases and thank yous, and she makes a point of telling me how much she likes Brooklyn, and now she wouldn’t dream of living elsewhere. As if I want her anywhere near Brooklyn.
I can barely stand to speak to her, and it falls to the Rabbi to make conversation.
“So, Anyu,” the rabbi says over dessert. “What line of work do you do? Yeshua wasn’t very specific about it when he told me about you.”
She glances at Yeshua, as if to check with him before saying anything.
“Oh, mostly I work with computers now. Originally I was made to wreak havoc on a neighboring tribe, sometime around the late 1700s. But you know, times change. Now it’s all about internet gambling and I ended up getting into the tech side of it. Sort of a holdover of the revenge business, but hacking instead of… well, hacking.” She makes an ax-chopping motion with her hands.
Yeshua puts an arm around her.
“She’s so smart. That was the first thing that I noticed about her.”
Trust me, it was not her smarts that drew Yeshua to her, the little hussy.
“Mrs. Levine,” says Anyu. “These mandelbrot are delicious!”
I’m surprised. “You can eat?”
Anyu nods. “Oh yes! Not a lot, but I like to taste new things. I’ve never had anything like this, though! It’s wonderful. I’d like to learn how to make it.”
“You cook, too?” She nods again, and I sniff. “Well, it won’t do you any good. Yeshua doesn’t eat.”
“Oh, I know that. But maybe if you teach me how, we could cook together? For your friends? I love cooking.”
“I don’t think…”
“Only if it’s not too much trouble, of course. Yeshua spent the whole plane trip here telling me what a good cook you are, and I’ve always dreamed about learning to cook from someone…” She trails off.
“What?” I ask, curious in spite of myself.
“Oh, you’re going to think it’s silly, but I’ve always had this daydream that one day I would have a proper family. You know, someone to come home to, who would have family of his own, since I don’t have any. My maker died two centuries ago. And I could do… family things. Like cook supper and help around the house.” She bites her lip, showing those human teeth again. “I’m sorry, I know it’s silly.”
“Hunfph.” I’m not about to tell her that I have daydreams like that myself. “I suppose I could try and teach you something simple.”
“Assuming it’s not treyf to have you in my kitchen.” All those bits of bone in her, it couldn’t be kosher, could it?
“Mrs. Levine –” begins Rabbi Lieberman.
“Ma –” says Yeshua at the same time.
“Please,” says Anyu, but she says it to Yeshua, not me. “Your mother is right. We should make sure that it’s OK. I don’t want to do anything that might violate your faith. Culture and tradition are very important.”
“Exactly!” I say, and for a moment, I can see that maybe there is something more to this Tupilaq girl than I had originally thought. And Yeshua, well, I can’t deny that when he looks at her, it’s with love.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking her in with open arms. There is no getting around the fact that she’s not Jewish and doesn’t know our customs. But… I suppose it’s something that, given enough time, even a Tupilaq girl might learn.
AO-HUI LIN spends a lot of her time pondering the nature of motherhood and hopes that when her children are grown they won’t wonder why so many of her stories about mothers end in tragedy.