If I Had Three Wishes

Aviva thought she might have strep. She is a counselor this summer at a Jewish day camp for 6-12 year olds, and she said it's going around. So we went to the Minute-Clinic at CVS for a rapid strep test. As we sat there waiting five minutes for the results and chatting with the nurse about her 10-month-old named Joey who was two months premature but is crawling up a storm and has developed a fascination with the deck door, I thought of the littles who have no health care, no insurance, no parents, no legal representation, no toothbrushes.

Earlier, at Plato's Closet in Springfield, we saw a young mama with two boys. Neither could have been older than five, and both were wearing tiny backpacks. They were speaking Spanish. I felt a surge of anger as my mind flashed to the mamas and papas trekking thousands of miles from dangerous places, only to be met here by terror.  

There was a large Jewish turnout last night in Greenfield. I was glad to see this, the signs in Hebrew and Yiddish. A man I didn't know wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) explained to the crowd what a shofar (ram's horn) is for. It has many purposes -- an announcement, a call to battle, a wake-up call. He and a few others played shofars. The sounds were thin until one of them landed on a strong note, one he could hold for a long time.


I look at the map of Israel on Aviva's wall, the map our guide drew on with an eraseable marker during the week or so we spent with him. I feel a surge of missing that surprises me. It never goes away.

I have always been interested in exile, in diaspora, in displacement, in wandering, in leaving, in arriving, in questions of belonging and home and safety and land.

I pause as I write, looking about the kitchen windows at the lush summer foliage. Pearl comes into the kitchen to say he is ready for dinner. Mani is cooking. Chalupa is stretched out under the table. How did I get so lucky?

It isn't luck. It's lineage, it's chance, it's privilege, it's choices, it's inner work, it's the strange hand-me-downs of something I don't have a name for. It’s many things.

The copay was $30. The reason we are able to afford insurance with my being self-employed is that I can afford to hire an accountant who can help me deduct enough business expenses to qualify us for affordable insurance. Also, we happen to live in a state where that is (still) available. And I had the know-how to navigate a confusing, circular, sometimes punishing system. Oh, also, I am an American citizen. And they are not (yet) holding my religion or sexual orientation against me.

Historically, my people were not the oppressors. We fled. "They tried to kill us; we won; let's eat." The tongue-in-cheek nine-word history of the Jews.

My father's Aunt Rae died recently, his last living aunt. She was 102. May we all live so long. He sent me and my sisters a few pages he'd written about his family's arrival to this country just over 100 years ago. My great-grandfather bought a building on Delancey Street. My father grew up experiencing antisemitism very personally -- and his parents were able to leave the Lower East Side tenements for a house in Queens with a stamp-sized yard. He received a full scholarship to college, then grad school.

Antisemitism remains insidious, snaking out facts and figures -- the percentage of Jews with high-profile and powerful positions in a number of fields and industries, disproportionately affluent and influential given how few of us there are, relatively speaking -- and using them to veil the oldest beliefs about Jews as miserly and untrustworthy.

The stereotypes hurt -- not all Jews are wealthy, not all Jews anything, let’s not fall into the “not all…” hole -- but there are kernels of truth that get watered by hatred.

We were oppressed; we were slaves in Egypt, we have known what it is to be killed, converted, persecuted. And thus should our responsibility not be tenfold greater to not become the oppressor, and to not look away, to never look away, from suffering -- including the ways in which we are caught up in causing it?

Who assembled this iPhone? Who sewed these clothes?  

"There are tens of millions of people trapped in various forms of slavery throughout the world today. Researchers estimate that 40 million are enslaved worldwide, generating $150 billion each year in illicit profits for traffickers." {source}

We have more power than we think. If you are a consumer, you have power. If you are citizen, you have power. If you can write a postcard, you have power. You do not have to be wealthy or throw your life overboard to make a difference. Guilt is besides the point. Act because you love. Because you can.

Yesterday, on my drive home from the gathering outside the Franklin Country Sherriff's Office, I was thinking about a funny tweet I'd seen earlier in the day* by Catherynne Valente about asking a genie for three wishes. The first wish was: "I make Mitch McConnell a real turtle and leave him in a dry kiddie pool in rural Kentucky on the hottest day of summer and his owner is Sid from Toy Story." To which the Genie responds, "ok that one’s on me. You still have three wishes."  

I found myself wondering what my three wishes would be.

The first came easily -- for Mani's health to be 100% restored. The others, though, I thought long and hard about as I drove south through farmland and evening light.

A world where climate change had never occurred.

A world where no human suffered. For every child to be reunited with their parents. For all humans to live with the best interests of all other humans and the planet.

Sometimes I wonder about alternate realities -- ones where 80 million Native Americans weren't slaughtered.

One where 5-10 million Africans were not stolen from their home countries and brought here on slave ships to be the literal capital of a new country.

One where the Holocaust never occurred and the world would have millions more Jews than before.

One where Palestinians were never displaced from their homes.

One where greed and corruption and misogyny had not ravaged the planet.

One where many genders were recognized and celebrated.

None of these are useful to dwell on. We do not live in the land of “if only.” One of the things I value most about Jewish tradition is its emphasis on the here and now. I talk so much about "real life" that Aviva jokes it's my "brand." She is kind of right.

What's real is that suffering exists. What's real is that "inequality" is synonymous with "American." What's real is that health care, which should be a right, is a luxury. What's real is that I love this world so much it hurts. What's real is that I will not give up, nor will the work be done in my lifetime, or my kids' lifetimes. What's real is that your experience is unique and I want to hear about it and I want so deeply for us to have opportunities to sit together.  

Now both kids are hungry and I am, too. Time to make some tacos, then maybe we’ll go for a drive to get soft-serve ice cream.

I look up at Mani, who is hanging clothes on the drying rack.

We smile at each other. I ask her to read this and she says, sure. There is no good way to wrap it up, so I don’t even try.