Excerpt for The Struggle by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Struggle

Jonathan Smith

Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2017 Yonatan Kirby

All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 1

One night around the dinner table my father said, “Our neighbor Jimmy, you know him? Well, he has been attacked.” My mother leaned in toward me, gauging my reaction.

“But why?” I said.

“Their tree was encroaching on another house’s yard,” said my mother.

“But they’ve hardly even moved in!” I protested.

There was a knock at the front door, followed by a loud barking. “Ruff ruff,” I said. “Clover, shut up.”

“You get it, honey,” my mother said. Just that moment, there was a loud “ftach et ha delet” from behind the door. Apparently, someone wanted us to open the door. Someone with a very loud, very deep Israeli voice.

My mother peered through the hole. “Police,” she announced, and instead of answering the door, she stood back and said “Honey, you should probably answer it. They’re probably going to ask about Jimmy’s case.”

Case? Jimmy’s? What the heck? But before I could demand any more of my mother, the door swung open.

“Excuse me, could I speak to your mother,” the policeman said.

The policeman was a towering presence. He had to have been six-foot three. The booming voice didn’t do anything to alleviate my nerves, either. I was scared.

Slicha,” I said, and bravely stood my ground. “My mother doesn’t want to talk right now, and besides, you wouldn’t want to talk to her anyway.”

The policeman ignored this barb and focused his eyes on me. “I would like you to tell me everything you know about Jimmy Goldgrabber.” He pronounced the name “Jeem-ee Goldgghrabberrh,” so it was all I could do not to laugh. “Um,” I said, covering the side of my mouth with one hand, “Ani lo midaveret Ivrit.” I don’t speak Hebrew. I understood it well enough, but to ask me to have a conversation with this armored, hulking beast—a two-way conversation, at that—was downright unreasonable.

Lo ichpat li,” he said. It doesn’t matter. He didn’t care; he was going to get what he wanted out of me whether I desired it or not.

Ma at yoda’at al ha chutzpan haze Jeem-ee?What do you know about this troublemaker Jimmy. I didn’t laugh this time.

“Um,” I said while I paced on the linoleum in the front entranceway, and tried to think back.

Jimmy had been introduced to me in the fifth grade, an aberration if there ever was one. At that time, girls didn’t talk to boys (although in my little brother’s grade, they were early bloomers and started to go out in fifth, sometimes in forth grades), but were introduced to each-other by their parents. By their muddling, interfangling parents if any word could be used to describe them.

I had been ‘re-introduced’ to Jimmy (or you could say re-acquainted, because our parents didn’t introduce us this time) on the bus last week. Jimmy had been sitting in the front seat of the bus, and I in the seat directly behind him. Well, I didn’t know anybody—you can’t blame me.

“Clarissa,” he had said to me as the bus had carted down the sloping street of our little village, “what do you know about slugs?”

What? I had thought as I absorbed what he had said. What kind of moron was he? What had all these years at public school done to him?

I tried to be brave and said, “Jimmy Goldgrabber, right?”

Jimmy ignored me and said, “Clarissa Steiner, right? You went to my school, right? And then I left and went to a different school, but we still went to the same shul. Remember?”

Of course I remembered, but I was trying to pretend I didn’t. Well, if he spoke in complete sentences like this, then why did he start by asking me the question about the slugs? Was he a loser or not?

“Jimmy, of course I remember,” I said, trying to keep my cool. “The question is, why did you start by asking me about the slugs?” There. I had put it to him. I would get my answer now.

Jimmy folded his arms and sat back in his seat. “Because I wanted to test you,” he said.

Just at that moment, the loudspeaker erupted with noise: “Yeladim!” (Children!) Tafsiku lihishtolell! (Stop running wild!) Jimmy and I had been almost standing in our seats, but we hadn’t noticed it. Jimmy grounded and said, “But I just sat down!”

“Quiet,” I said, “or else he’ll hear us.”

“Does it really matter?” Jimmy said. “The bus’ll probably run flat on its face before we reach school, anyway.”

I was shocked. “What are you saying?” I said, covering my mouth with my left hand (the one with the stars and stripes, not the one with the balloons—Independence day happened so long ago anyway). “Are you trying to anger the driver enough to get us killed?” And at that point I turned in my seat and hugged the window, glad I could get an excuse to write him off once and for all.

“I don’t think you’re making very much sense now,” Jimmy said, obviously angered by my refusal to engage him. “I think you need some sense put into you.”

Some sense definitely had to be put into me. Some sense to stay away from Jimmy. “Whatever,” I said.

What did end up going wrong, however, was that Jimmy drove all the teachers wild.

The classes were co-educational for some classes, single-sex for others. And while Jimmy didn’t take offense to the co-educational classes, he definitely erupted at the thought of splitting each class down the middle along gender lines.

“But Clarissa here!” he said, pointing to me in a very demonstrative manner, in front of the clutch of teachers that had grown very quickly since he had started shouting, “Clarissa is my best friend! You can’t take me away from her!”

Thankfully, one of the teachers, who had spoken and understood English very well, had the presence of mind to wait him out (and not enter into a shouting match). “Jimmy,” he had said, “we are a religious school. Religious schools don’t have young men and women learning religious topics together.”

“But I did at my school,” I said. At once I was the center of attention. My cheeks flushed and my ears got hot.

“We’re not asking what you did at your school,” one of the teachers, a woman, said to me in broken English. Her black headscarf looked menacing. “You’re only Conservative,” it seemed to say. (Our family was only Conservative, and not Orthodox)

“Enough,” the man addressing Jimmy said in his American-accented English (I wonder if the other teachers were looking on with awe or if that silent seriousness on their faces was obedience).

“It’s okay,” I said to the teacher as he stared at me, “he’s not my best friend. He’s only an acquaintance.”

“What?” Jimmy looked angrily at me, and then down at the floor. I could feel the heat radiating angrily off of him. You would want to get close to him at this point, I thought. Nor would any slug.

“You step back here,” the tall, powerful (it seemed like) male teacher said to Jimmy, indicating the principal’s office. He must have been the principal after all.

“And enough standing around,” he said to the teachers in Hebrew (this I could understand). The teachers moved grumpily away.

“Anything you give, you get back in return,” he said, sighing, to the two of us. “I was like you once.”

Jimmy turned his back and walked with the principal to the principal’s office. Fine, Jimmy, I thought. Be that way.

Chapter 2

The largest threat ever facing me from the Israel end of things came from food. I’m not kidding—food. It had been my nemesis since I had gotten to Israel and would continue to be my nemesis even after I left. Here’s the thing: never eat zchug on an empty stomach.

Zchug: a pasty solid which people like to call a spread—you spread it on your pita, lafa, whatever (I have some friends who even used to use it on challah—I mean, talk about desecrating the Sabbath). Now, zchug is not just spicy. It doesn’t just burn your tongue off. It roasts it.

I was learning to speak Hebrew and it was like I was talking out of a coma. My tongue was put out of commission for two weeks. I talked and talked but it was like my tongue was wagging and flopping inside my mouth with no focus, all that came out was spittle. Which is I guess appropriate, given the nature of Hebrew—a guttural, spit-filled language.

At lunch one day Neelee asked if I could try it. “Sure,” I said, trying to imitate her spit-filled accent. And then it happened.

My tongue roasted.

“Rissa, are you okay?” my friend Naor said to me (we were permitted to eat together).

“Ahhhh!!!” I told him, and raced to the bathroom.

“Stop running!” one of the teachers said.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck. Shit, shit,” I whispered, and splashed water in my mouth.

It didn’t abate. It got worse.

“Shit,” I said, and crying, retreated to the table.

Naor was laughing.

“Fuck you,” I said.

“Fuck what? I no hear.”

“Fuck you.

“Stop it,” Neelee said. “You must eat bread,” she said in her beautiful, mellifluous Hebrew.

“Fucking…” and then I stopped.

I ate the bread.

“Hey, Clarissa!” It was Jimmy. He was followed by a sternly clad police officer. “You going to jail with me?”

Chapter 3

I should tell you now, Jimmy is no fun in jail—or anywhere. He gets all dirty from rolling around in the dirt in the bottom of the cell and lets out trumpet blasts of air when he’s panting, which is often. He does it to get my attention—I know it. But what should I do, you tell me? Should I reject him, now that he’s so attached to me? He can’t help that I’m so beautiful! Even my daddy says so.

Back to the present: “What the (bleep)?” I yell, ready to throw a punch at anyone, anything.

“Clarissa,” Jimmy repeats snidely, “you are going with me. You are under arrest. I hereby read you your rights.”

“Shtok (shut up),” the policeman said. “You’re coming with me. And I’m sorry to take you out of your lunch hour.”

Four days had passed since I had started school. Now I was being arrested.

“Okay,” I said. I said goodbye to Neelee and Naor (who gave me a thumbs up). “I no know you can swear so well,” he told me.

The policeman pushed me in front of him and said, “March.”

“Pretty ironic, huh,” Jimmy said, smiling—”the pretty perfect girl from America, who even speaks a little Hebrew, going to jail.”

“I don’t see how my superiority has to do with anything,” I said to Jimmy.

“Oh, it has everything to do with everything,” he said. “And it can help me get out of this mess.”

Confused? I was.

But first, we need to go back to a time when the sabretooth tiger still existed, when triceratops roamed the plains, and when humans were nothing but a dust mote in some primitive rodent’s eye. In other words, we need to go back to when I wasn’t born yet, when my superiority didn’t yet rule the universe.

I was a bit confused back then, as well.

All my life, I had been perfect: perfect grades, perfect pigtails, perfectly complimentary friends. My daddy loved me. My momma adored me. So I suppose you could say I was ingenious, after a fashion. Adorable. Cute. Hot, even (well come on, even you agree). But I never knew how to love.

Until I met Jimmy.

I don’t know what it took for me to love Jimmy, what made me do it. But I do know that it started right there, in that prison.

“You see,” Jimmy insinuated, hissing his face up to my ear, “I need your skills of acting like an innocent twerp to get me out of this mess.”

“You framed me!” I yelled at him. “You said to them I’m involved in whatever plot you have to conquer the neighbor’s backyard or whatever ruckus you have planned lately! Maybe you should go back to the slugs, your friends. They like dirt. But whatever you have planned, keep your dirty hands off me.”

The policeman shoved his hands in between the two of us.

“I know you like each-other,” he said, “but this is not the time.”

“What did he say?” Jimmy asked.

“He said that you should get down on all fours and do twenty. Knocks to the head, that is.”

“Oh, very funny.”

“Quiet!” the policeman said. “This is the last time.”

We were walking down the path to the car. We passed a couple of olive trees. Jimmy took one and began to chew.

“Can’t eat that,” the policeman said. “Too bitter.”

“Huh?” Jimmy said.

“He said you gotta chew them real hard,” I said.

“Shut up, Clarissa,” said Jimmy.

After a couple more steps, Jimmy started retching. “Clarissa!” he gasped.

“Enough,” the policeman said. “Get into the car.”

We reached the car; the policeman had a friend in the driver’s seat. He was bearded and looked sort of like a rabbi. (Of course, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish which religious sect he’s from.)

“What are you doing here?” The Bearded Man accosted me suspiciously. His Hebrew was heavily accented.

“What?” Jimmy said.

“OK, American,” the bearded Rabbi said in barely coherent English, turning to Jimmy: “You tell me now, in English. Vat is going on?”

Jimmy looked confused. “What is he saying?” he said.

“He’s saying you have a small penis.”

“Clarissa, fuck you,” he said. “What exactly are you saying to me?” he addressed the policeman. “Please say it again.”

“He ees saying,” said the first policeman, who was balding (either intentionally or not, we didn’t know) “that he vants to know ha-wat is going on? Zey do-not tell us a lot from ze intelligence. Eet is important zat we know, zo, because we are eenterested, you see.” He peered at us, alternating from Jimmy to me, until he was satisfied. He winked. “Yes, you know,” he said to me. “You know what I am saying.”

“Don’t fraternize with the prisoners,” the bearded policeman said.

“Religious twerp,” he said to the religious man in Hebrew. “Always trying to tell us what to do.”

We rode the rest of the time in silence—until we got to the police station.


“But wait!” I said to Clarissa. “Are you sure you’re not making anything up?” I smiled at her. “Drug ring?”

“Fucking seriously,” Clarissa said to me. “Do you think I’d be making up something like that?”

“Well, no. Probably not.”

Clarissa laughed like a hyena. “Seriously, Samantha, you really think all that is fake?”

“No,” I said. I opened the window a crack. Sounds of students talking filtered in: it was a nice warm day out, people would be playing frisbee.

“Want to go out?” I said.

“What, to those morons outside?” That’s classic Clarissa for you.

“No, for your own health!”

“Fuck health. Booz is what matters.”

I sighed. Clearly this wasn’t getting anywhere.

“Listen, you want me to tell you the story or not?”

“Fine. Go on.”

“I haven’t gotten to the drug ring part yet.”

“I understand!”

“Okay, listen carefully.”

Chapter 4

The stay at prison was pretty dreary. The accommodations were suitable for high-class prisoners at Alcatraz—except for the fact that they made us wear white shirts and blue pants. I know that the stereotypical American zebra suit is what people usually have in their minds… and our outfit was definitely more stylish. One prison guard actually commented on how good I looked in it.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Ah, Eenglish?” he said. “You are American.”


“Ah, nice!” he said in Hebrew. “You come and make aliyah?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Ah, you come to my house, you eat schnitzel!” he said. “You meet my wife!”

“Sure!” I said. I was reasonably interested in getting away from my parents, anyway.

We unpacked our bags (which had probably been packed just before), which consisted of one set of everything: pants, undies, shirts, white pants, a blue dress, and a toothbrush for brushing teeth and fungus of your limbs, which resulted from the seat of a corroded toilet. For a backwater prison in the North of Israel, however, the facility was definitely pretty modern.

See, these guards had brand new fountain pens, and I know this because they twirled them when they were bored (which was always). They were all hairless on the top of their heads, and had bad attitudes. And the guard let me have a cigarette.

It was a faded, slightly dry, slightly brown sort of cigarette that blended in with the prison walls. Jimmy wanted it but I didn’t give it to him. The cigarette brought back memories of such innocent experiences… like whiffing marijuana for the first time on a blustery spring day in seventh grade, when we thought the Rabbis weren’t looking, and then almost getting caught for it! Thank goodness some rabbis are susceptible to the cute flirt. But some rabbis don’t even know what marijuana is, or looks like.


Scratched on the prison walls was some mantra which involved saying some Rabbi named Nachman’s name over and over again… if you said it enough times out loud, it might bring messiah. I said it a few times, and then scratched my name on the wall. I thought of what message to write, and then thought “this is fucked up.” So I wrote “this is fucked up.”

In Hebrew.

I sat down to think. It seemed like I hadn’t done much thinking in the past few days—with my first day at school, dealing with my parents’ worried blusterings about how they’ll fit in, dealing with Jimmy, the principal, the teachers. It seemed like the only people I could trust were my friends.

Neelee I met when we were both talking about how we weren’t familiar with the language, and how many tests they were going to force us to take this year. Turns out her parents are Russian, and although I thought of her as Israeli, she had moved there only three years before.

“But your accent is so beautiful!” I said to her at lunch, the day we met.

“Don’t trust the accent. Thank you, also. I trust you don’t think your own accent is beautiful as well?”

“It sounds like I’m crapping through my mouth.”

Neelee laughed. “Not so much.”

“Yeah, not so much,” I said. “Only when you’re listening really closely.”

On the first day of school, she had saved me from embarrassment when I pissed off the menacing-looking woman in the black headscarf.

“You see,” Mrs. Rothenberger had said, as she was polishing off a class on Isshiut—the science of being a good Jewish woman—”a woman has to anticipate the needs of her husband and make herself available to him.”

I looked around at everyone else: taking notes as if nothing had happened. I raised my hand. “You think you can just say that, without worrying about how it’ll make us all act—as slaves to our husbands!”

A few girls gasped. A couple of them smiled at me.

“You were not called upon, but I will address your comment,” she said. Neelee elbowed me in the ribs; I sat up straight.

“If you were paying attention to the whole lecture, we were talking about behavior in the context of the bedroom,” she said, a bit snippeshly.

So I was supposed to understand the entire lecture now? “Um,” I said. “In America, it might be different.”

“Really? Please tell us,” Mrs. Rothenberger responded.

“Um,” I said. I looked around at everyone else. The students all looked at me expectantly. “It just is,” I said.

“I don’t know how ‘it just is’ constitutes an answer,” she said.

“Um,” I said. I felt myself turning beet red. I decided to strike back. “Well, we’re not tied-down all the time, you know… long skirts…” I paused, to see their reaction, and continued: “worrying about pissing off the men…you know” I paused, and breathed in again. “We’re not scared.” I stopped talking. Mrs. Rothenberger stared at me. I stared back.

“Okay,” she said. “Good. Let’s move on.”

That whole time, Neelee had been pulling on my knee with her foot. If she hadn’t been, I don’t know what would have happened. Perhaps it would’ve went like this:

I waited for Mrs. Rothenberger to insult me, or to somehow just get back at me.

Okay,” she said.

Well,” I said. “Fucking…”

A couple of the girls gasped.

What did you just say?” the teacher said, astonished, her eyes narrowing.

Um,” I said. “Sorry.”

She’s sorry,” Neelee says quickly. She always covers for me. “It’s just how she talks.”

We do not swear in this classroom,” the teacher said, her black headscarf drooping a bit over her eyelids.

Conclusion: I am sent to the principal’s office and suspended.

Thank the Lord I just politely shut my mouth and let the lecture stream on uninterrupted. Thank God for Neelee. She saved my skin, but—I could have left a lasting impression on those young minds. I left them to their religious misery.


“You sure?” Samantha asked. “It sounds like you’re the miserable one in this story.”

“Watch it, fuckface,” I told her. “You could be next.”

“What, in the parade of never-ending stories about Clarissa Steiner? I don’t fear, they’re all about you anyway!”

“Anyway, the point is, if Neelee hadn’t been distracting me, I really would have started on one of my rants. One of my epic rants.”

Epic rants,” Samantha agreed. She paused; then she said: “Where’d you learn to swear like that, anyway?”

“Never mind that,” I muttered. It actually was my older brother.

“I guess I’ll just have to do my own independent research.”

Chapter 5

But I never told you about our time in prison. So let me do that.

Jimmy was all full of these obsessions and loathings that had to do with me. He absolutely detested me, As if it was my fault we ended up in that place!

“Clarissa, it’s clear,” he said. “Remember when we got to first know each-other?” I did. “And it was good, right? Uh-huh? Yeah? You know?”

I knew.

“And didn’t that mean anything to you?” he repeated.

“What?” I said. I was confused. Mean what? What should it mean? What does it mean? You tell me, Samantha. You tell me what all this shit means. I am invited over to his house. We smoke some weed downstairs. Everything is good. And then I leave with my family! I mean, goddamnit! Why is God so evil? Jimmy has to rail on how he is all hung up over me not calling him ever (like I ever did), and my not returning his calls, the horrible bitch that I am. Although I was too young to be a bitch at that time. Maybe just a cunt. But poor little Jimmy. He goes into the drug business, after that. He’s a pusher. He be a pusher. El habla espanol. He’s multicultural.

Ah, globalism. Globalismo, in the Spanish. I’m very educated, after all.

And a pussy. I mean, why didn’t I give Jimmy a call? I suppose I’ll never know.

So we parted ways, me and Jimmy. I continued on doing what I do best, and Jimmy started his own empire.

“I became a king, Clarissa,” he said, contently, like a fat cat with a cigar in his mouth. He leaned his back against the grimy wall and let it absorb the scum which had been festering there since G-d knows when. His back was probably full of the porous stuff by now. We’d been here for two whole hours.

Mostly, he’d been humming popular tunes over and over again while the other prisoners yelled at him to stop or asked him what song it was.

“Ever hear of Beethoven?” one prisoner asked.

Jimmy continued talking, then frowned.

“No, don’t listen to him,” another prisoner said. He was a bearded Rabbi-type who looked like he hadn’t eaten bread or water for two full days. “Want to hear a niggun?”

“My name is Jimmy,” he told the prisoner. “Nice to meet you. And this here,” and he pointed to me in the cell across from him, “is Clarissa.”

“Very nice to meet you,” the Rabbi-Figure said. He let us keep talking.

“So anyway,” he said, “I became a king. And I reveled in my kingship. I was glorified in it. My honor was a garment for me; my enemies fell before me. Because my honor told the older thugs to do it. And they didn’t know it was me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You see, Clarissa-pie,” he said with pointed acerbity, “I enacted this enterprise with the Internet. Chat rooms, Myspace, anything you can name. I did it. I spread myself all over, made myself an entrepreneur. I was a creative shit. A creative little shit.”

“You are verifiably crazy.”

“So I am. Kill me.”

“No. I can’t. And even if I could, I’d go to hell and have to be with you.”

Jimmy stared back. “Ah! So you do like me! What a nice surprise!”

I eyed him. Didn’t what I say have the opposite connotation?

“Enough,” Jimmy waved his hand. “Let me proceed.”

“Fuck that,” I said. “You’re just wasting time. Just get to the part where you get arrested, for whatever… it was you were doing. And why I’m also suspected of aiding you in your latest ploy to take over the world.”

“Ah, resorting to clichés! This I like!” He was definitely getting annoying.

“Too much,” I said.

“Fine, fine. I’ll get to it. But first, do you want some prune juice?” He offered me something from his tray.

“No,” I said.

“Fine, be that way!” he said. “Anyway…

“You listening?

“They took me to prison first time in eighth grade. Juvie, they called it. In Juvie, there were many different kinds of kids. Being a New-York Jew and all, and then a Los-Angeles Jew, I didn’t have much opportunity to branch out. I met people from all across the world. Among them: Swiss, Kurds, Mexicans, Americans, Iranians (well, Iranian Jews) and Circassians. And, bum da dum bum: Israelis! Of all stripe and color: blond Israelis, brown-haired, etc… I can tell you’re getting bored from all this cataloguing, so I’m going to stop. Besides, you’ve seen them all anyway.”

“You’re a good storyteller. Surprised I said that, though.”

“You’ve always been sweet under your bristly skin, Clarissa-pie.”

“Fuck you. You’re the one who got me here. And I still don’t know why I’m here.”

Jimmy stood silenced (or rather, sat). After a minute or two, he whispered, “I’m sorry. Honest, Clarissa, it was just an error. There should be someone else in your cell.”

“5 minutes to lights out!” yelled a warden.

“Who?” I demanded.

Jimmy hesitated. “Look,” he said. “It was my idea to have our families move to Israel.”


“I met some pretty cool Israelis in that L.A. jail,” he said. “We started a drug enterprise… spanning the glove. Along with the Pakistanis, Mexicans and South Africans. You know, globalism. You know, Jews and Muslims work together pretty well when it comes to defeating the establishment. In fact, anyone who’s not American is like that. As long as you’re an outsider, then it’s okay, as I like to say!”

“So you started this… enterprise.” Fucking Jimmy. “And why didn’t you bring someone else’s family instead of mine? You could’ve brought anyone! Any one of your drug buddies!”

“Bedtime,” spat a guard. “No more talking.”

Jimmy leaned in closer once the guard had gone. “So I subliminally convinced my parents to go to Israel, Paradise of Drugs, so I could build up my empire. I did all that anyone would expect. You know, I bought them Israeli products and such, and when they asked, I said I found them on the cheap, or nonsense like that. Or a friend had given it to me (which was true in some cases—Israeli pickles stolen from the pantry of one of my drug buddies (stolen from his parentals)). When my parentals came into contact with yours on the Sabbath, it was a simple matter of me inserting the topic of food, and watching them go off the rails! They move to Israel, and take us with them.

“Unfortunately, you were a sad little footnote. I accidentally wrote your name on a government form, saying that you were my first contact in any case of emergency.”


“Um, you were the only contact I had at the time, I had to put someone.”

I was really angry. Stewed, in fact. “Then wait a bit, till you meet one of your druggie friends!”

“Don’t call them that!” Jimmy snapped. “You might as well be insulting me.”

“I guess I am.”

Jimmy sighed. “When I get out of here, I’m getting me some nice Crackerjacks.”

The lights went out.

Chapter 6

Jimmy and I were in jail for six days. I guess we were lucky, because we should’ve been in there thirty. Maybe it was because they knew they had nothing on me (or maybe they had asked the U.S. about my various 6th grade misdemeanors—I don’t know). Maybe they had averaged my and Jimmy’s sentences; but then, wait, it’s impossible to average zero and infinity! No one told you I was a math major, huh, Samantha? Give us time—it’s only the fourth day of college.

Where was I… oh, so we got out. I was prancing around school telling everyone about it. Jimmy was tagging along, thirsty for some attention, like some uncared-for dog. I mean, I know he couldn’t understand Hebrew, but at least he could have looked a little more dignified…ah, you know I’m kidding, Jimmy!

We even got a reception from that old meanie, Mrs. Rothenberger.

“So I see you’re back. Welcome!” she said when she saw us in the hallway.

“Yes!” Jimmy said, proud to be saying something.

“So this is Jimmy?” said Mrs. Rothenberger.

“Yes!” I said. I didn’t know why my volume level was up. After all, I did dislike her—right?

“Oh, you’re famous!” she said. “All the boys are talking about you.”

“Hopefully I can understand them,” Jimmy muttered.

“I’m sure you will,” the teacher said.

“Huh? I didn’t ask you,” Jimmy said.

“I know. But I’m sure you will,” she said, and left.

“Jimmy, Jimmy,” I said, and almost took him by the arm (I saw another teacher rounding the corner who was staring suspiciously at us). “Jimmy, we almost haven’t talked about classes. Tell me about your classes, Jimmy.” I was surprising even myself.

All the students were staring at us as we walked past. Neelee waved as we walked past.

“I have no friends,” Jimmy said.

“What are you saying? I was asking you about your classes, stupid.”

“Shut up,” Jimmy whispered.

“You didn’t seem so morose in prison,” I said. Please lighten up, Jimmy, I thought.

“Well, this isn’t prison! Clarissa!” Yes, he said my name.

“Hey, it’s Naor,” I said. He was jauntily walking down the hall in that not-quite-strutting manner that many Israelis of the Middle-Eastern variety possess. I.e. shaking your hips and hoping someone will notice you. Ah, well. I happen to do that, too.

And so does Jimmy.

But he didn’t do it back then.

“Jimmy,” I said in the manner of one who instructs, “You must do like Naor. Naor will show you how to jive-walk.”

“You kidding me? Naor?”

“Hey, guyz. Vassup?” Naor said.

“Hey, Naor,” I said. “Want to take a walk with us? We’ll show little Jimmy how to walk. You know, like a Sephardi.”

Ars,” Naor said, with his little accented “r”. “You must know my name. That is it; That is what people call me.” Ars meant poison in Hebrew—why young middle-eastern Jews with spiky hair got to be called that in Israel was beyond me.

“How’d you get such good English?” an amazed Jimmy asked.

“Doesn’t matter. TV,” he said. “Want me to show you around the school?”

“OK!” Jimmy said, even though he had already seen the school multiple times.

“Have fun!” I said to the two of them, and wished them on their merry way. As they turned to leave, Jimmy leaned in close to me and said, “He likes me!”

“Of course he likes you, you idiot,” I wanted to say, but didn’t, because I know. I know, that learning Hebrew can be hard.

Israel is a different culture. It’s easy to get lost in the fact that you’re different from everyone else. You think you’re stupid. You think everyone else is ignoring you. The truth is, you probably are at least a little stupid, because you’re still learning how to adapt to a foreign environment. But if people are ignoring you, then you’re not the idiot. They are. You just remember that if you ever go to a foreign country, Samantha.

“Okay, mom,” says Samantha.

“Anyway,” I continue, “Naor goes off with Jimmy and they have a good time. Yay. And I’m left to deal with some more illicit teachers. What are they up to this time? Well, ‘no good’ is an excellent way of putting it.


Boom…Boom…Boom…Thump. That is the sound of me jumping on the bleachers in the city soccer stadium, just a few kilometers from our little grouping of houses on a hill. A dirt hill, I should add. But that’s irrelevant.

What’s relevant is that I was seeing Jimmy practice with his team of pals. They had graduated to two-word phrases like “that’s cool,” “chase it,” and “high-five” (a favorite among the Israelis—it’s not just Borat, you know). Jimmy was getting a real education, what can I say. Harvard-esque. They should make Legally Blonde 3 and have it be about him. I’ll be his girlfriend.

Okay, enough of that. I was there to see him and in exchange, he would come to see me. You see, he would quiz me on my shit, from these little wonderful colorful cards that we had, and I would come to his games. And, of course, his practices.

I had my shit spread out all over the three benches adjacent to me—Deuteronomy, Exodus, Genesis, Kings, Judges… you name it. I’d gotten the best of the Conservative authorities to combat that awful Orthodox arrogance, with a capital A, that this school has to offer.

You see, the Orthodox bigots with their black hats and streimels and their not-so-Orthodox cousins with their knitted colorful hippee yamulkees really want to monopolize G-d and religion in the name of the black coats and the segregation. Of women, I mean. Women can’t sing in public, women can’t pray in public, women must obey the male authorities. Meaning the rabbis.

The rabbis have their own G-d. He is an old man in a long black coat.

“Is that Clarissa I see?” said a voice with a long black coat and a circular furry hat. I tried to ignore him.

“Clarissa!” he said. “Turn around so I can see you.” I reluctantly did so.

“Clarissa, you’re one stunning beauty,” he said. Well, no, he didn’t actually say that. He said, “Clarissa! Not often I see you outside of class!”

No shit, Rabbi. “Um, Rabbi, so you want to sit down?” I asked him, with a forced cheerful smile on my face. A smile is worth a thousand A’s.

“Clarissa, fine,” he said. “As long as you can tell me if it violates the laws of yichud.”

Yichud. The set of laws which tells me when/where I may be with a boy and therefore designed to regulate fucking.

“No, no!” I said. “It doesn’t violate the laws.”

“That’s what I thought,” he said, and sat down. “So, Clarissa, tell me what is going on in this game. Who is winning.”

“Well,” I said, and looked at the field. They had started a scrimmage. Fuck me, I was so engrossed in my studying. I started to cup my hands to my mouth in order to cheer on Jimmy, but… I hesitated. And stopped. As I sat there with my hands in my lap, powerless to act, I wondered, why am I being stopped by this itinerant rabbi? Could it be that I am actually embarrassed?

No, it couldn’t.

So I put my hands to my mouth and yelled. “Hey, Jimmy! Go score a goal!”

The rest of the players turned to look at us. After a moment they started laughing. The rabbi must have had a dangling booger or something.

“Is that your boyfriend?” the rabbi asked.

Were rabbis always this direct?

“Um,” I said as I tried to come up with an answer. “So, rabbi, how are you doing?”

“Good, good!” he said and rummaged through his briefcase. “I have to give you something. Did you know that you were summoned to compete in a debate? About holy studies?”

I knobbed my nose down in distaste. “Debate? About Bible?”

“No, about holy studies in general. Thought, morality, Bible, Talmud, anything and everything. It’ll all be there. In your head. Should you choose to participate, of course.”

Should I choose to participate. Sounded like a guilt-trip to me.

“No,” I said promptly, and finally, and as Israelis said it, happily.

“Are you sure?” he said, wagging the papers in the air and arching his eyebrows. “You friend, em, Neelee, is participating. You could say, she is the main contestant.”

Main contestant? Neelee? It all left me feeling confused.

You see, Neelee was a very quiet person. Studious, yes. Not loud. Very quiet. She was an immigrant like me, I guess that had to play into it. Her family immigrated from Russia when she was nine. Her and her blithe, friendly Russian parents who didn’t know a thing about Judaism. Who didn’t want to. I didn’t blame them.

I guess that made Neelee all quiet. Maybe she was just patient. Or maybe Russian people are just quieter. Have you ever seen a Russian yell? Except for those old men with huge beards, I mean.

So Neelee was an interesting choice for contestant.

“Why’d you pick Neelee?” I blurted. It wasn’t that I was jealous. I just wanted to know.

“Neelee is a dynamic candidate with a working knowledge of all facets of the Bible,” he said.

“I don’t understand. Who decides this? Who knows this?”

“The teachers, for one. Listen, Clarissa, you’re being impertinent. For one, it’s not your decision. And two, she picked you. Are you going to turn her down? Don’t waste this opportunity!”

Fuck opportunities, I thought. I already have all the opportunities I need. But I was confused. “She picked me? For what?”

“Each team has three members. And each school has one team. Neelee was chosen for her knowledge. She applied, as well. Didn’t you?”

“For what, the test?”

“Oh, right, you weren’t here last year,” the Rabbi said. “Right. Sorry. Well, she picked you, and the final candidate is picked by the two of you.”

“What?” I was about to say wtf, but I stopped myself. “She picked me? Couldn’t she have done better than pick an American like me?”

I waited while one of Jimmy’s friends made a corner kick. It caromed off one of the posts, and Jimmy headed it in.

One thing I knew: Jimmy wasn’t coming to Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv, or wherever this thing was being held. He would spoil it. I mean, we’d been out of prison for what, two days? I wasn’t going to allow him to start telling prison stories.

Oh, wait, he can’t speak Hebrew. But I’m sure they would understand gesticulations and English.

Fuck fuck fuck! I couldn’t do this! Now I’d have to choose who comes. Along with Neelee, of course. That kind of pressure…makes me piss myself. I mean, I’m a tough girl, right guys? But playing picky-choosy with a bunch of other tenth-graders… what am I, a queen? I’d never be able to do that, I thought. I didn’t know anyone. What if we picked someone and then we got along horribly? And then we did horribly and flopped and then everyone blamed me?

Fuck me. And my life.

“Clarissa, so what if you’re American? We’re all just a bunch of motley immigrants, anyway.” He pointed to himself. “My grandparents were from Poland and Czechoslovakia, and I’m a mutt of that plus Moroccan and Egyptian.”

“I don’t care about that.”

“I know,” he said. “But you know, we’ll forgive you if you’re American. If you’re a depressed American, I don’t think we’ll have the guts. Or a nervous American.”

“Do I look nervous?” I checked myself and saw that I was shaking. “Fine. You’ve got me on that one, but you’ll never make me go.”

“It’s up to you,” he said. “But think it over. I’ll see you tomorrow morning for Talmud.”

If I survive the night, I thought.

“So any news on Jimmy’s verdict?” my mom asked me as we were sitting at dinner.

“Um… no,” I said.

“I think he should be pardoned,” my father said. “For not making a ruckus.” We all chuckled.

“The kids didn’t make fun of me today,” Chris said. I still thought of him as Chris, even though his real name was Caleb.

“That’s good, honey,” my mom said.

“I finally got a hang of the Arabic swear words and then shoved the leader against a wall, and that’s why,” he said.

“You shouldn’t shove people, Caleb,” Dad said.

“Daddy,” I said. “Don’t you think it’s better to let him handle things himself? I mean, it’s not like you’re the one going to an Israeli elementary school.”

“Clarissa-pie,” he said. “I think he’s handling things fine. I don’t know what I would have done if I was in his place. I was just informing him of the kneejerk moral abstraction which I was reacting to him with.”

That left me silent.

“And Clarissa,” Mother said. “Why don’t you go up to your room now for that?”

I giggled. But I wouldn’t be calling Daddy “Daddy” for quite a while.

“So, how was your day, Clarissa?”

“Absolutely fabulous,” I responded. I wiped the lasagna from my mouth with my duck-colored napkin (the ones we had brought from the States). “Give me some more lima beans, will you, Dad?”

Daddy grimaced and passed them.

He will always be Daddy to me.

“My day was actually amazing,” I said to them in spite of myself.

“Oh, really?”

“Jimmy came this close to scoring a goal in practice, and I got a job offer.”

“Oh, common, babe,” my smart-ass brother said. “You’re not even qualified to work.”

“You’re not, dipshit,” I fired back. “I am.”

“My ass.”

“Children, children,” my father held up his hands. And you wonder why I call him “Daddy.” He gives me the creeps.

“Um, guys, you want any dessert?” asked Mom.

…nation or ethnicity or something else… search the web

Is Judaism a movement or a philosophy? That’s certainly not a question I’d been asking myself the sixteen years I’d been alive.

First of all, who cared? I mean, I know Rabbi WhatsHisName did and all that, and probably cared about the outcome enough to rig it so that we would all turn into his prostrating, black-clad puppets. At least we had freedom of choice. That we could agree on.

I know Rabbi Klinghoffer probably knew the head of the committee which picks the questions and so he probably rigged the entire thing himself, making me and Neelee and Unknown Candidate #3 have to strain and sweat as hard as we could, for our ultimate betterment, of course. He probably picked it right after I arrived in school, so he could see me represent the liberal elements in Judaism and thus be shamed before the Ultra-Orthodox anti-feminist bigots which would populate the coliseum. Let us rejoice.

So it was that I set about this task, answering this question, along with Neelee and Unnamed Person #3, with a heavy heart. Of course, the first task we had was to pick our mandatory third teammate.

“Haven’t done that since you stopped playing kickball,” Chris said the next night.

“Aw, shutup, Chris,” said, surprisingly, my dad.

“Language, dear,” spouted my mom. “You must learn manners.”

“Who are you, his mom?” I moaned. “Gimme a break.”

“Maybe when your balls drop you can start playing kickball again,” Chris said.

“Fucking jerk,” I muttered.

“So how’s Jimmy?” Chris said when we had gotten upstairs.

“What do you really want to ask,” said I.

“Oh, you mean, did you do him yet?” he pantomimed.

“Where did you hear that?” I asked, horrified. You know, I can be genuinely horrified.

“Honey?” called my mom from downstairs.

“She means you,” Chris said.

“I know.”

I overhear your phone calls,” he said, licking his lips. “Sexy sluts.”

Now where’d he learn language like that?

Chapter 7

I suppose Rabbi Klinghoffer must be thinking of me as quite the obnoxious slut, as by now he will have read this book and all the materiel herein—but perhaps his kids won’t. Perhaps his kids will hold me up as the standard of moral behavior; their father worshiped idolatry, and now they are free. They are free to enter the promised land.

I mean, it’s not like I’m a total sinner. I do volunteer in some foreign countries. Like Kenya. And I sleep on the floor from time to time.

Bet he doesn’t do that.

But before I hang up my black hat on the hat stand and get comfy on the loveseat, let me tell you that Jimmy wasn’t happy about his eventually being nominated, either. You see, Rabbi Klinghoffer didn’t quite mean it when he insisted that Neelee and I choose our own running mate. You see, he would eventually turn out to be a sort of “mate”, but not of the same kind, and definitely, definitely not at that time.


“Christina, it’s time to go to class,” Samantha interrupted.

“Ah, what? Oh,” said my muttering mouth.

“I can’t wait to see Jimmy.”

“Ha, now that I’ve told you all that? Don’t try to steal him from me.”

“I won’t.”

“I think he has soccer practice today, anyway.”

“Isn’t today Friday?”

“You’re right again.”

“Fuck, I forgot to turn in my chem homework last night,” she said.

Privately, I was sad she had copied my tendency to be a sailor. I didn’t look so good in a pirate anyhow.

“Are you alright? What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said, forcing a smile. “Life goes on as usual.”

“So let us depart!” Samantha exclaimed.

We exited the building and started walking down the long concourse to the Spanish building.

I said, “I’ve always envied your vocabulary, you know.”

“Igualmente,” she said.




“Well I learned it from you.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did.”

“We’re reaching the fucking building. Tone it down.”

All at once, I caught a glimpse of bright blue engulfed in the crowd, coming toward us.

“Hey look, it’s Jimmy!”

“No fucking way.” Samantha turned.

“Hey Samantha, Clarissa.” I smiled at him. “Want to come jogging with me?”

“No thanks, Jimmy, we’re a little, how shall we say, weighed down,” I said.

“No kidding,” he said, and winked at Samantha. I cringed.

“Hey, listen, you want to come to Rabbi G’s tonight?” he said. “Plenty of good food.”

Samantha and I looked at each-other. We burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Jimmy asked.

“Oh, it’s not you, Jimmy,” I replied, although it was. Rabbi G was the resident Chabad practitioner, which was a sect of black-hat. This sect of black hats’ aim was to convert all other people into Chabad practitioners. “Spreading Chasidus,” they called it, which meant spreading a vague eighteenth-century philosophy designed to bring people together under the control of one charismatic leader, or “Rebbe”.

We had just spent the last hour reliving my experiences from Israel. That’s why it was funny.

“Listen, Jimmy,” I said. “We’re sort of busy. You know, girl things. But we’re still going out, right?”

Jimmy looked baffled. “Right,” he said.

“Fuck me,” I said, looking at my watch. “We’re late. Love you.” And I gave him a little peck on the cheek.

Perhaps it was my imagination, but Jimmy seemed to recoil a bit when I touched him.

Yo tengo! Tu tienes! Usted tiene! El tiene! El y ella tienen! Vosotros Tienen! Nosotros…”

“I thought we didn’t learn Vosotros,” Samantha whispered.

“I think she’s from Spain.”

“Silencio! Fermen las bocas!” the teacher screamed.

“She has good ears,” Samantha wrote to me when the teacher had turned back to the blackboard. (We still had blackboards—it was definitely a public university.)

“Yeah, no kidding,” I answered. “We should do a survey on the physiogamy of Spanish teachers.”

It turned out, actually, that Rabbi Klinghoffer was a Chabad. Not a Rebbe-worshiping, hero-lauding Chabad, but a Chabad all the same. He told us stories about the Rebbe, often for hours at a time, if it happened to be connected to something we were doing.

“Did you hear about the time the Rebbe farted?” he asked us once when he dropped in to Physical Sciences class.

But actually, no, that didn’t happen.

It went like this:

“Ladies!” he excited upon us as he dropped by where we were studying. “How is the progress?”

“What progress?” Neelee asked.

“The competition, of course.”

“We are competing quite fine,” I said.

“Hahaha,” he said. “You girls are quite something magnificent. I expect you have chosen your third person already?”

“No,” I said, and started to hate him.

“Clarissa,” he said, “You don’t look so hot. Cheer up.”

Fuck you.

“Clarissa,” Neelee said, shaking me like a sack of beans.

“Neelee?” I asked. I raised my head from the table.

“Neelee?” Neelee asked. “Who’s Neelee?”

“What?” I said. It was only then that I realized that Neelee wasn’t Neelee and the table wasn’t a table. It was a desk.

“Class is over,” she said. “It’s time to go to Philosophy.”

“Fuck,” I said. Philosophy be damned, my philosophy was sleep. Especially after getting four hours of sleep. But drinking has its rewards, you know.

“We’re still in class, you know,” she said. “Swearing can come later.”

“Right,” I said, sighing. “Thanks, mom.”

Samantha said, “Okay, then,” and took my backpack and me. I was dragged from the classroom.

“Better luck on the quiz next time!” the teacher screamed after me.

“Why is she such a bitch?” I asked Samantha.

“She was born that way. I don’t know. I think that’s the way she talks, actually,” she said.

“What do you think of Jimmy’s proposal?” I said.

“What do you mean?” said Samantha. “I thought we were going out tonight.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little risqué for me to fuck someone else when I’m also fucking Jimmy?”

“I mean, you can stick two penises in you at once, can you?”

“Shut up, you slut!” I said and lashed out at her. She blocked it. Black belt, what can I say.

“Stop fucking around and tell me why you want to go be with Jimmy. I mean, you’re with him every day!”

“Like I said,” I said, “It just doesn’t seem right.”

“I see,” she said. “Monogamy clearly suits you. Let me know when you break out the dresses.”

“Give me a break,” I said. “It’s not like I’m becoming religious.”

“Good,” she said. “Because you can’t get drunk on Saturday night if you have to go to church.”



“I mean, there’s also another reason I want to go,” I said.

“And what is that?”

We passed a group of party-animal guys. They ogled at us.

“I mean, I want to sort of see what these people are all about,” I said, although that couldn’t be farther than the truth.

“I thought you said you hated Rabbi Klinghoffer.”

“That’s because he was a klingy shit,” I said. “And I did. But not that much. And just in a particular way. Just for certain things. Not for others.”

Samantha groaned. “You will become religious.”

“Just watch me,” I said. “Maybe I’ll become a Scientologist.”



It was a Shabaton at Rabbi Klinghoffer’s house. Everyone was staying for the weekend in the Zichron Ya’akov neighborhood where the school was, and where the Rabbi’s house also happened to be. We were at the Rabbi’s table. Maybe thirty of us. Jimmy was there. Neelee. Naor. The soccer team. My other girlfriends. And some various assorted nerds, etc. But of course you don’t need to hear that.

“The most important thing is the Torah,” Rabbi Klinghoffer was saying. “Doing the Torah. Because if you’re not doing the Torah, you’re not living life. Going to school and doing your homework is not enough. You need to be doing your homework up there,” and he pointed to the sky.

Several students coughed. I looked up at the ceiling where he was pointing. Lots of little patterns etched in white paint. Nice roof, Rabbi.

“It’s not wealth that matters,” he continued. “It’s godliness. It’s cleaving to G-d. Taking the hidden and making it revealed.”

I took a bite of coleslaw.

“Therefore,” he said, looking at me and then back to the group, “there needs to be a continuation, a confirmation of all we learn in Judaism. This is Chasiddus.”

What is Chassidus,” I pictured Alex Tribek telling the audience, is right. Two hundred dollars for Mr. Jones.

“Well, then,” he said to me, sparking chuckles from the boys. “Clarissa. You tell us what the four worlds are.”

Four worlds of Kabbalah. Fuck if I know. And although I didn’t really appreciate him putting me on the spot like that, fuck my life if I was going to give in to that rabbi.

“Well,” I said, thinking hmmm and not getting anything, “well, I think that the four worlds are Abercrombie and Fitch, Aeropostale, Roxy and Urban Outfitters.”

The rabbi chuckled. “You know, Clarissa, I think that’s sort of funny.” Again the laughter. “I’ll tell you now that the four worlds are bacon, ham, pork and anchovies.” More laughter. His face became serious. “But now what I’m going to tell you is not a joke. The four worlds are the World of Emanation, the World of Creation, the World of Formation, and the World of Action.” The faces in the room are staring intently. I perspire. “There is not just one world,” the rabbi continued. “What I’m about to tell you is absolutely serious.

“We are mere ants. We are walking around on the fingertip of G-d’s hand. I cannot stress this enough. We are eating, sleeping, driving, yes, even pooping,” he said, and some students laughed, “in his presence. In his presence we are all fools, who go about the day like chickens with their heads cut off.”

“Chickens! That is what we are.” He paused a little to think. “That is even lower than ants, wouldn’t you think?” More laughs. “And you, Clarissa,” he said, singling me out again. “What do you think? Wouldn’t we all make good ants?” He gestured at the room. They laughed. I remained silent.

“And what does it mean? What does it all mean? That were are in the bottom world. That we are mere mortals. We are not Gods.”

“Except when it comes to skateboarding,” I said.

I couldn’t help it. I had to say something. I couldn’t let him steal the room like this.

“Skateboarding?” the rabbi said. “Skateboarding? Clarissa, what is skateboarding, if not for a frivolous pursuit of vanity which has utterly no meaning whatsoever?” I opened my mouth, but he continued. “Furthermore,” he said, “what is anything in the presence of G-d? Nothing! Ashes and dust.”

“Therefore,” the rabbi pontificated, “it is imperative to be on the alert at all the times.”

“For what?” I said.

“For what?” he asked. “For falsehoods! For untruths that you must clear out of your life at the moment’s notice! That’s what! For instance, drugs! Drugs, sex and Rock and roll! Things which are imported from America! Every morning, I wake up thinking about that, and thinking, ‘Thank G-d I’m a Jew, and not an animal like those goyim!’ It’s about truth above falsehoods!”

The boys in the room were nodding their heads thoughtfully.

Is he high?” the girl next to me whispered.

“I don’t think I’ve seen him high yet, so yes,” I responded.

The rabbi ignored us. “Don’t you know,” he said, “that the geula has already happened. We are in the end times. The end of the world as we know it. And the beginning of the messianic era.

The beginning is always the hardest part. Like when I found out I was bisexual. The beginning was the hardest. And when I found out Jimmy wasn’t. I mean, time crawls so slowly when there are no orgies. Just kidding. I don’t do that.

Or do I?

But, my point is that it was pretty hard in that first encounter with Chabad. And with strict Orthodox Judaism in the first place. I mean, school was weird in a sense, but it was also a factory. You know how everyone from a certain place is a certain way? Like everyone who plays Magic the Gathering is a little bit socially inept; everyone who smokes pot regularly is a little bit lazy; everyone who parties regularly is usually just a little bit horny. Well, everyone who went to my school was the same way, too. They talked the same and acted the same and talked to the opposite sex the same. In that sense, it was easy to fit in. Just be like everyone else; be an actress.

It was weird, but not nearly as weird as Chabad.

At Chabad, you see, there was this whole thing going on where you had to be a certain way. For instance, talking to the opposite gender is frowned upon, so I couldn’t just fuck someone in the middle of the room or even grind against them. I had to think first. Then my mind would tell me “no”. That’s how it works.

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