When I was 38 I ran away from home.
I was done with New York men and their lack of passion and mystery. I wanted to ride on the back of a Vespa in a hiked up maxi dress. I wanted to chain smoke cigarettes at an outdoor café with slow service. I wanted to fall in love with a boy with stubble and an accent in my ancestor’s homeland.
So I did what American Jewish girls do at 16..
I booked a trip to Israel.
A friend of mine connected me with his friend Lior, who had a spare bedroom. I stalked Lior on Facebook prior to my trip and decided we would make a fantastic couple. He was Moroccan, a writer, spoke 3 languages, and loved Hip Hop. The first humid night I dragged my luggage into his basement apartment, we made out after smoking hookah. I never spent a night in the spare bedroom. Lior had a Vespa, a cute little dog and wrapped Teffilin around his arm in prayer every morning. My plan was falling into place exactly as I had imagined.
I was on my way to becoming a Sephardic bride.
Things first began to fall apart on my first Shabbat. I got lost on my way back from the market to get groceries for dinner. I have a very poor sense of direction no matter how many times I take a route. I had tried to make visual breadcrumbs for myself on the way, blue car on my right, playground on my left, but got confused because there were no street numbers. The streets were deserted and it was starting to get late. I had to make it back in time for food to be prepared prior to sundown. This is what Sephardic Brides do. My finger creases burned from the weight of the plastic grocery bags, sweat poured down my brow.
I thought of my father. How when I was nine he scrawled a map and a compass on a napkin to teach me the avenues of the Upper West Side. I was going to visit a friend on 96th and Broadway and he insisted I was old enough to go alone. I made it as far as 96th and Amsterdam before crying and calling my mother from a payphone.
My father was irritated “For crying out loud, you were almost there. You just needed to go one more block west! ”
Since then I always let men read maps for me.
I called Lior from my cell phone and he came to find me on the Vespa. He was annoyed. I was a mere 2 blocks away.
That night at dinner his sister asked me how old I was. I lied and told her I was 35.
Lior’s friends stopped by and he told them how I got lost in Hebrew. Everyone laughed. So fuckin American. It was then discovered I had bought the Pareve Nutella instead of the dairy version that I was instructed to, because I couldn't read the label.
The next day we went to he beach to meet more friends. We bumped into a gaggle of girls and Lior didn’t introduce me. My thighs flabby and pale, we planted a blanket smack in the middle of the scorching beach. I disappeared to the bar. No one noticed. I met a soldier and told him I wrote poetry in New York City. He was impressed. I got lost again trying to find my way back to Lior and the blanket.
When we got back to house it became evident I had gotten a terrible sunburn. Large red splotches covered my stomach and back. Lior told me I was the “whitest Sephardic girl he was ever with. “
“Half –Sephardic” he corrected himself. It was true. My sister had gotten our Syrian side’s olive skin and black wavy hair, while I inherited the Russian peachy hue with a mysteriously gentile nose.
My plan was slowly crumbling.
The following Shabbat I ate a picnic floor dinner with a friend from New York who subletted an apt near the beach. I talked about Lior excessively. When I came back from the kitchen with another bottle of Kosher wine, she looked weary. “I mean… even if he was all into you, what would you do, drop your whole career at 38 and move to Israel?? And you aren’t religious. I mean you wrote a poem titled He Fucked Me Like Brooklyn?? “
“Don’t tell him about that” I snapped. I didn’t care about New York and my career. I wanted to be a nice, fertile Jewish girl who made Shakshuka and didn’t get lost on Shabbat. I wanted an elder to stain henna on my hands and to bake in the sun with my people. I wanted a rabbi to bless my head under a Chuppa and make my father proud.
My poems, my wild performances, my one-night stands, seemed so insignificant. So wasteful.
I did not know myself the last few weeks in Israel. Trying to make someone love you is the most unattractive of actions, and trying to make yourself something you aren’t is the saddest. I lost ten pounds trying to shrink into something pure. I risked traveling to occupied territory in Bethlehem to pray for a husband. I got lost in the fruit market and had a mere child guide me back to a McDonalds.
It was just too fuckin late for me to be a Sephardic bride.
Back in New York, I resumed to what I do best. My gay husband gave me a makeover and I threw myself into performing. I painted henna on my own hand because I was a Sephardic goddess. I gained back my curves and broke the Yom Kippur fast early.
I was back.
I met a man who didn’t even know what Sephardic was. We talked about old New York and cable news. Lior came to visit and looked pale. He got lost on the D train and ended up on Tremont Ave. He rewrote history and remembered that summer as a “blast.” I cringed to remember myself the emotional peasant. I sharpened my fangs and told him I hope finds a good Sephardic bride. I wasn’t angry anymore, now content in my blasphemy.
His last day on Shabbat I swiftly guided him to synagogue with a subway map that I read him, right off the top of my head.
* Sephardic Jews are the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and The Middle East and their descendants.