I was 8 years old and don't remember all of it.
It started when the front door opened. It was just after Yom Kippur had ended. My father had been in synagogue all day and my mother had been fasting.
"Where's the Havdala wine, please?"
He said this to my mother not so much as a question but as an imperative. Wore a tall black hat in the traditional felt style. His shoes were perfectly shined as always. A suit severe and gray.
"I don't know where the Havdala wine is," said my mother.
"We need the Havdala wine," said my father.
What led to the next thing that happened, I don't know. But it is permanently engraved in my mind. It was like my mother just completely lost her shit, all at once, no warning. It was very scary.
"You want the Havdala wine?"
Her voice was elevating slightly. I could hear her rummaging around the kitchen cabinets.
Know that I love my mother and father very much. But my mother, to me, is like my life.
I did not know what pain she felt in that minute, but I could feel it in a very surgical way. As if someone, G-d forbid, was cutting my arm off at the bone.
"YOU WANT THE HAVDALA WINE?"
Now she was screaming.
I don't know why exactly she got so upset. To this day I don't know why. My father was literally just standing there, open-mouthed.
Looking back on it, I would surmise the following. We lived in Monsey, which was repressive and horrible for anyone who did not really love fundamentalist authoritarianism. And my parents persistently broke fundamentalist rules, beginning with the confusing union of a Hasid and a Litvak.
When I went to school in Monsey that year I developed a terrible tic and a stutter because we had just moved in from Ohio. And they made fun of my accent like crazy.
So my mother, I think, had had enough. And she was hungry, and tired and fed up well beyond her limits.
I wanted to cry for her, and looking back I want to cry for my dad, too. They both tried so hard to fit in and do the right thing and for the lack of love they got in return, it was basically all for nothing.
* * *
In my mind I am imagining where I was while the action was going on. I have to confess I am a bit dramatic, and my mind turns toward the scene of the crime rather than running away.
I believe it was the back of the kitchen.
We had a two-bedroom apartment in Spring Valley, which is a part of Monsey very close to the religious school. We lived pretty well from a financial standpoint, although it always felt like we were struggling.
Beyond the entryway of the kitchen there was the dining room. It was full, stacked with heavy oak furniture that my grandparents (a"h) in Toronto had given us as a present. Or maybe as a hand-me-down.
I would have killed to have furniture like that today. Easily it was worth tens of thousands of dollars. You cannot even imagine the quality of this wood.
But I know that my mother hated it. She hated the heavy, suffocating feel of the furniture in the room. How the wood sprawled out and took over and crept up the walls.
The shelves and shelves of Hebrew books, holy books, books that stopped us from living a normal American life, just as people.
So she chose that night to call out to the Heavens for redemption.
"YOU WANT THE HAVDALA WINE?"
* * *
The table was topped with a thick layer of glass, as I recall; did I mention that? In my mind when I remember this incident I remember it so vividly.
I remember I stood behind my mother, this short, squat and physically powerful woman, who was also so fragile and weak.
I was and am behind her. I stand behind her suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I stand with her and around her. She is my cause, my endless cause in life.
What she went through was not about her, or my father, but something more fundamentally evil. And as I grow older I know exactly what it is, I know it more and more clearly, even as I cannot yet give it a specific name.
"HERE'S THE HAVDALA WINE!"
(We were not wine drinkers, so we called the big jugs of Kedem Grape Juice "wine.")
...and it then it came smashing down. Or should I say, more specifically, my mother brought it down, she smashed it down, smashed that wine down on the table as hard and as fast as she could.
I don't know where my sister was. I remember only the shattering glass. The look of that glass, in slow-motion. The sound of it, as it shattered in little pieces, everywhere. Everywhere around me was shattering and my home was shattering too.
I remember that my father always kept his composure. I don't remember what he said to her after that. I could see that he loved her very much, and that she was so, deeply, unhappy.
When someone tells me that it's time to repent because of Yom Kippur, I always think of this story from my past. I think to myself, that the things we really do bad are the things we do to each other in the name of honoring G-d. And what a sacrilege that is in the process.
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