essays kaddish in two-part harmony the rebbe's queer daughters

Vavah steps out into the wicked night — 1.1.5

And so Vavah went out, in day or in night, and that clunker of the rebbe’s car seemed happiest most of all when its engine was revved enthusiastically at night. And when the rebbe’s third daughter escaped her chores and tore out across the gravel drive, her wheels screeched their escape, as they headed off in the direction of those wicked city lights.

Now Vavah was eighteen, and it was apparent (to her siblings at least—judging from her noctural tales in the loft), that Vavah’s thing for French speaking shiksas (who reminded her of her childhood readings on Jeanne d’Arc) had not dissipated at all.

And that such creatures actually existed in the city, their own fair city!

At night, the sisters would lie together in a row, twisting their toes with each other, and look out at the distant lights through the wide dormer window in the loft.  They’d watch the city glimmer impossibly on across the hilly horizon below them and afar, standing witness to Vavah’s tales of the city.

And Sophie would add a midrash here and there based upon her own adventures out, albeit for the most part in the daylight and the markets. But still her testimony corroborated the existence of places Vavah knew by night.

And Binah would smile to punctuate her Sophie’s point of view, and she’d add, from time to time, an emphatic nod (although she had little experience in the world of commerce, cars and streets). But if Sophie said it, heard it, or saw it, that was good enough for Binah. Sophie provided all the external senses she would ever need. In like manner, Binah provided her elder twin all the nocturnal comfort a young woman could ever want.

Vavah’s next youngest sister would glance at the city’s lights once, perhaps during Vavah’s tale, then turn to stare the other way, not north but west, through the other dormer window in the loft, to the silent stars not the city lights, to slumbering trails and dunes, and to the roiling unquiet sea. But Malkah, we will meet forthwith.

North was Vavah’s direction, and she faced full-on the waking urban lights of the Victorian and steel-girded city.  Vavah told her sisters stories of neon dispositions:  names written in colored light, names like Elephant Walk, and Does Your Mother Know?, The Coco Club, The Lexington.  Names as foreign sounding and exotic as any names could be. And not a biblical quote among them.

The Coco Club was her favorite tale. And Vavah told her sisters stories of black leather clad women who looked a lot like their own dear V. Strong and tree-trunk, shorn and sassy. The girls hung on every word. Women in nothing-much-at-all dancing for women dressed as men. And bars—that too, they’d never heard of. And again, for women. Women who loved women. Free to stand there, drink in hand—laughing out loud their freedom. That such places could exist in the same universe as their sainted baba and isolated cottage overlooking the Western sea. Well, it was a miracle!

And the girls’ nocturnal bodies would squirm deliciously to hear Vavah speak of these at night after each adventure.  Certain they were that what she said could not possibly be true. And yet look at her! Look at their man-sister! At night, alone with just the girls she surely was not cursed. Instead, she glowed. Instead she beamed with possibilities for such as these. Instead, she was an angel, a messenger bearing news of the attainable world to come. Another miracle!

And yet, Vavah, too, was not the queerest of them all.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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