The Rabbi’s Wife.
By Vincent Gray
Copyright © 2017 Vincent Gray
Shakespir 2017 Edition
This book is a work of fiction. All the characters developed in this novel are fictional creations of the writer’s imagination and are not modelled on any real persons. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author. [
Dedicated to my wife Melodie and my daughter Ruth
It was on the Botany field trip in January 1975 that Yael Kaplan joined me in a second class single sleeping berth on the Johannesburg-Durban overnight train. It would be just the two of us sharing the berth for the night. The leather upholstery was the usual green for second class coaches. I sat down next to the window. The seat was facing the direction in which the train would be travelling. I was familiar with the overnight sleeper train journey from Park Station to Durban, having on previous occasions travelled as a primary school child with Oupa and Ouma van Vollenhoven on holiday to Durban mainly during the July school vacations.
Both of us were not really interested in joining in the drinking and partying at the other end of coach with the rest of the third year Botany class. Yael who was pretty, dark eyed, petit, and very inquisitive. She was also Orthodox, a Sephardic looking Jewess who had been my Friday afternoon lab partner in our first year physics class in 1973. I originally thought that she was Portuguese. Then she was Yael Toledano, now she was Mrs. Yael Kaplan. At the end of our second year she had married a Rabbi while still being at the tender age of nineteen.
‘I saw you at Stuttafords with Dr Jolly, the dress that you were trying on was gorgeous, you looked fabulous,’ she said, after pouting the word ‘fabulous’ she flourished her bright pink tongue seductively, its sharp pointed tip briefly curling up in the corner of her slightly parted lips, before slipping behind lips that had now closed into a teasing smile, a sweet smile that betrayed an elusive invitation, an invitation just elusive enough, so that I would sufficiently intrigued to contemplate its real, real meaning. Was she coming onto me, the wife of a Rabbi? In first year when I first got to know Yael as a very likeable friend I could not help wondering what it would be like to be physically intimate with her, as she was a truly delectable creature. If something was going to happen between us then she would have to live with that secret knowledge of a homoerotic transgression for the rest of her life. She seemed to be so ripe for the taking that it was impossible not to test her resolve, and a little inner voice whispered ‘why not’? Prompted by the temptation I remarked in an offhand manner that Leviticus does not explicitly condemn women having sex with women. I added that women do not possess intromitting sex organs which ejaculate semen so strictly speaking women making love with women are not technically speaking engaged in having actual sex. Furthermore, the fingers of a woman’s hand can hardly be classified as sex organs.
She shrugged her shoulders non-committedly, but her demeanour spoke otherwise.
In the New Testament, Romans 1:24 condemns the act of women engaging in physical love with each other. In Acts 25:11 Nero who outdid Caligula in acts of sexual perversion acquitted Saint Paul of all charges of subversion. And to return Caesar’s favour, Paul did not condemn the Roman political establishment, instead he endorsed it as God ordained. In spite of what Saint Paul thought, lesbianism was something sacred to me and was not something to be trifled with for amusement or sexual curiosity. Yet it seemed clear that Yael wanted to engage in a lesbian sex act with me.
Yael was sitting close to the door, there was a wide space between us, and so I patted the seat next to me inviting her to sit closer to me. She got up and sat down next me. Finding herself at the threshold of the great unknown she confessed that she was feeling extremely nervous.
‘I need to have a smoke my whole body is shaking like a leaf.’ She got up and rummaged in her bag for a packet of cigarettes. With visibly shaking hands she lit the cigarette. I didn’t know she smoked. She said that no one knew she smoked, not even the Rabbi. After flicking the butt out of the window she rummaged in her bag for her mouth spray to freshen her breathe. Sitting down again next to me she turned her face towards me and said:
‘You can kiss me now if you want to.’
‘I think you better first lock the door.’ As a teenager I never had the typical heterosexual teenage experience of no-strings-attached-getting-off in a dark corner at a party or session as it was called in those days. Listening to the high school girl talk, getting-off involved sustained intimate boy-girl smooching for the duration of the party. Yael and I after the Botany field trip had a secret love affair which lasted the full six weeks of the first term and then she suddenly broke it off just before I was due to go on a diving trip to Sodwana Bay during the Easter recess. She told me then that she was pregnant and that she was going to be a mother. But any that was not the end of the story of Yael and me, so let me continue.
A rattling at the door interrupted our smooching. The door slide open. The steward wanted to know if we needed bedding for the night. While our two bunks were being made we went to the dining saloon for dinner. While waiting for the first course which was going to be soup we ordered two glasses of red wine. Yael sipping her wine had a mischievous secretive look on her face.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘In first year I was infatuated with you,’ she confessed.
‘I was infatuated with you too,’ I also confessed.
‘Then our feelings for each other are mutual?’ She asked.
Back in our berth after switching off the lights we pulled the crisp cool sheets on the lower bunk over our naked bodies. I made love to Yael as the train sped into the night that cloaked the vast steppes of the Highveld in mysteries that were too deep and invisible to ever fathom. While enjoying the intimate closeness of our bodies we whispered and giggled like two schoolgirls. As the night wore on we listened to the lulling rhythm of the train’s swaying and rolling and the continuous unrelenting clickety-clack of the spinning steel wheels. Our limbs intertwined, our lip pressed together we were oblivious to the progress of its steady passage as it snaked through the thick silent darkness. Yael’s tongue penetrate softly into the passage of my ear, she nibbled and sucked my ear lobe, she bit my neck until the pleasure mingled with the sharpness of pain made me cry out, she moved her moist vulva rhythmically against my thigh until she climaxed once more. Reaching over me she opened the window blinds, I gazed up at the black bejewelled night sky, and put arms around her and held her tight against my breasts, I could feel the rise and fall of her breathing, and the strong beat of her heart. We communicated with the constant flutter of moist kisses, we chuckled softly to each other as our nocturnal journey of love was punctuated intermittently by the rough bashing sounds of berth doors sliding back and forth, by the rapid thudding of running footsteps, by the kicking of a football in the passage way, by sudden bouts of boisterous shouting, by the eruptions of raucous laughter, by bursts of wild guitar strumming and then by an intense passionate rendition of Jethro Tull’s ‘Locomotive Breathe’.
In a sleepy voice I heard Yael say before we both fell asleep: ‘I love you.’
With the night-train journey of drunken revelry between Park and Durban Stations behind us, we boarded a second train for Port Shepstone. From Port Shepstone a bus took us to the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve. The rest camp with its rondavels had been booked by the Botany Department for our 3rd year Botany fieldtrip, and would be our base camp for seven nights. On the way to Port Shepstone, the train stopped at seemingly remote and strange looking railway stations serving all the familiar towns with their holiday beaches along the Natal south coast, on our way down we shunted passed Isipingo Beach, Amanzimtoti, Warner Beach, Winklespruit, Illovo Beach, Umkomaas, Scottsburgh and Hibberdene. Following the coastline of the Indian Ocean the railway line cut through the dense dune bush.
At Oribi Gorge we as the five misfits, that is, Yael the lesbian Jewess married to an Orthodox Rabbi, Wayne Bernstein the Jew who had become a Pentecostal Christian, Roger Ho the Chinese Catholic and Michael Livingstone the Protestant, all ended up in the same rondavel. There were only four beds, so Yael and I shared a bed. Each night as the only students who were sober we eventually returned to our rondavel. In the dark we lay in bed chatting until we fell asleep. Our sleeping quarters became a theological hot house with no holds barred jousting over the nature of truth and the meaning of the idea that salvation was from the Jews. Yael under extreme duress eventually confessed that she was a borderline atheist but preferred to call herself an agnostic just in case there was something actually out there. When asked why she was hedging her bets she replied that there could still be something- ‘out-there’ as it were. When pressed to be more specific she replied:
‘Well you know what I mean, God and all that kind of stuff’.
‘Why did you then marry the Rabbi if you are an atheist?’ Wayne wanted to know.
‘Well strictly speaking I am not completely atheistic, but I have problems believing in God especially given the facts that support the theory of evolution, which also means that I do not believe in the literal truth of Genesis anymore, I do not believe in Adam and Eve, and also I do not believe in Noah and the flood. There is so much stuff in the Bible which is not based on any certifiable historical facts, even Moses at Mount Sinai receiving the ten commandments seems like a legend to me, and the story of Abraham could be a complete myth, ’ Yael explained
‘If you don’t believe in the Bible as the revealed Word of God, then how could you have married an Orthodox Rabbi,’ Wayne said, in his interrogation of Yael.
‘It is a lot more complicated than you could ever imagine,’ Yael replied.
‘I don’t understand why it should be so complicated,’ Wayne countered.
‘I was sort of trapped by force of circumstances over which I had very little control. The marriage was sort of half-arranged, even in spite of the fact that my faith had collapsed completely. He, the Rabbi, was also pursuing me and well there was so much pressure. I did not want hurt him or my parents, and then there were all these expectations, I was under so much pressure, you can’t imagine, coming from an Orthodox family and all that. I did not have the strength to cope with everything, I was literally drowning, and I thought that maybe I could learn to love him, he was handsome and so debonair, and then also there was always the possibility that I could find God again, especially if I was married to a devout Rabbi.’
‘You got to be joking!’ Wayne exclaimed, his face a picture of astonishment.
‘So you married the Rabbi, hoping that he will help you find God again, even though you don’t really love him, I mean you married the Rabbi as a complete unbeliever,’ Roger asked.
‘Well maybe I do love him, who knows!’
‘Maybe you love him! What kind of kind of answer is that,’ Michael exclaimed.
‘Well I sort of love him. He is my husband after all, and he is kind, considerate, loving and gentle, he is a very nice person, and therefore in a way it is impossible not to sort of love him, and I don’t want to hurt him.’
‘To sort of love him, what do mean by that, how can you sort of love your husband, it does not make any rational sense?’ Wayne questioned.
‘I do love him, he is my husband,’ she insisted.
One night we spoke about the fig tree. Actually Wayne brought it up. Well actually Yael’s husband the Rabbi brought it up in a public debate with Wayne at Wits in the lecture theatre SS1 in the Social Science’s building. Wayne as part of the nascent Jews for Jesus movement had created a bit of storm amongst the Jewish students on Wits campus. Wayne accepted the challenge to debate with the Rabbi the status or significance of Jesus with respect to the Jews. As Wayne’s friend I attended the debate. The Rabbi’s attack on Jesus was particularly vicious and quite strange. It was also strange because he said Socrates was greater than Jesus. Socrates the great homosexual, the lover of Alcibiades the big trouble maker, was apparently greatly admired by the Rabbi. The main plank in the Rabbi’s dismissal of Jesus as a man of no significance or consequence was the story of his cursing of the fig tree, which subsequently became withered fig tree. The story of Jesus cursing the fig tree was taken from the Gospel of Mark. In fact the Rabbi had a copy of the New Testament and he read the relevant passages, which went as follows:
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
Later that day, after the lunchtime debate with Rabbi, while we were busy with our Zoological Lab, Wayne (Wayne was my lab partner) mentioned that the Rabbi’s reference to the story of the withering of the cursed fig tree was deeply ironical, and that the Rabbi had completely missed the plot surrounding the fig tree.
What did the fig tree mean, what did it symbolize, why the fig tree, it was not even the season for bearing fruit, in what way was the Rabbi blind, what could he not see hidden in plain sight? What is the eschatological or apocalyptic significance of the fig tree? How could the Rabbi overlook this? How could he misread a portion of scripture that was Hebraic in its very essence?
Wayne was also intrigued. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree when it was by its very nature not bearing fruit out of season? Of course the tree was barren because it was out of season. To be out of season is to be out of history. Could the curse that causes the barren tree to wither be a symbolic act that embodies a metaphor? In all three synoptic Gospels the fate of the fig tree is critically related to the fate of the temple which was linked decisively with the future cultural-social-political prospects of first century Judaism as it faced the infinite horizon of history. The judgment on the temple is that it has been found to be barren like the fig tree. It is barren within and out of season. According to Wayne’s analysis of the meaning of the fig tree, Judaism is not only barren, but because of its barrenness it is condemned to wither away, into an ahistorical ghetto as it turned increasing inwards on itself, and because of that it will always be out of season, the Jews in the opinion of Wayne are no longer ‘in season’, they are living outside history, they have left history, they have become the unseasonable people. He believed strongly that Judaism’s season had passed forever. For now it can only exist as a memorial to the past. It can only look back and not forward. It has been cut loose from history and has been left to drift without direction in an ocean of uncertainty, too be tossed about by violent and unpredictable storms, to be finally shattered and wrecked on the rocks. The Jew has no home, the Jew is a wonderer, a stranger, the eternal Other, a people condemned to be oppressed by all nations. I saw this in Yael’s eyes in our mutual reciprocal moments of affection and tenderness when we were caught off guard in each other’s embrace of vulnerability. It was her destiny be a Jew, not mine. I could never be a Jew.
By mid-morning after the Botany field to Oribi Gorge we were back once more in Durban. Our train to Johannesburg would be departing at five-o-clock so we had time on hand to kill. Walking down West Street to the Marine Parade Yael and myself wanting to be alone together broke away from the rest of the class and the academic staff. It was like going down memory lane. The atmosphere was different. The beaches were empty, the holiday season was over. On the North Beach side of their peer there were some surfers. At the end of the peer there stood a lone fisherman. We walked past the Lido, past the Small Top and stopped by Arlington Beach. Since primary school I had spent so many of my school holidays walking up and down the Marine Parade. I wanted to say something profound about this fact, but I could not think of anything. Being on the Marine Parade out of season made the whole experience different, it was not the same as the experience one has when being on holiday during the holiday season. I was strangely aware of this. I even turned to Yael and asked: ‘Doesn’t it feel strange being here now?’
She thought for a moment and then agreed with me: ‘Yes it does feel strange. It will feels empty, different, it does not feel like we are actually on holiday in Durban. We just killing time.’
Being-on-holiday involves the novelty of de-localization and re-embodiment which gives another sense to the experience of the passage of time, to the experience of location or place and the experience of dwelling in that de-localized fantastical geography in which one has become re-embodied with that peculiar holiday-sense-of-self. This is what makes being-on-holiday such a magical experience and gives it that feeling of unreality, the feeling of unreality is brought about by the erasure or the removal or dislocation of that ordinary sense of everydayness that characterises the average or normal state-of-affairs of our daily lived lives while we are at home. To be away from home when home comprises an entire world of being and existence is to be dislocated as in de-localized and to be away from home allows for us to become re-embodied in a different experience of self, different from the self that is being constantly reconstituted and re-shaped by the forces of circumstances and situations that goes with being at home, but another sense of self emerges when we are away from home. By being-on-holiday as a result of de-localization we have placed a distanced not only in terms of space and time between ourselves and but also in terms of the circumstances and situations which characterises the physical, emotional, social and psychological state-of-being-at-home or the-world-of-being- when-at-.home. Maybe wanderlust is also connected with these social-psycho dynamics of at-home-ness versus the constant experience of novelty through de-localization and re-embodiment.
We turned back. Yael lit up a cigarette. She had tried cut down on her smoking mainly because I strongly disapproved of smoking, but now she seemed to have given up trying. She had become increasingly curious about Kate during the field trip, she was insatiably inquisitive, always digging for titbits. My alibi was that because Kate was a keen dancer and needed a dancing partner. I had done ballet and modern dancing in Hotazel and in Potchefstroom while in high school as an extramural activity, and I happened to be good on the dance floor, and I enjoyed dancing, and so on and so on, and the long and short of it was that we had become dancing partners, mainly because we had a serious interest in dancing. I was uncomfortable about her buying that dress for me. Kate bought the dress at Stuttafords because I actually did need a decent outfit for a dance competition and I could not bring myself to ask my father for more money on top of all the money that had already been spent on me. My mother would have a fit. Yael wanted to know more about Kates being a lesbian and whether we had an affair. I denied having an affair with Kate. My trip overseas with Kate remained a secret. The only person who ever learnt about my affair and my overseas holiday with Kate was Samantha. Samantha was one of those rare persons who you could trust with intimate personal information. I managed to convince Yael that my relationship with Kate had always being strictly Platonic. In spite of all our ups and downs my friendship with Kate has endured, like my friendship with Angelika. There were others in my life that Yael would never know about. I had my secrets and Yael had hers. When it came to the Rabbi I was her secret. There were things that the Rabbi would never know about his own wife. I personally don’t like having secrets. But who can we trust? Sometimes the truth is too inconvenient for comfort and it is best left alone. You don’t have to poke snake.
To change the subject away from Kate I asked Yael if she had ever visited the Fitzsimons Snake Park. ‘No never, I have no fascination for snakes. I think I lean more to Botany than Zoology. I am not really an animal person. I find viruses, bacteria, fungi, algal, ferns and all the cryptograms more interesting,’ she said.
‘Kate is my favourite lecturer, she is the best,’ Yael admitted.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ I thought in my head. Yael was playing games with me.
‘I should have taken Microbiology instead of Zoology,’ she mused as she exhaled a cloud of smoke.
‘But it is too late now. I am trapped,’ she added.
‘What do mean?’ I asked.
‘You know, being married and all that, I have responsibilities now,’ she said smiling ironically.
‘Does being married change everything, your personal hopes and dreams, who you are as a person?’ I asked.
‘It does, I am no longer really me,’ she said.
‘Who are you really?’ I asked.
‘You should know, you know me intimately now,’ she said.
‘Yes you do, since you have made love to me, you know me in the biblical sense of knowing someone. Do you love me?’ Yael asked.
‘I love you Yael,’ I said with conviction.
‘I love too Hannah. I just wish things could be different,’ she added, lighting up another cigarette.
‘Should we take that walk to the snake park?’ Yael suggested.
Walking towards us we spotted the familiar figure of Mrs Raisa Brodsky.
‘Oh my God not her, she is going to want to join us,’ Yael whispered.
Mrs Brodsky was a very cultured, almost aristocratic Jewish woman, who was probably in her sixties and who had emigrated from Russia to South Africa as a young woman. Her English was heavily accented in that typical Eastern European Jewish-Yiddish manner. Except for the compulsory attendance of the third year Botany field trip she had completed all the requirements for a BSc degree majoring in Botany and now that she had earned that credit she could finally graduate after enrolling as a Botany student three years ago when she was in her late fifties or had just turned sixty, anyway she was in her early sixties now. She and her husband owned a chain of hotels and liquor stores in Johannesburg. She had been a keen botanist her entire life, and now she spoke about doing her honours, and then an MSc and finally a PhD in Botany.
Anyway she came along with us to the snake park. We caught a bus. Later that evening while we were travelling back to Johannesburg there was a knock on the door of our berth, it turned out be Mrs Brodsky, she invited us to join her in the dining coach for dinner.
After we had sat down at our table Wayne arrived. Seeing the unoccupied seat next to Mr Brodsky he asked if he may join us. When the soup arrived he asked whether we would mind if he said grace before we ate.
Immediately Mrs Brodsky answered: ‘Yes, why not, go ahead my dear.’
Bowing his head he prayed in Hebrew:
Ba-ruch a-tah a-do-noi
elo-hai-nu me-lech ha-o-lam
ha-mo-tzi le-chem min ha-a-retz…
(Blessed are You, L-rd our G d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth…)
Mrs Brodsky bowed her head and closed her eyes. I glanced at Yael while Wayne prayed. Her eyes remained open. When she saw me looking at her she raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes.
After our first night of love in the train I had no doubt that Yael had woken up to the reality that she was a lesbian, that she was queer, that she was completely homosexual. I was her safe harbour, and her first real love, she had never experience real love before this. On the night journey back to Johannesburg, lying in the dark next to Yael while holding her hand I listened while she tried explain her situation regarding her marriage to the Rabbi and my heart ached for her. On the field trip I fallen deeply in love with Yael and felt protective towards her. In fact we were now desperately in love, but there was a strange unreality about the situation. In our intimate moments when we were alone she began to hint that I should come to Shul and that her husband the Rabbi would make my conversion easy, all I had to do was come to Shul and start observing the Shabbat. If I started observing the Shabbat I would have practically crossed the first hurdle in converting. It was her belief that if I converted to Judaism and became a Jew then it would be as if we were married, we would be bound together forever in the bonds of our love for each other, because it was only as Jews that we could be together, that is, being really together in the most meaningful way possible. She did not say this, but it was obvious. There was something so desperate about her plan. In the eyes of her husband I would be like her sister, her best and dearest friend, her friend for life. And then she hit on the crazy idea that once I had converted I could possibly move in with them, her and the Rabbi. They would build a cottage for me in the yard. It seemed to me that Yael was going insane.
For the sake of our love I went to Shul every week until Yael broke up with me. I went to Shul to be with her and because I was in love with her. Ironically I went to Shul because Jesus said: ‘Salvation is from the Jews.’
But I had no desire to convert to Judaism, in fact I had a strong antipathy towards Judaism as a religion and I could not see myself as Jew or Jewess. I did not want to become a member of a race or an ethnic group, I was happy to be without an identity that was anchored in the history of a people who self-identified as Jews. For the sake of our relationship while it lasted I went to Shul, but I made no effort to keep the Shabbat, I only pretended to keep the Sabbath. She wanted me to speak to her husband the Rabbi about my desire to convert. She had confused my love for her with me having a desire to convert. I was going through the motions of being Jewish just to be with her, just to please her, even to the extent that my diet became kosher. In the end it was a relief when our relationship ended. It was a release, even though it was so incredibly painful. I could be myself again. Jesus was once more my brother, my father, my husband, my lover, he was the only man that I could fall in love with. To love Jesus not like the evangelicals or the Christian fundamentalists profess, but to love him like Mary Magdalene loved him. To love Jesus was to love God the creator of the Universe, the only way we could love God was to cling to the man Jesus. For me to love God was the highest form of erotic love that could be attained by a finite being.
It had become increasingly painful for me to go to Shul and be forced to listen to the Rabbi while having this ‘ironic knowledge’ that salvation was from the Jews. That salvation was from the Jews was a Christian belief. Jesus himself said salvation was from the Jews! Had the Rabbi not read that passage from Gospel of John? Why would he use the story of the withered fig tree to dismiss Jesus and the message that he was preaching, not only did the Rabbi dismiss Jesus but he also implied that Jesus was inferior to Socrates? Jesus consistently acknowledged his own Jewishness. He did not deny his Jewishness. Of course Jew and Christian have been at enmity over Jesus for 2 000 years. We have been at enmity over the real identity and significance of a single Jew, over the identity and significance of that Jew. It was completely ironical that a single Jewish individual, who was the King of the Jews according to Pontius Pilate, who was executed on a Roman cross at Golgotha, that this Jew had now become the centre of our historical enmity. This same Jew informs us Christians: ‘Salvation is from the Jews’. This is the creed of the Christian, our salvation is from the Jews, it a gift from the Jews. While sitting in Shul it was hard for me to digest this truth. Here were all these Jews holding the salvation of the human race in their hands and they were completely unaware of their huge eschatological responsibility. Through God Abraham founded a nation who became the Jews, a nation which was supposed to become a blessing to all nations and this blessing conferred by the Jews on all other nation would be their adoption as Abraham’s children.
Shortly before the June exams in 1975 Yael who was now visibly pregnant wanted to speak to me again after our breakup. We went to my room in Sunnyside Res, the place that used to be our love nest. She said it pained her heart to see me so happy with Janet because she still loved me, and would always love me no matter what. She said that she had made a mistake to breakup when she fell pregnant. She broke up because she felt that God had let her down. She said she felt so stupid because she had prayed so earnestly and desperately that God would speak to my heart so that I would convert to Judaism. She laughed sadly saying that she had made a bargain with God that if I converted she would devote our lives to him.
How would we devote our lives to God? Well she would divorce the Rabbi and we would move into our own home where we would live as a devoted married couple. We would be a family, we would be sisters, daughters, mothers and wives to each other. We would observe the laws of Moses, observe the Sabbath, do all the things that God fearing Jews would do in order to please God. We would live in the perpetual shadow of Mount Sinai, we would live according to the Torah. The holy Torah would be our light, our guide and our life. We would bring up her children together. She suggested that maybe I would also have child. I wondered how this would be possible, maybe in my conversion process I would seduce the Rabbi and get him to fuck me and impregnate me so that I would conceive a child who will be a real Jew, and then we would live happily ever after as an oppressed people, with our bags packed, ready to flee the pogroms at any moment. What could I do, what could I say? I promised that I would be her friend for life. But I also said that I could not leave Janet, I could not do that to her. I told her that I had also been deeply hurt when she broke off her relationship with me. In the end we tearfully made up, restoring our friendship and promised each other that we would be friends for life no matter what. And she understood that I could not breakup with Janet.
Years later, just before my arrest I got word that Scott (he was in the same Botany and Zoology class while we were undergraduates) had died in a boating accident on Lake Kariba while working on a freshwater fishery project. For some unfathomable reason I felt a deep sense of loss with his passing away, and for days I was depressed and tearful. The way I felt about his death was weird because he embodied all the worse features of the Rhodesian white male. He was selfish, self-obsessed, sexist, chauvinist, racist, fascist, anti-Semitic and an incorrigible philanderer. He embodied the full meaning of the patriarchy. Yet women loved him! In spite of his attributes as a white male, there was always this out of character uncertain flicker of angst in his eyes and a shadow of vulnerability in his handsome demeanour and it was this I think that drew women into his bed. It was Benjamin Schlossheimer who phoned to let me know that Scott was no more.
I asked Benjamin if we could meet for coffee. When he asked where, I suggested Dominic’s in Braamfontein across road from Wits University. News of Scott’s passing seemed to be a good excuse to phone Yael after all these years since we broke up. Even though we had made up we hardly ever saw each other. We had never really been able to back together as friends.
It was tearful reunion for all of us. We sat at the table and wept together unashamedly. I don’t think we were weeping only for Scott. PW Botha had made his Rubicon speech and he had declared a state of emergency. The United Democratic Front (UDF) had become the vehicle for waging the people’s war through rolling mass action. Even though I had often joked that I was a part-time revolutionary, doing a bit of revolution here and doing a bit of revolution there and so on, I was actually secretively deeply involved in the struggle. There were days that I did not sleep as I produced round the clock thousands of ‘Study, Learn, Teach and Act’ pamphlets for distribution in the townships, at funerals, at mass meetings, at churches, at bus stops, at railway stations, at football stadiums and at music concerts. I packed the pamphlets into boxes, supervised and coordinated their dispatch and distributions. I was travelling hundreds of kilometres at night in the old VM Beetle to deliver boxes of pamphlets across the country.
Wiping away our tears we reminisced over our undergraduate years. We talked about the lads in the Zoology and Botany Class, they were the guys who hung out together and drank with Scott in the downstairs Devonshire Hotel pub (called the Dev) almost every night. How they managed to pass their exams was a mystery. In 1975 Scott who had a room in Phineas Court was going out with a pretty medical student. I think her name was Alison. Phineas Court was just around the corner from Dominic’s Coffee Shop. In 1976 after breaking up with Alison, Scott moved into a flat with Tracy who worked as a technician in the Department of Genetics. However, Scott still kept his room in Phineas Court for the occasional secret trysts with other females. If I can recall Tracy’s flat was at the bottom of Stiemens Street close to the Civic Theatre. Both Benjamin and I often had coffee with Scott and the lads at Dominic’s in 1976 during our lunchbreak while we were doing our BSc Honours.
The event that both Benjamin and I vividly recalled was the day when the lads, Scott, Tracy, Benjamin and I were all together drinking coffee outside Dominic’s. Unknown to all of us Alison was busy purchasing a medical text book at Campus Bookshop which was just around the corner located directly under Phineas Court. She had parked her car in Stiemens Street opposite Dominic’s. Coming round the corner she immediately spotted Scott and radiating a smile she made a beeline towards Scott and sat down on an empty chair next him.
We all just sat there watching this unbelievable drama unfolding before us.
Tracy’s face freezes up. Alison in the meantime has taken hold of Scott’s hand and has shifted her chair closer to Scott cuddling up to him, Scott reciprocates and puts his around her.
All could we hear was Alison bubbling away non-stop: ‘So nice to see you again. What have you been doing? How are things with you?’
And so and so, Alison carries on with Scott without any knowledge that he has a relationship with Tracy who sitting on the other side of Scott. Then Alison suddenly asks: ‘Can we go to your room?’
Yael with her eyes still red from weeping listens with a look of disbelief on her face to the story that Benjamin and I are recounting in turns.
‘Scott and Alison get up and leave the table. We all remain seating, including Tracy,’ Benjamin recounts.
‘We all sat around the table saying nothing, wearing the most solemn and beatific faces of pure innocence,’ I said.
‘Tracy, her face now livid with bewildered anger almost falls while trying to escape from the humiliating situation,’ Benjamin continues.
‘Stanley jumps and runs after Tracey as she runs back to her flat down the street,’ I said.
‘Brian then quips what’s the bet that Stanley is going to fuck Tracey now that he has the opportunity to help Tracy take her revenge out on Scott,’ Benjamin said.
Yael just sat there shaking her head.
Benjamin looks at watch: ‘I have go now.’
Yael wearing headscarf and long plain dress that reaches her down to her ankles looks at me plaintively. She is now a mother of three children, two boys and one girl. Her face wore the tired signs of motherhood and kosher housekeeping. We get up to go after Benjamin’s departure. But Yael lingers.
‘I am so unhappy,’ she said looking at me with her tear stained eyes.
‘Can we go to your flat?’ She asks. Her car is parked just down the block, she offers to drive me there and bring me back later to Wits.
I unlock the door and let her in. Once in the my flat I followed quietly behind her as she inspected the tiny kitchen, the small bathroom and shower near the front door, the combined dining and lounge, the single bedroom and the closed off porch that houses the huge Xerox machine for making the ‘Study, Learn, Teach and Act’ pamphlets. She picked up the seal skull and examined it closely with her eyebrow knitted in a frown, putting the skull back in its place she inspected the book shelves which occupied the spaces against wall between the furniture. She spent a while reading through the titles, sometimes taking a volume from the shelf and flipping through the pages before putting it back.
Turning to me she said: ‘I have lost my life.’
Yael then gazed at the painting hanging above the sideboard. It depicted two women erotically embellished in a dramatic decorative tango embrace. I had commissioned the painting some time ago. It was a picture that had been painted from a photograph taken of Kate and myself. In the picture a woman (myself) is executing a tango adorno (embellishment or decoration) known as the gancho (hook) with another woman (Kate).
‘It is so beautiful,’ Yael said wistfully. I could see that she did not recognize the dancers.
‘The two women are strangers,’ I decided to say.
‘What do you mean?’ Yael asked.
‘The two women met at a club.’
‘Are implying that there is story behind the picture, that there is actually more to the painting than one can see from the surface layers of oil paint, something which is hidden deep within the picture beyond what is plainly visible to the naked eye?’ She asked with an indulgent smile. It seemed that her mood had changed for the better.
‘Yes, there is and it is quite an interesting story, would you like to hear it?’
‘Yes,’ Yael answered with a sudden show of child-like willingness to indulge in a game of make belief.
‘Well at the beginning of time the girls had grown tired of staying at home at night while the men went out carousing with each other, so the girls or women began to meet at a social club only for women where they could go to once they were finished with their household chores. At least once or twice a week they would spend the evening dancing the tango with each other in an old hall that some kindly landlady allowed them to use. Now there was this very beautiful young woman who had heard about the club where the women danced the tango with each other. She worked as a seamstress at a women’s garment factory and from the offcuts which she stole she made herself tango dresses. Out of love and respect for the tango the poor working class women did the best they could to put together a costume for their tango evenings. After dressing she did her makeup and when she was finished she put her high heels in a brown paper packet, slipped on her sandals and put on her garment workers knee length factory jacket over her tango costume, locking the apartment door behind her, she hurriedly descended the dimly lit flights of stairs until she reached the dark ground floor foyer which opened onto the pavement of a busy street in the centre of the city. The evening star was already high in the purple night sky as made her way to her rendezvous
As she entered the women’s social tango dance club a strange woman sitting alone on one of the chairs against the wall of the hall noticed her arrival. The wooden floor of the hall was crowded with women dancing. She hung up her overall and stepped into her high heels. While looking for a place to stand or sit she spotted the lone woman sitting on one of the wooden foldup chairs which were arranged against the wall around the perimeter of the hall.
Their eyes met, and their gaze lingered as when two strangers find themselves drawn to each other for the first time by that faint indiscernible fragrance of mutual attraction which comes wrapped in that enigmatic blend of mystery, uncertainty and eroticism. Standing up the woman who had been sitting at the edge of the hall signalled with that subtle suggestive gesture of the slight nod of the tilted head and the raising of the eyebrow whether the young women who had just arrived would like to dance with her. The young women keeping her eyes fixed on the other woman walked quickly around the rippling margins of dancing couples towards the other woman in response to her invitation, the invitation of a stranger, an older but attractive woman. Smiling she stood in front of the older woman.
The older woman seemed to glow with a sultry sensuous passion that seemed to be out of place with the drabness of the hall that was filled with the sweet aroma of cheap perfume and women. Her tango custom fitted her body seductively like a glove accentuating the shape, curves, and contours of her body, accentuating the perfect proportions of her breasts, waist and hips. She had taken good care of her appearance.
The stylus of the ancient radiogram moved along the black shining revolving vinyl tracks and the melancholic opening cords of the next tango track filled the hall. The music became increasingly powerful, dramatic, emotional, intense, sensual and erotic. The young woman was drawn ineluctably by an irresistible but familiar rising acoustic tidal wave that had been stirred by up an ensemble of the accordion, the violin, and the guitar, which working together produced the compelling rhythms and syncopated beats of the tango which never failed to excite every nerve in her young body. She noticed the exposed firm cleavage of the older woman and the long slit in her skirt which terminated tantalizingly midway up her well-formed muscular thigh. The older woman in turn noticed the pleasing curves of the young woman’s shapely sheer nylon stocking encased legs, accentuated by the stilettos. The older women also noticed at the top of the younger woman’s stockings the suspender clips, the triangle of dark naked skin of her upper thigh, bare and satiny above her stockings. She inhaled the heady fragrance of the perfumed body of the younger woman who was now standing before her, the exquisite embodiment of that dark Spanish beauty which carries that unmistakable touch of the African and the Moor. Without saying a word they stepped into the mutual embrace of the tango.
That evening they did not let go of each other. The manner in which they danced could only be described as being like a motion picture painted in the most intense shades of the tango’s enduring pathos. That is, the kind of palpable pathos which one can only experience with the tango. They clung desperately to each other, afraid that they would be pulled away forever. The older woman had lived long enough to know that the tango embodied the paradox of life and love, she knew that in the tango the dancers lived fleetingly all the moments which could be lived, they lived those moments all at once, in an instance at each step to the rhythm of the tango’s beat they lived all the moments which filled the entire drama of a human life. In the tango she knew that bound in each other’s embrace they lived in each step and in each embellishment, they lived the eternal beat, in each beat they lived the finite moment filled with an inexplicable transient effulgence, which allowed them to experience almost mystically all at once as in a dream the unfathomable and countless indiscernibles that crowd a finite life, a life lived at the threshold of the unattainable infinite, a finite life in which the deepest of enigmatic mysteries are experienced in moments of pure ecstasy and in moments haunted by the inevitability of unbearable pain, agony and sorrow. The older woman knew about the sweetness of life lived in the constant shadow of melancholy which is the tango. Tonight she would rather die than not wake up with younger women in her arms. They embraced the first embrace of strangers, but immediately succumbed to the electrifying effect of each other’s body. Their embrace became urgent, and she the older woman felt the younger women’s warm smooth cheek pressed against the side of her face. Leading the younger woman she pressed her palm against the back of her naked shoulder so that her firm breasts pressed against her own bosom and the younger woman reciprocating the intimacy of the older woman by caressing the exposed silky skin between her shoulder blades. The older woman kissed her softly on her cheek and the younger woman turned her face inviting the older woman’s lips to her youthful mouth.’
‘And then what happened?’ Yael asked when I stopped the story at that juncture.
‘Apart from love, they had much to give to each other. The older woman from an aristocratic family that had known better times could give the younger woman dignity, security and commitment, and the younger woman would infuse the older woman’s life with that invigorating and life sustaining nurture of hope and meaning.’
‘Hope and meaning, that is precisely what I lack in my life, but going back to your story is there any truth to it?’ Yael asked.
‘Is there any truth to any story? What does it mean for the story or anything to be true?’
‘I don’t know, you tell me,’ Yael countered.
‘Any particular thing or situation or state-of-affairs or the story for that matter could be perfectly true in its own particular fashion if it can be seen or visualized or even imagined in some realistic way as being part of the Whole Truth.’
‘The Whole Truth, what is the Whole Truth?’ Yael asked with a sceptical look.
‘There has to be something which is the Whole Truth in order for us to ultimately distinguish the particular truths from the falsehood and spurious beliefs on all matters that concern us and also for that matter the real from the unreal. The Whole Truth represents the Absolute, for Absolute Knowledge, and it’s the Absolute with is Ultimate, in the sense of being the Ultimate basis for distinguishing the Truth and the Real from the illusionary and the ideological,’ I expanded feeling a bit silly and over the top using words like the Whole Truth, the Ultimate, the Absolute and Absolute Knowledge. In my mind all if these words represented the Totality. In my own ears I sounded religious. I could see from the expression on Yael’s face that what I was saying sounded foreign to her ears.
‘Hannah, I am a simpleton, this is all too much for me to grasp, I have become dumb,’ she said.
‘No you are not dumb,’ I quickly added.
‘Well that’s the way I feel,’ she replied despondently, her mood sinking once more.
‘I always thought I believed in science, but now I not even sure about science, what is science anyway?’ she continued.
I did not know where all of this was going to take us.
‘Science is concerned with the real,’ I tried to clarify.
‘The real with the big R such as the REAL, in capitals?’ she asked.
‘The real with the small r as in what is contingently real,’ I replied.
‘And what is the REAL with the big R?’ She asked.
‘The REAL with the big R as everything that is real non-contingently or necessarily, and is which makes whatever is contingent in the Universe real.’
‘So the capitalized REAL is what must be necessarily True for any contingency in the Universe to be real and by virtue of being real it can become the object of scientific investigation,’ Yael said summing up.
‘Yes, I could not have put it better. Because the capitalized REAL exists necessarily, and therefore non-contingently, it has to be self-grounded, in other words not dependent on anything else but itself,’ I expanded on what Yael had summed up.
‘This sound like Platonism,’ Yael said, finally smiling again, allowing the gloom to lift from her face, the gloom that we both felt and which we recognized in each other’s eyes.
‘I suppose so, Plato rules the moment we start reasoning along these lines, embracing ideas such as self-grounding, non-contingent and necessity regarding the nature of the REAL and TRUTH.’
‘Please hold me,’ Yael said suddenly, moving towards me.
I embraced her, hugging her tightly to my body. I kissed her on her cheek and she turned her mouth so that I could kiss her on her lips. Before she drove me back to Wits we spent the rest of the afternoon making love. In spite of the lines and stretch marks of child-bearing etched on her body she was still beautiful.
She asked if I was with anyone. I said No, which was the truth. What about Kate she asked. I confirmed I still saw Kate from time to time but only in connection with dancing as her dance partner. Kate also had no one else to support her when she participated as a contestant in a physical beauty pageants, so I inevitably went along as spectator to provide morale support. Was Kate lonely? Yes Kate was lonely, like the rest of us. What do I mean Yael asked. I admitted that it would be nice to share one’s life with another woman on a permanent basis as life-partners, and also be part of a broader organic queer community. Couldn’t I have this with Kate? No it was not possible, we were not emotionally compatible. That is so sad Yael said.
I don’t why, but I said it:
‘If you divorce the Rabbi, I will live with you and your kids. I will look after you and the kids. I can provide for you and your children.’
‘What about the politics, what about the struggle, what about the revolution?’ She asked.
‘I would give it all up for the sake of the family.’
Before I met Isabella I fell all over again in love with Yael, Scott’s untimely death had reunited us. I was earnest. Divorce the Rabbi and we would be a family. Just like Ruth I told her I would become a lover of her people. I who am Electra the gentile Hellenic daughter of Agamemnon, and my father has been murdered by my mother Clytemnestra, I will flee and hide in the shadow of Mount Sinai, and as my refuge I the gentile Hellenic woman will also embrace the Hebraic, I will not turn my face away, I will embrace that withered fig tree, that spectacle of barrenness, for God will never abandon his chosen. Your children will be mine also, I will be their mother and their father and together we take on the yoke of Moses and feast on the sweetness of Leviticus and the Shabbat with be our mistress.
It was not be. Yael dropped me of at Wits. A few weeks later I flew via Swaziland to Mozambique on a clandestine trip. In Inhambane I met Isabella a Mozambican. We fell in love.
Now Isabella has saved me from Yael. She has healed my heart that had become torn apart by an impossible love, and yet deep down in my heart I still love Yael, I yearn for her. I who am Electra the daughter of Agamemnon, the goy, I still yearn after Yael the Rabbi’s wife.