These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Three Words

Posted on January 6, 2013 by Mary Brett Koplen

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A story from my Cowbird:


On the sidewalk H squints at the passing buses, trying to read their destinations as they motion quickly towards the places they will go. I pretend to help, but the combination of foreign characters and moving vehicles spins my head. “You’ll learn the language soon,” H says to me smiling. I don’t believe him, but I keep this quiet.

On a bus too wide for these streets we sit side by side. Our knees touching, and the quick turns push us closer. We don’t resist it. “Do you know the word seder?” He asks me. Of course I do, and I think of the twenty-two Passovers speeding past in the rear-view mirror: bowls of salted water, dead Aunts waving. This is H’s favorite Hebrew word: Seder, a noun, an order of things. He tells me his favorite word in English: Mind, a noun, a thing that thinks, that makes order, that remembers the right words, acts the right actions, so the person whose leg is touching yours can know exactly how you feel. It was Ramadan, but still that morning in his kitchen he dropped falafel dough in hot oil, dabbed them each on a napkin, ate twice as much as me, and said “I love you.” He tells me his favorite word in Arabic was the hardest to choose, since it is his Mother Tongue and its cognitive reservoirs reach back through every thought he can remember. I notice his eyes are the brightest black I have ever seen. That his mouth goes up without effort. “What’s your favorite word in Arabic?” I ask. “Fahima,” he said. A verb. To understand.

Cheese bourekas and falafel stands. My mind is swimming in cooking oil. Outside the bus, we pass posters promising war with Iran. We pass signs in Hebrew I do not understand. We pass sidewalks and fences of barbed wire. Inside the bus there is order. Two hands touch. Two eyes meet, and they do not look away.