It’s Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. I drive to Venice Beach to celebrate the High Holiday with a group of lapsed Jews. This is why I’m even allowed in the room. “The Christian is here!” I announce, and tuck my purse inside Amy’s room. I'm the first one there. Amy kisses my cheek and leads me to the table.
“At the New Year we eat lots of sweets,” she says pointing at a collection of honey jars lined down the middle of the table. “We eat sweets to symbolize having a sweet year, and we eat pomegranates to say, ‘May your successes be as many as the pomegranate seeds.’” She stands by the table in a black cotton dress, her black bra layered underneath. With her long black hair, she looks like she belongs on a balcony in Morocco.
Sonia arrives. She is a petite, blond haired woman in a purple jacket and brown pants. Her fingers work with large deco rings. “Oh, good!” she says pointing at my pink and brown cowgirl shirt. “I was afraid I would be too underdressed.” I thought I was dressed up. I put on heels!
I sit at the end of the table, still feeling a bit fragile, still feeling that trembling inside my chest and think, blasted hormones! Soon, Sonia and I are standing by the kitchen talking.
“I’m a film producer,” she says.
“What are you working on?” I say, letting her pour me a drink.
“Well, I’m working on a documentary at the moment,” she says. I tell her how I’m teaching Freshman Writing through documentaries and our conversation speeds off into the night.
Jeff walks in, in a blue and flowered Hawaiian shirt. He is short and round, with blue eyes and shaved head. His Mexican lover, Renee, trails in with a blond and red Mohac.
Jeff and Sonia, and I begin another conversation. “Polyphonic Spree have posters of Bush with little devil horns,” Jeff says holding his fingers to his head.
“That’s what Chavez said!” I say holding up my glass.
“Can you believe it!” Sonia laughs, “What with the devil and the sulphur?”
“He was very theatrical,” Jeff adds. “But the interesting part is the part they didn’t show.” We wait for Jeff to tell us. “The entire assembly clapped!”
The rest of the guests arrive and Amy puts us all around the table. We are sitting in a small room, with blue walls and light trim. Amy has pulled together two tables, and a rickety assortment of chairs to seat all eleven of her guests. The tables are covered with plastic table clothes, paper plates, and plastic ware. It is a white, elegant picnic.
We survey the honey, apples, and baskets of Challah clustered between plates. There are seven varietals of honey. Each jar has a different label: Avacado, Cactus, Buckweed, Eucalytus.
“It’s not honey made from Avacado,” Amy explains, pulling her long dark hair over one shoulder. “It’s the types of plants the bees pull nectar from.” We hmm and ahh, impressed by this strange new piece of information. “I did a story on honey for the [Jewish] Journal.” She continues. “My mother called and said, ‘Your story was very informative.’” Amy tips her head back and looks at the ceiling. She strikes a thoughtful pose. “I thought, ‘does that mean boring?’”
“We should never listen to our mothers,” Jeff says with a flip of his hand. “Especially not your mother!”
After the apples and honey and challah, we eat the main meal. I have already eaten one dinner tonight, and so this second is a tight squeeze. I weave my way around the room, sliding between chairs, and stepping toward the row of main dishes. This is buffet style and I spoon in honey chicken with couscous and dates, sweet potatoes, vegetables with olive oil, a salad with pomegranate seeds and almonds.
“Are you a fundamentalist?” Sonia asks me while I’m peeling chicken from the bones. Jeff has outed me as a Christian.
“See, feathers!” Jeff says, tipping his chicken wing toward me. This is kosher chicken and covered with tiny whisps of white.
“What does fundamentalism mean?” Sonia says taking a bite of cous cous.
“I don’t know. What do you think it means?” I say. You can not lay down these words lightly.
“I don’t know,” she says turning her face, “super conservative?”
"Christin has shown me a gentler side of Christianity," Jeff says to Sonia. "A more loving side." I think he's trying to defend me, trying to fight off the stereotypes that are already creeping into Sonia's mind.
"I can't handle organized religion," Sonia says.
"Me neither!" retorts Jeff. "That's why I left Judaism."
“I think religion kills the soul,” I say.
“I know!" says Sonia. She leans over her plate. "I can’t believe in religion and God and the Jesus thing.” She turns a sour face and shakes her hand over her plate.
“Well you don’t have to,” I say.
“I don't know how people believe in the religion thing, or God thing, or Jesus thing.” I see now that Sonia thinks I'm one of those all accepting Christians. One of those very tolerant, new-aged Christians.
“Oh,” I say and stop with my chicken. “I’m one of those people.” She looks at me astounded. She’s never met a me before. “I believe in Jesus,” I say. Perhaps it's my weariness, but I don't feel like making Christianity sound palatable.
"See, I told you she was a fundamentalist," says Jeff.
“What does that mean anyway? That you believe in Jesus?” she asks. “What does it mean on a day to day basis?”
I decide to lay it on thick. See how much Sonia can take. “Well, I believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and when Jesus ascended into heaven he said I will send you the comforter to teach you and guide you in all things and to comfort you,” I am just spitting out the words, one right after the other like a string of sardines. “So, I believe the Holy Spirit lives in me. He’s with us even now, in this room, and when I read the Bible he’s helping me, when I pray he’s helping me, when I ask he’s helping me.”
Jeff is talking about sex and drugs over my shoulder to Amy, hopping in and out of the conversation with comments like, “Jews have a very hard time with Jesus because we believe that there is no one between us and God. It’s just us and God, face to face, trembling.”
“This is what I don’t get,” says Sonia, resting on her elbows, throwing her hands in every direction while she talks, “So many religions claim to worship God but they all negate each other. They all say they’re the only way. I can’t see God condoning it. Either he exists and he’s saying, 'Screw it. Do whatever you want.' Or he doesn’t exist, and we’re making it all up.”
She's talking specifically about Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. “Hm,” I say, nodding my head. She has a point, and I don’t know the answer. I want to think about it more when there isn’t so much honey, and feathery chicken. “That’s a good question,” I say.
Sonia smiles at me. A really big smile. A smile that wraps it’s arms around me, and I am grateful. I realize that I haven’t wanted to cry for the last three hours. More than that, I realize I don't feel lonely anymore.
“You invited a heretic,” I tell Amy as I grab my purse to go. “I talked about Jesus at your Rash Hashanah party.”
“Pshh, you think I care?” she says throwing a heap of clothes into the hamper. She kisses my cheek and I go.