In her last posts, Melissa Broder conducted a “Jewish vs. Goyish litmus test” for the year in review, shared the B‑Sides of her forthcoming When You Say One Thing but Mean Your Mother (Feb. 6), and imagined being in Hebrew School with John Stewart, Bob Dylan, and Rahm Emanuel. This essay was published in collaboration with MyJewishLearning.
Dear Miriam Schwebel,
Where are you?
It was supposed to be an exchange program, but you could never come to my part of the world, the triple-treif land of cheesesteak-munchers.
I was Jewish only on high holidays and by hair iron, and I found myself in Boro Park asking your mother if schul meant school, calling your littlest brother a girl, turning on all the wrong lights.
It seemed like you had 20 siblings. On Friday afternoon the youngest ones tore toilet paper and unwrapped every kosher Twinkie in the box. There was whole roast chicken and kasha, though you were on a new all-cake diet. Thin was in everywhere, even Boro Park. You were trying, but not very hard.
Over kosher pizza you told me you had never kissed a boy, not so much as even held hands. What did you do at a Bar Mitzvah party? There was no Electric Slide, Humpty-Hump, Roger Rabbit, or Doin’ the Butt.
But here’s what there was: sepia shadows in double candlelight, sweet wine in silver kiddush cups, whispered gossip at the mikvah, hardcover books, radio static on Sundays, braided raisin challah, plum-cheeked girls named Ariella and Liat.
I could have stayed there forever and grown happy-fat. I could have written pen pal letters to treify girls from Philadelphia, and on the back scrawled: Don’t look under the stamp! Under the stamp, I could have written: Nosybody!
I could have sat separate every Saturday; surfed a current in the air with my eyes shut. I could have called that current god. I could have a blessing for everything. I could have served cholent.
Miriam Schwebel, how many children do you have by now?
Melissa Broder is the author of the novel The Pisces, the essay collection So Sad Today and four poetry collections, including Last Sext. She has written for The New York Times, Elle.com, VICE, Vogue Italia, and New York magazine’s “The Cut.” Her poems have appeared in POETRY, The Iowa Review, Tin House, and Guernica, and she is the winner of a Pushcart Prize for poetry. She lives in Los Angeles.