January 20, 2016KR OnlineFiction

Dear Rabbi Clearman

March 2, 2015

Dear Rabbi Clearman,

In the September Family of Faith Bulletin you wrote that you and your colleagues were “ready to embark upon the school year with God at the helm.” I really did see it: an expedition team rowing together, stopping every Friday to tie sailor knots and share stories over a few drops of wine. Assuming you included me in the category of “colleague,” I embarked accordingly. I embarked again and again. And so it disappoints me to learn that you will not be renewing my teaching contract for the next academic year, on the grounds of “professional behavior . . . that does not sufficiently support or reflect the mission of Western Torah Academy.”

Applying the logic that “Even a child makes himself known by his acts” (Proverbs 20:11, as displayed on the banner over your door), I here present several of my own acts, in the hope that you will reconsider your decision.

  1. Every night for the first two weeks of the school year I practiced walking in my clogs (blue, close-toed, as per the faculty dress code) until I could do so without sounding like a cloven-hoofed animal. The only hard floor in my old apartment was the linoleum in the bathroom. I took my devotional steps past the sink even while Rick brushed his teeth, telling me I care too much what other people think and he doesn’t know who I am anymore.
  2. If third-grade Language Arts student Claire Siegel approached you to ask why her mother is afraid of rice cookers, I guarantee you too would say, “What the hell?” Especially if you just spent three hours making a Sukkot-themed word search for Mitzvot Monday. Especially if you moved out of your apartment the night before, everything you owned in four boxes. And if the person you were leaving watched from the window and didn’t stop you.
  3. My response to Claire was uncharacteristic and entirely anomalous. In fact, my college adviser once told me I have a gift for engaging and explaining ideas very different from my own. He added that this is always more difficult than it seems.
  4. So is being with child while wearing the blue close-toed clogs. Still I wear the blue close-toed clogs.
  5. On my new street there is a store called Gratitude Power Crystal Chalice. There are rainbow prayer flags and laughing Buddhas in the window, and sometimes I hear drumming. I pass the storefront twice every day, but I resist false idols and do not let myself go inside.
  6. When I miss Rick, I grade papers. “Faith is persistence,” you wrote in the December Family of Faith Bulletin. I highlighted the sentence and stuck the whole page to my fridge.
  7. I am keeping the baby.
  8. Every time I watch Topol in Fiddler on the Roof, I cry like his people are my own. I start with “Tradition.” The circle dance gets me every time.
  9. Three weeks ago I went straight from school to Temple Beth Shalom. It took three transfers on Rapid Transit and an extended conversation with the guy who waves the Domino’s sign on the corner of Ninth and Albany, but I embarked anyway. I stood in the doorway, careful not to touch anything sacred while the choir practiced a song in Hebrew, stretching out uMah Naaayim, which I know from morning assembly means “how pleasing.” Call me crazy, but I knew they were singing to me and telling me we’d be all right. The roof of my mouth lifted up a little so I could say the Hebrew words. The baby seemed to lift a little, too, straining to hear. Somehow the music and the dust motes stripped us down to our essential selves and it was just the two of us, like it will be, and the choir kept singing and I almost understood.
  10. On my way home the Domino’s man said I was radiating, by which I believe he meant I was radiant.

I look forward to speaking with you further.

Shalom and regards,

Eliza Toomey

Sabrina Wise is a freelance writer and graduate of the English program at Whitman College. A Glimmer Train and Calyx Journal finalist, Sabrina has worked with McSweeney’s, Hawthorne Books, and arts education programs in the Pacific Northwest. Currently she lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is completing her first novel and working as the publicist for Pomegranate Communications.