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In the days that followed my conversation with David's father, I learned that survival is a relative term. David was alive - that much I knew, but he'd been injured, perhaps critically, however I had no idea whether or not he'd make it.
Then the doubts began to surface. Even if he did survive, might he have suffered a serious disability? If he had a brain injury, would he even recognize me? Did he lose a leg, an arm, or an eye in the blast? Had he been disfigured? Even though I would still love him, no matter how his appearance had changed, how might the injury have affected his psyche? Would his personality ever be the same again?
All I knew from David's mother was what hospital he was in, but nothing more. After talking to my parents about my plan to go see David, come Hell or high water, my mom agreed to go with me, in spite of it being the High Holyday season. My father, of course, couldn't get away from work. He'd just started a new job, after all - otherwise I knew he'd have been there for me. It would have been great to have him along with us - to take advantage of his medical expertise - but I understood; he just couldn't get away.
At least one thing he did do for us before we left, was to have our attorney draw up a power of attorney agreement and have it signed by David's father and notarized, granting my mother and me access to David while in Israel. Without this, we might have flown all the way there, only to have been turned away. After all, we weren't family and if David were incapacitated, there'd be no way for him to give his permission for us to see him.
The flight to Israel was long, and we arrived in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur Eve - the day before the holiest day of the year. Everything was shutting down when we arrived, in preparation for the holyday. Not that we'd be eating, anyway, since Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, but even transportation would be hard to come by once the sun started to set. Fortunately, our hotel was near the hospital, but still a good forty-minute walk on foot.
"We'd better get something to eat before the sun sets," Mom suggested, once we got settled into our hotel. "Otherwise, we'll both be starving by the time we break the fast tomorrow night."
"You have a good point," I agreed, and so we set out to get some dinner. We settled on a coffee shop nearby that was still open, and enjoyed a nice meal of typical Mediterranean fare.
"Would you like to find a place to pray?" Mom asked. "It might be nice to attend Kol Nidre in Jerusalem," she suggested. Kol Nidre is the traditional chant that is recited on Yom Kippur Eve, and it asks God's forgiveness in advance for our weakness in the sins we might commit during the coming year. It's actually a lovely chant, but it still seems all too hypocritical to me. How much better not to sin in the first place?
On the other hand, the Jewish definition of sin is so much broader than the Christian one, it's no wonder we Jews feel so damned guilty all the time. The Christian notion of sin seems so grandiose, whereas for a Jew, if you could have helped an elderly woman cross the street, for example, but didn't because you were in a hurry, that's a sin - a sin of omission. You could have and should have done better. Missing out on an opportunity to do a good deed is a very serious sin in Judaism. In that regard, I guess I'm as guilty as the next guy.
Maybe I should have attended the Kol Nidre service with Mom. But on the other hand, I don't even believe in God, and I didn't come to Israel to pray. I needed to know that David was alright, and the sooner I saw him with my own eyes, the better off I'd be.
Smiling at my mom, I said, "I need to see David."
Reaching out and taking my hands, she said, "I know you do. And besides, you don't even believe in God."
I arched my eyebrows at her when I heard that. I didn't know that she knew, but then I said, "David does. He's good for me . . . he keeps me grounded."
Smiling, Mom said, "I'll check with the Concierge to see if there's a synagogue within walking distance where I can pray. Otherwise, I'll pray with the students at Hebrew University. If we're lucky, maybe we can find a taxi that's still running to take us to our respective destinations."
Mom had the taxi driver drop me off first - I guess that was so she could pay the total fare when she got to the synagogue. Walking up to the entrance to the hospital, it seemed like such an imposing structure - as large and imposing as Hopkins back in Baltimore.
Since I've spoken Sephardic Hebrew nearly all my life, I slipped into the language effortlessly as I asked the woman at the front desk for information on David's room number and how to get there. When she asked if I was family, I explained that I was a close family friend and then I showed her the Power of Attorney form I'd brought with me from America. I guess I should have expected that it had to be shown to several different people before it was agreed that the form was legitimate.
The hospital was as modern as any I'd ever seen. It was crowded, and there were as many women in traditional Muslim headscarves to be seen as there were Jewish men in yarmulkes. It was an interesting study in contrasts. I'd heard about this hospital before, and how Hadassah had been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for catering to Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Finally, I found the Adolescent Trauma ward where David was being cared for, and I went to the nurses' station and confirmed his location. With extreme nervousness, I approached his room, which I noted was an ordinary semi-private room. That in itself was a very good sign. If David were in serious condition, he'd have been in Intensive Care.
I knocked on the door, and when I didn't hear a response, I cautiously opened it and went inside. There, I saw two boys. The one closest to the door made my heart literally stop - his head was completely encased in a surgical dressing and he was unconscious. It was no wonder he didn't respond to my knocking. He was much smaller, and younger appearing than David, so my eyes were immediately drawn to the bed by the window.
Next to the window was my David, his flaming red hair being the first thing I saw. Why my eyes weren't drawn there immediately, I don't know. He was lying on top of his bed, wearing nothing more than a pair of nylon shorts. His torso had much more definition than I'd remembered. He was magnificent. He had his eyes closed, and had ear buds in his ears and was listening to the iPod Touch I'd given him for his birthday, which is why he didn't hear me knock on the door. I couldn't help but smile at seeing the man I loved, and that he was safe.
As I walked around to get a better look at him, however, I saw that he was not OK. There was a white surgical dressing where his right hand used to be. It had been amputated a few inches below his right elbow. Oh God, how my heart went out to him!
A thousand thoughts of our future started buzzing through my mind. I could only imagine what it must be like to lose a hand - and he was right-handed, too. I'd love him no less, and we would get through this together, but there would be some tough times ahead. I couldn't possibly know what it was like to go through what David was going through, and would have to go through.
I could also imagine how alone he must be feeling, and that was something I could do something about, but would he worry about being inadequate for me, now that he'd lost a hand? I'd read about how people with a new disability often became withdrawn from those they loved, secretly trying to protect them from those feelings. Well that was something I wasn't going to allow to happen - ever. David was going through a period of loss, and I'd be there to grieve right along with him. We'd do it together, and if he tried to push me away, I'd fucking well push right back.
Sitting down next to him, I watched him as he lay there, his eyes closed and his chest gently rising and falling with each breath. I almost thought he might be asleep, but I could hear the tinny sound of music coming from his ear buds and he was moving his feet almost imperceptibly in time to the beat of whatever music he had playing. The expression on his face was so peaceful and he looked so serene, yet I knew he'd witnessed horrors the likes of which I could scarcely begin to imagine.
Taking a deep breath, I decided it was time to let my lover know I was here. I could touch him, but if it were me, it would undoubtedly scare the shit out of him, and so I simply spoke his name. When that didn't work, I spoke it a bit more loudly, using the Hebrew pronunciation, "dah-VEED", since that was more than likely what he was used to hearing.
Finally his eyes slowly opened, but as soon as he realized there was someone sitting next to him, and who it was, the hugest grin took over his face as he sat bolt-upright in bed, reached out and engulfed me in a bear-tight hug. He began to sob uncontrollably, which of course caused me to start crying, too.
"Oh Danny . . . I . . . I can't believe it's you. God, you can't begin to imagine how much I've missed you!" David cried on my shoulder.
"Yes I can, David, and more," I cried in return. "I missed you even before the attack, and then all I knew was that you'd been injured. I didn't know how badly you'd been injured, or even whether you'd live or die. Your father told me next to nothing. It wasn't until now that I found out you weren't in Intensive Care."
David pulled away from me with a look of shock on his face and said, more than asked, "You didn't know about my hand?"
"Not until the moment I walked in the room," I answered.
David started to turn his head away from me, as I feared he would, but I reached out with my hand and pushed against his chin, turning his face back to me. Even still, his eyes were looking down.
"Look at me, David," I implored. "Please, don't shut me out. Look at my eyes." Finally, he looked up, and I locked on to his beautiful coppery orbs.
"David, this changes absolutely nothing between us. You didn't lose a hand. We lost a hand. You should know by now that I love you more than anything, and I love you because you are you . . . not because you have ten fingers and ten toes.
"I've read about how some people with an injury will push those they love away, 'cause they think they're not good enough for them any more. I'm putting you on notice right here and right now that I'm not gonna let you get away with that. I love you way too much for this to make a difference. You're going to go through a lot, but we're gonna get through it together. I'm not leaving you, David. I'm sticking with you through your recovery and through your rehab. We're a team, and no one's gonna split us up this time . . . least of all, you."
But then David frowned and said, "The Hasidim will never let us be together. Certainly not on the kibbutz, anyway."
"Then we'll find another kibbutz or another place where we can be together in Israel." Seeing a questioning look on David's face I went on to explain, "I had a talk with your father before I left. Needless to say, he doesn't approve of our sexuality. In fact, he said he'd have long ago declared you dead to him if it weren't for you being his only son, but he kind of accepts that you were born this way."
"Really?" David asked.
"Your father did say you were always different," I confirmed, "and I guess he's finally realized just how different you really are. Anyway," I continued, "while he doesn't accept our sexuality, he accepts that we are in love and that there is a strong bond between us. He told me he didn't send you here to separate the two of us, but to bring you closer to your Jewish roots."
"He told me the same thing," David acknowledged.
"And he told me," I went on, "that he'd have no objection to the two of us being together in Israel, so long as we pursued our studies jointly."
"Wow!" David exclaimed. "So you can join me here! But where will we find a place that will be acceptable to my father to continue my Jewish studies, that will be comfortable with having a couple of 'out' gay boys in residence?"
My heart sank as I realized just how challenging that could be. "If worse comes to worst," I said, "we could go back to keeping our relationship under wraps. Hell, I could even become a Hasid if I had to."
"You, a Hasid?" David laughed. "That'll be the day!" It sure felt good to hear him laugh.
Then his laughter was replaced by a much more serious look - a look I remembered well. Our lips were drawn together as if by an invisible force of nature, and soon we were making out with a passion I hadn't felt since David left New York. Of course it was during the height of our passion that David's nurse entered the room to take his vital signs. The sound of her opening the door caused us to separate so quickly, I think I got instant whiplash.
I wasn't sure what she'd seen, but judging from the swelling of David's lips, it was probably pretty obvious what we'd been up to. But then I was really floored when she asked in Hebrew, "Shalom, David, who is your cute boyfriend?"
David answered her, in Hebrew of course, "Nurse Simon, I'd like you to meet Danny Weiss, who's visiting from New York. He just told me he's going to move here so we can be together from now on. We just have to find a place where we can both study that will accept us as we are."
"There are a lot of places in Israel that welcome gay youth, David," she replied. "You would be more than welcome, for example, in the congregation where I belong," she added.
But then David pointed out, "Yes, but it has to be a place that my father will approve, and of course they have to be able to deal with my disability," he said as he held up his stump.
"No place has a better infrastructure for dealing with disabilities than Israel," the nurse said, "but dealing with a Hasidic father?"
"Who happens to be a rabbi," David pointed out.
"Ayaiyai, David, I don't envy you there," she said with a sigh.
Taking David's remaining hand in mine, I said, "At least he's acknowledged that there's an 'us', and he hasn't cut you off. We're gonna make this work," I insisted.
"From the look of love I see in your eyes, boys," the nurse said, "I have no doubt that you will."
"You said we'd be welcome where you go to worship," I noted. "Could I ask you where that is?"
"It's certainly not for everybody, and undoubtedly wouldn't meet with David's father's approval, but it's called the Jerusalem Branch of the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism. In other words, I'm a Humanistic Jew."
"A Humanistic Jew?" David asked.
"We're mostly atheists and agnostics," she explained, "who feel a strong affinity with our people, the Jewish people. We have a strong cultural identity and enjoy continuing to observe our holidays, more from a historical perspective. We strongly believe that society demands we uphold moral and ethical behavior. We don't deny the existence of God, but we see this as being a personal choice, and certainly not in the Biblical sense, viewing the Bible as being more a form of mythology, possibly based on historical events rather than in actual fact. In any case, our focus is on serving humanity, and we believe that the way to serve God is through the service of humankind, and not the other way around."
"Whoa!" David said after hearing all his nurse had to say. "That is exactly the way I feel! I don't care what my father thinks about Humanistic Judaism . . . I'm gonna belong to it. Is there a place where Danny and I can study it?" Boy, was my boyfriend ever excited!
"Hold on, David," she said, "you really need to check it out, first. It's nothing like what you're used to. Perhaps Danny can meet with my rabbi after the holyday's over, and then maybe the two of you can meet with her once you're out of the hospital."
"Her?" I asked. "I like the sound of that," I added before she could respond.
After she left, we went back to intermittently making out, and talking excitedly about Humanistic Judaism. I wasn't sure if David's father would allow us to attend studies in such a non-traditional form of our religion, but if David and I were to stay together and to be able to be open about our relationship, this might well be the only way.
David and I were together in physiotherapy. He was dressed in only a pair of nylon shorts and socks and, at his physiotherapist's insistence, was doing one-handed chin-ups. Already, his left arm muscles were far more developed than my right arm muscles had ever been, and still the therapist insisted it wasn't enough. Starting from a cross-legged, sitting position, he'd had David lift his entire body using his left arm twenty-three times, and even as strained as the look on his face was as he counted twenty-four, the therapist insisted that he'd finish his thirty repetitions.
Sweat was pouring down David's face and torso. God, he was hot! What was I thinking? The poor boy was undergoing torture. Finally, he counted thirty, and let himself drop back down to the mat and panted away.
"That really makes my stump throb," David said, "and that's on top of the feeling that my right hand's clenched in a fist, and on fire," he added. David had been having a real problem with phantom pain, ever since the doctors started cutting down on his dose of morphine. They didn't want him to become addicted, but I didn't want to see him suffer.
"Are you massaging the stump the way I showed you," his physiotherapist asked.
"Religiously," David answered, "and the gabapentin does seem to be helping, but it's not enough."
"You just started it," he said. "Give it another week or two and once they ramp up the dosage, you'll hardly notice the pain at all."
"Yeah, if I can still ejaculate," David whispered into my ear. We'd looked up the side effects of gabapentin on-line and were at first dismayed when 'ejaculatory dysfunction' jumped out at us from the list, even more so than did the more common side effects of nausea, loss of concentration and insomnia. I used to snicker when I heard ads on TV for drugs with 'sexual side effects', but not any more! Gabapentin was supposed to be a good drug for phantom pain, and that's what mattered.
"We'll make it work for us, one way or the other," I whispered back.
"Of that I have no doubt," David said as he gave me a quick peck on the lips, right in the open in the Physiotherapy Gym. I knew there were plenty of people there who didn't approve, but as far as we were concerned, screw 'em.
Of far greater concern was the Hasidic rabbi who was the director of the kibbutz and Yeshiva where David was enrolled in school. Technically, he was David's guardian while David was in Israel, and he had Power of Attorney and could make all decisions regarding his legal matters in the absence of David's parents. He was doing everything in his power to keep me out of David's affairs. He'd even tried to have the Power of Attorney document I'd brought with me from America, which came directly from David's father, nullified.
As soon as my mother and I realized what was happening, we retained our own legal representation and arranged for something highly unusual - legal representation for David himself. Clearly, the rabbi was not looking out for what David wanted or what David felt what was in his best interests, nor even necessarily what his father felt was in his best interest. The issue of who would be in charge of David for the long haul was fast coming to a head as David's discharge became imminent. He would need extensive outpatient rehabilitation and it was becoming increasingly clear that the Hasidic kibbutz was not the least interested in ensuring that he got it.
Getting free of the Hasidim involved two equally important things - finding an alternative place that was willing to take David, and getting David's father to agree to it. So long as David's father refused to allow him to return home, there really was no other way. We'd even looked into the possibility of having David declared an emancipated minor, which although a very real possibility for gay youth in New York, was not a viable option in Israel. The religious extremists had such a lock on the courts that getting David out from under his current situation would be next to impossible without his father's approval.
As time dragged on, it became clear that I'd either have to find a temporary place to stay until we sorted David's situation out, or I'd have to return home. I knew that Mom needed to return - after all, she had six other kids to attend to - but there was no fucking way I was going to leave my David, ever again. We spent days searching before we found a suitable boarding house that would rent a room to me on a month-by-month basis. My mom paid the first two months up-front, as well as a three-month security deposit. We also drew up a Power of Attorney agreement allowing my lawyer to act on my behalf in my parents' absence. I would effectively be an emancipated minor - on my own at the age of sixteen.
My mother had been my rock throughout this whole ordeal - always maintaining her right to speak for David and I - always firm in her belief that David and I were meant to be together. Without her at my side, paving our way through the bureaucracy, David and I would never have made it on our own. That I knew.
Mom and I had a very tearful goodbye at the airport, and then for the very first time in my life, I was completely on my own.
It was a very bittersweet feeling in a way. In one sense, I felt like a real adult, responsible for my own affairs in a way I'd never been before. On the other hand, I'd never felt so alone before, living as I was in a land I barely knew.
Then there was David. I was here with and for David, and that was truly all that mattered. I was still angry at what had happened to him, but we would get through this, and end up stronger for it. We were as one.
David continued to attend physiotherapy, twice each day while his surgical wounds healed and the doctors treated him with intravenous antibiotics for an infection in the bones of his forearm. They did this as a precaution against having to have even more of his arm amputated, but I sensed that they were probably keeping him longer than necessary because of his complex legal situation.
In the meantime, I was meeting with the rabbi at the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism on an almost daily basis, for a couple of reasons.
First, we worked on developing an ironclad strategy for an alternative education that would meet with David's father's approval. I figured that if we could devise something as rigorous as the program David had been in, the Rebbi could hardly object.
The second reason was a bit more complex. All my life I'd wanted to go into a field of work that involved helping people, but the rabbinate had never appealed to me because I could never see myself in the hypocritical position of having to espouse a belief in a god I was certain didn't exist. I very much enjoyed my heritage and traditions, however, and was very knowledgeable in Jewish literature. Furthermore, my interest in science and philosophy was particularly well suited to the study of religion from the Secular Humanists' point of view. It was thus that I came to consider a career as a Humanistic Jewish rabbi, and entered into a very serious discussion with the rabbi about eventually entering the seminary, which was under her leadership.
I was in her office one day when she told me a little bit about the history of Humanistic Judaism and gave me an appreciation for the man who founded it. We were having a discussion about general philosophy when the rabbi suddenly said, "You remind me so much of Rabbi Wine, Danny. It's uncanny how much you have in common with him."
"Rabbi Wine?" I asked.
"Rabbi Sherwin Wine was the founder of Humanistic Judaism. He grew up in Detroit, and our largest congregation, The Birmingham Temple, which he founded, is still located there. His untimely loss was so unfortunate," she went on to say, "not that he wasn't old, but he had a youth and vitality, even at seventy-eight, that I didn't see in men half his age."
"Untimely loss?" I asked. "How'd he die?"
"He and his partner of many years were in an taxi accident while traveling in Morocco. His partner survived, but the rabbi was killed. It was such a tragedy. They had such a loving relationship."
"His partner?" I asked.
"Rabbi Wine was gay, Danny," she explained. "Can you imagine, growing up gay, and being a rabbi in a time when there was absolutely no acceptance of homosexuality? Back then, it was still illegal for a man to have sex with another man. If you think it's tough now, imagine growing up in the 1940s. But a lot of that spirit is probably what made Rabbi Wine the man he was. We are all in his debt."
"That's incredible," I said. "I hope I can do one-tenth of what he did."
"Somehow, I think you will, Danny, and so much more. First, we have to find a way to help that boyfriend of yours, though, don't we?"
"Definitely," I agreed.
Wow, I was so totally blown away by this organization. First, I found that belief in God was optional, then I discovered the rabbi who ran the seminary was a woman, and now I learned the founding rabbi was gay, just like David and I. I was hooked!
It was on another day that she blew me away with another discussion on David's and my future, when she asked, "You and David haven't taken your SATs yet, have you?"
Laughing, I answered, "Of course not . . . we'd just started our junior years in high school."
"If you could get in, do you think you'd be capable of college-level work?" she asked.
That was an odd question. How the hell would I know? I'd never been in college before. When she saw the blank expression on my face, she went on. "The reason I'm bringing this all up, Danny, is because of a suggestion a colleague of mine had when I raised the issue of David's situation and what to do if his father refused to go along with whatever we could come up with for him. The colleague raised the point that if David were accepted into a university, his father would be virtually powerless to stop him from attending. He could try, but the courts generally side with kids in cases such as these. You're both sixteen and old enough to attend an institution of higher education of your own choosing."
"Yeah, but what about cost?" I asked.
"Most universities in Israel are free, so that's not a problem. Of course you still need to pay for housing, your food and books, but if your parents can't help with that, we'll find a way to help support you. You leave that worry to us."
"I'm not worried about me," I told her. "My parents will help with my expenses. It's David I'm worried about. Plus there's the issue of his rehabilitation and other medical expenses. All of that was being taken care of by his father. If we ignore his father's wishes and his father actually cuts him off, who's going to cover David's expenses."
"Don't worry about that, Danny," she answered. "Your plight has caught the attention of some prominent people in the community. We'll see to it that you're taken care of.
"If you're willing, the first step is to have you and David take the entrance examinations as soon as possible. We'll need to make special arrangements for this, and of course for David's disability. If your scores are high enough, then there are several colleges and universities I'd like to approach for early admission on your behalf, for the January semester. Once the two of you are accepted, we should have little difficulty getting David out from under the Hasidim and from under his father's thumb. But who knows . . . his father might actually approve?"
"I still think it's being optimistic to think we could get into college," I told the rabbi.
"Danny," she responded, "I've gotten to know you quite well over the past several weeks. You have a very sharp head on your shoulders, and are obviously well read. I'm sure there are still some gaps in your knowledge, but these are things you can easily make up. I've found your knowledge base to be on a par with my entering seminary students, and that's saying a lot, considering you're only sixteen. I have little doubt that you're capable of university work, right now.
"You've told me that David is, if anything, the smarter of the two of you . . ."
"By far," I interrupted.
"So I would expect he'd have no trouble with university work, either, then."
"I expect not . . ." I answered. "I wonder if we could be roommates?" I asked wistfully.
"I don't see why not," the rabbi answered. "Of course it would be even better if you were married. Then you'd qualify for married student housing, which is what the two of you deserve."
I'd never even remotely considered the possibility of marrying at such a young age before, but the half-year I'd known David had changed me, and going through rehabilitation with him had only solidified the bond of love we shared. I'd flown halfway around the world when I thought something had happened to him, and now that I was here, I was never going to allow myself to be parted from him again. Intellectually, I knew we'd have to wait until we were eighteen, but I wanted to be able to share his bed from now on in the worst possible way. Could we really marry now?
The one bit of good news was that although gay marriage wasn't legal, nor was any form of civil marriage for that matter, the Israeli supreme court had recently ruled that gay marriages performed elsewhere must be recognized by the state. In other words, if we could get married in a country where gay marriage was legal, not that any country would marry a couple of sixteen-year-olds without parental consent, the state of Israel would recognize our marriage.
Ironically, if we were a Hasidic couple - a boy and a girl, that is - we could easily marry at sixteen. Those marriages were arranged all the time in Israel without the consent of the couples involved, and sometimes without even the consent of the parents, and they were sanctioned by Jewish law.
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story this story and Alastair in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. I would also like to thank Rigel for correcting some of my errors with respect to traditional Orthodox Judaism. This story was written as part of the Gay Authors 2009 Novella Writing Contest.