Written by Chaim Durkheim. For more stories by Chaim, check out The Purim Party. (Editor’s Note: This story is set against the backdrop of Tu B’Shvat, a Jewish holiday that marks the “birthday of the trees” and, in modern times, ecological awareness. We wish all of our readers a happy, mindful and tasty Tu B’Shvat!)
As Moshe left his sparsely furnished apartment, he looked at the mezuzah his estranged father had given him several years ago. Moshe felt guilty he never touched it on his way in or out. He longed for those days hanging out with his Jewish friends at Temple or the Jewish Community Center. He missed reading his Jewish philosophy books that he had donated in a brown grocery bag by the back door of the library. Somehow his Jewish roots had been ripped from within, leaving a fog of loneliness, apathy, and alienation.
Moshe had just met Sarah at the Jewish Federation Spring Dinner. He did not expect to meet anyone and just wanted to be around other Jews, despite his own questioning if he was a “real Jew.” His therapist called it depression and anxiety. She recommended that he see a psychiatrist for possible medication. Moshe thanked her for the advice but decided that the treatment didn’t fit the illness. He knew it was not depression. He knew it was loss of faith and a feeling of being uprooted from his community. The symptoms were often confused and treated with the wrong intervention. He was not sure why his faith slowly slipped away, but he wanted it back. He kept telling himself that he believed in God and he said several prayers each day. But it was clear that he was just going through the motions.
He was self-medicating his loss of faith with several unsuccessful, short-term relationships with women he met on JMATE dating service, an interactive, GPS driven, casual sex phone app that allowed him to meet and interact with Jewish women in real time. Like his prayers, he was just going through the motions. He would bring a woman back to his apartment, fill the small hot tub in his oversized bathroom and have meaningless sex with a few moments of excitement followed by an image of a barren forest.
Sarah was a beautiful woman. She had shoulder-length, slightly curled black hair. Her green eyes were full of mystery. She had a glow about her face and a huge smile that invited one for conversation. But she also had a sadness that permeated her being. Moshe could not decide if she was conservative and religious or wild. Then again, he realized that his characterizations never matched reality. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend of four years after she caught him receiving oral sex from her former college roommate. The betrayal of both had brought her into a trust vs. mistrust state that she remembered reading about in her college psychology classes.
Sarah had started a course at her Temple on the Jewish holidays and the recent discussion had focused on Tu B’Shvat, with an emphasis on new beginnings and growth. Rabbi Feldman had discussed the significance of starting over and planting new roots. The metaphor seemed to describe Sarah’s life perfectly. She felt faint tears run down her cheek as the Rabbi lectured. If anyone saw her tears, they said nothing.
She had approached Moshe at the dinner and asked if the empty seat next to him was taken. He said no and introduced himself. They watched a brief presentation on the importance of the environment and ate their chicken dinner, engaging in superficial talk about their work. Moshe was surprised when his raffle ticket number was called out during dessert and he won a fruit basket.
He asked her if she would like to come back to his apartment and talk some more about Judaism. She said she would and he wrote down his address on the back of one of his therapist’s business cards.
Sarah arrived at his door looking apprehensive. Like him, he thought she must be a little confused about the real reason she had come over. He let her in and showed her the apartment with the oversized bathroom and the empty hot tub perched under a half circle window overlooking a small tree.
They sat on the couch and unwrapped the fruit basket. The basket contained dried figs and dates, a couple of pomegranates, peaches, and apricots. Sarah asked Moshe if he would like a dried fig and then put it in his mouth. He reciprocated with a date. They talked about how important it was to take any new relationship very slowly allowing time to get to know each other. She then asked him if he wanted to eat the fruit in the hot tub on the condition that, “we keep the lights off.” She suddenly regretted her forwardness.
They filled the tub. After shutting off the lights, they undressed and slid into the warm water. The fruit basket sat right next to them. She sat on his thighs and she could feel his erect penis brush against her skin. She kissed him and said, “I don’t want to get too crazy – let’s just relax and eat some of this fruit.”
Moshe grabbed a peach from the basket and bit into it. Juice flowed down his chin and he gave the peach to Sarah. She bit into it and tasted the sweet juice. They briefly kissed. She rubbed some of the peach juice on his lips and chin and then licked it off. They could barely see each other in the dark room. A faint shadow of the tree outside the window moved back and forth in the breeze.
She whispered in his ear, “Maybe this is part of Tu B’Shvat, you know, planting trees, growth, roots, and connection.”
She asked him what he would like to plant and eat for this festival. Moshe could not grasp the meaning of this question and was not sure if it was one of seduction, or one of religious significance. The peach pit dropped into the water but neither reached for it for fear of what they might touch.
Moshe told her that Judaism had left him.
She replied, “I think it is the opposite-you left Judaism.”
He wondered if he was going to have a philosophical discussion with a beautiful naked woman in his hot tub. She sighed and said, “If you celebrate Tu B’Shvat with me, maybe you will see that your faith has always been there and you can always come back.”
He thought about this while sharing more of the fruit. She wanted him to taste her whole body, to explore every area of mystery, to merge their separateness into one, but she was worried that would uproot any future relationship.
“Tu B’Shvat,” said Moshe. “I like the idea of planting – maybe of starting something new and would love to join you for the celebration.” She kissed Moshe on the cheek and gave him a firm hug. Their bodies were motionless for a second. He realized he was no longer aroused although his body was tingling. The taste and smell of fresh peach juice filled the room.
Moshe thought that maybe Tu B’Shvat had nothing to do with sex. It was about two things – relationships and new beginnings. And Moshe knew that it would be difficult to wake up from his winter sleep, and embrace what had been lost. But he also knew that a slight bloom of hope could take root if given the right environment. And he thought maybe he would even plant that peach pit right outside the window and watch it grow.