The Settler’s Son Is Leaving

Bat Ayin, Judea Samaria
January 2011
Firstborn, what’s with the backpack?
Where’s your vest, your tzitzit?
Why do you come at me in jeans and a T-shirt you got
Heaven knows where like the erev rav
rushing to everything but Hashem?
Why the hand-wringing?
Of course, any
death is terrible. Even an
Arab. Seventeen, a year younger
than you. But they’re not
tzadiks in Khirbet Safa. Remember
Erez, found dead, praying
in his valley? Remember Shlomo barely thirteen
murdered, Yair attacked with an axe?
Arabs have our blood, the blood of
our children on their hands. They hurl
rocks into our vineyards, damage
our organic wine grapes, trample
the road Abraham and Isaac traveled and
the fields of Ruth’s whispers.
So we go into their villages!
Double tit for tat! Not the nebbish,
last pick on the playground, not the bully’s
favorite whipping boy anymore. We
belong here. Not next year in Jerusalem. This year. Now.
I knew it. You were born too
early, in that crazy more-more-more world, Los Angeles,
not like your brothers, born here, of here,
taproot deep in the land, your baby sisters stealing
off to wash themselves with moonlight in the
ancient mikvah. Firstborn son, I too
am a firstborn son. I know what it is
to be called to strike out on your own.
My meshugunah family? Their fast
and seder Judaism? On Yom Kippur,
tan and atone? An orthodox rabbi? Not a doctor?
Accountant? You can imagine.
Now you’ll be one of them, hearing nothing
over your cell phone’s jitter jangle,
the call of secular success.
Did my father and Uncle David get
to you? My sister’s human
rights causes? Look son,
you don’t have to go.
I was like you, full of passion
and justice and rage. Here you can live a full-blooded
Judaism, breathe Hashem through your pores,
daven with the spirits of David and Moses,
feel the thump of Solomon’s listening heart
under your feet. And still you go?

Son, when you were born, I paid five shekel
to redeem you from a life of devotion to G-d.
Such a paltry sum, the story goes,
because Hashem doesn’t need firstborn priests
preferring the Levites, belonging nowhere
but the Temple – they don’t dream
of their own land.
Perhaps I should’ve kept my money.
For a life with G-d, you’d have stayed forever,
prayed through any siege. Son, you owe
me five shekel. Before you go,
pay me back.