Cast of Wonders 509: Far From the Home I Love
Far From The Home I Love
by Y.M. Resnik
“Let me get this straight. You were born on Earth, but your passport is Venusian?”
The condescension seeps through the plexiglass barrier separating me from the visa agent. It blankets me in icy disdain. Chides me for having the chutzpah to think that returning home could be easy.
I nod in the affirmative, trying to still my shaking hands as I retrieve the required documents out of my bag. I’ve followed the instructions meticulously, right down to bringing everything in triplicate. Ari helped me prepare the application. They’ve always been more detail oriented than I am.
The electronic Siddur in my bag grazes my fingers, reminding me why I am here. I pull it out and clutch the worn synthetic leather carrying-case to my chest as the agent shuffles through the paperwork. I am half tempted to recite one of the prayers found inside, but decide against it. What if the visa agent flags it as suspicious behavior? There aren’t many religious Jews on Venus. Ari and I probably make up a quarter of that population.
“Do you at least have your expired passport?” The agent is fumbling now, casting her eyes about frantically as if searching for the lost passport. Well, she can search until the Messiah comes. She won’t find anything. I didn’t have a passport when I fled.
“No.” I don’t offer any explanation. I don’t owe her that.
In fact, ever since my parents demanded to know if Ari was short for Aryeh or Ariella, I’ve decided I don’t owe anyone anything. If they can choose not to acknowledge my marriage in the digital family tree because my partner is neither a boy nor a girl, then I can decide not to participate at all.
Every Jewish family has a tree, a complicated map of weddings and births and b’nei mitzvahs, that appears in the front of our prayer books. Back in the days of the shtetl, they used to keep the list in a paper Siddur, some patriarch or matriarch filling in the names until they ran out of space or things got too complicated. When the Rabbis allowed prayer from electronic Siddurs, everything got uploaded. Each person gained access to their own data once they turned eighteen. Unfortunately, I’d already left by that point and all transfers of ownership require physical proximity of the Siddurim in question.
Which is why I have to go back. My siddur still automatically refreshes when my family enters new data and I’m stuck watching their happy news without any ability to add my own. The entry for my sister Hadassah updated last week to reflect a new daughter, providing me with the perfect cover. A new baby means a baby naming ceremony. Everyone will be present, Siddurim in hand, to update their trees. Once my parents type in their access codes, I can slip in undetected and update my book’s ownership modules, delete my entry from their servers, and wipe my family tree clean of everyone but me and Ari. It’s the perfect plan.
Except for the incompetent visa agent currently standing in my way.
“Name?” she asks after what feels like an eternity but is probably only a minute or two. It’s right there on the documents, but clearly she prefers to torture me. Fine. Two can play at that game.
She heaves a colossal sigh, then types away at her screen, her stylus click-clacking. A frown etches small lines across her otherwise youthful face. “There is no record of a Miriam Glasser with your birthday born on Earth.”
Her eyes are narrowed. Accusatory.
“Miriam Glasser wasn’t my name on Earth.” A fact that is contained in the mountain of paperwork. If, she would just deign to read it instead of grilling me.
I expect her to react badly, to threaten to stop processing my documents or call in security. Instead, she’s scanning my documents, reading about how I came here as an emancipated minor, a refugee from my home planet. She leans forward and whispers through the glass.
“I am so sorry.” Her voice wobbles with genuine concern. “If you transitioned, there is zero need to say your dead name. Screw Earth and their archaic passport requirements. Let me find it on one of these forms and I can sort this out for you in a nanosecond.”
My heart clenches in my chest, my glacial resolve to be as unpleasant as possible instantly thawing. I haven’t transitioned, but handling the paperwork associated with a name change on a foreign planet is the reason Ari won’t be travelling with me. They offered, but I couldn’t bear the thought of them filling out form after form with their dead name in the Mars embassy.
I give the agent a tiny smile, my first since I entered the Earth embassy. “I took my partner’s name when I was emancipated as a minor. Their family was more supportive.”-
Taking on the Glasser’s last name had been a nobrainer. They’re my true family now and I’d like the opening pages of my Siddur to reflect that.
I take a breath and lean forward, steadying myself to speak the name I haven’t spoken since I left Earth.
“My name is Miriam Glasser, but I was born Miriam Holtzer. Please, help me get back home so those two people can become one again.”
Ari is waiting for me with a chipped mug of nana tea. They’ve chosen to wear a pair of jeans and an oversized cardigan today, which makes it all the more cozy when they fold me into a hug.
Our apartment is exactly as tiny as you would expect from a line cook aspiring to open the first kosher restaurant on Venus, and a psychology graduate student. Still, it will always be full of love. Which means it is a palace compared to our home planets.
“How’d it go?” they ask, as I nestle myself into their chest, the mug warm between us.
“The visa agent was super cool actually,” I admit, taking a gulp of the tea. A sprig of mint from my window sill garden steeps in the water.
“Despite my being a total jerk to her. I think you’re right about my unresolved trauma spilling over into other aspects of my life.”
To their credit, Ari valiantly tries to suppress their smile. It took five years for them to work up the courage to ask if I was interested in turning our internet friendship into a long-distance romance, but they’d been comfortable analyzing my mental state since the day we first chatted.
“There’s a therapist at school you might like.” Their voice is hushed, as if I might explode at the mere mention. Which is not unfounded. The first time they broached the topic, I terminated our VR meeting and refused to talk to them for a week. The only reason I opened communications back up was the fact that I thought they were cute.
I still do.
“Easy for you to say.” I slump into the threadbare sofa cushions. “Your family isn’t so heinous you have to crash a baby naming ceremony to remove your data from their Siddurim.”
Ari’s family has been nothing but supportive of Ari’s gender identity. It was Mars that sucked. Mr. Glasser’s employer refused to let him move off world and keep his job even when it became evident that Ari was being crushed under the weight of Mars’s oppressive gender laws. Ari’s parents happily agreed to let Ari move off planet and get emancipated with me so that they could access treatment on Venus.
The Glassers even convinced me that fleeing my planet without first discussing the issue of my bisexuality with my parents was the wrong move. When it turned out I was right, and my parents disowned me, the Glassers were there to help me pick up the pieces.
“Your parents are awesome.”
“They are,” Ari agrees, stroking my hair. “And they love you very much. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on yours. Are you sure about this plan?”
I sigh, letting the rhythmic thrum of their fingers soothe me. It’s an old argument, Ari’s insistence that my relationship with my family might still be salvageable while I want to burn the whole thing to the ground.
“They sat shiva for me, Ari,” I remind them. “If they want so badly for me to be dead, we might as well make it official.”
I don’t mention the countless nights I’ve spent thumbing through the tree searching for someone, anyone, that might be like me. I’d found scores of cousins I hadn’t known about, but not a single indication that anyone was anything other than heteronormative.
Holtzers aren’t queer, the tree shouted to me through line after line of boy-marries-girl and lives happily ever after. You don’t belong in here.
I sit up straighter and stare into Ari’s eyes, unflinching. “If your name can’t go next to mine in that book, if our kids can’t be listed in there one day, then that is not my family.”
They don’t have much to say to that. Instead, they scoop up the Siddur and deposit it in my lap. “Don’t be hasty, is all I’m saying. Maybe you should pray for guidance.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in prayer?” I tease, hoping to lighten the moment. Because no matter what Ari says, no matter how many times they claim they don’t care, I’m not letting this slide.
“I don’t,” they agree, rising from the sofa to leave me with my reflections. “But you do.”
And with that, they win. As they knew they would. Because while my family refuses to acknowledge any part of my life that isn’t convenient for them, Ari has always supported every single inch of me. Dragging me to an egalitarian Synagogue so I could reclaim my love of prayer, helping me prep elaborate Shabbat dinners, saving this very Siddur from the recycling bin when I tried to throw it out. Because they knew that I needed Judaism in my life.
Small wonder they’re acing all their classes in the social work program.
I flip open the siddur, swipe past the instruction on how to use the device on Shabbat and holidays, and run my fingers over the little notes in the margins. The siddur is full of them, all in Ari’s looping handwriting.
When I confessed that I stopped praying from my personal Siddur because I found it too painful, Ari had painstakingly scratched out anything that was offensive or gendered in the liturgy. They’d been forced to use the manual notes app since I didn’t have control of the book’s data chip, but it was Ari’s generosity and determination that let me find my way back to God.
I zoom in on the Amidah, a prayer so powerful it is said that God themselves comes down to listen directly rather than sending their angels to carry the prayer up to the heavens. I usually recite it every morning, but in my rush to get to the embassy on time, I skipped it today.
It opens with praise, followed by requests, which is where I spend the bulk of my time. I ask God to give me the strength to do what needs to be done, to keep Ari safe while I am gone, and to help the two of us figure out our messy new existence together. Then I wrap things up with thanks for all the good I have already received in my life on Venus.
I linger over the ending lines, savoring Ari’s final gift to me. An old family tradition they’d inherited from their maternal grandmother. Sandwiched in between the last few sentences, Ari has scrawled a single verse, chosen specifically to reflect my name. When my day of judgement comes, they explained, and I trembled before God, I would not be so frightened that I forgot who I was.
Meor eiynayim yismach lev, Ushmua tova tedashem etzem. The light of the eyes makes the heart happy, good news fattens the bone.
I’d make some offhand joke about how God should not be commenting on my weight, but Ari had seen right through me.
“You blend logic with emotion,” they had insisted. Telling me who I was when I could scarcely articulate it for myself. “Combining ancient Jewish practice with modern values in a way that isn’t a contradiction. It makes our lives full and the community is richer for it.”
It might be how they see me, but it isn’t how I see myself. Not yet. I say the words anyway, praying that one day they’ll be true.
The moment I step into the Synagogue, I am assaulted by waves of pink. Pink balloons on the stairs. Pink taffeta swathing the sanctuary walls. Pink and purple floral arrangements festooning the bima, and pink cookies shaped like baby rattles laid out in pale pink organza bags for guests to take home. I’m betting a fresh batch of cookies, with the baby’s name inscribed on them in even brighter pink, will be brought out as soon as the ceremony is over.
Kids that have escaped the services are running through the hallway that separates the party room from the sanctuary, playing freeze tag and stealing sweets. I spot the siblings by their matching outfits. Dresses for the girls with giants bows in their hair that color coordinate with the boys’ kippot. Already, one girl has ripped her tights by playing ninja warrior with the boys instead of house with the girls. An adventurous ten-year-old is pilfering flowers from the table arrangements and sticking them into his kippah.
How long before their parents convince them such behavior is inappropriate?
I sigh and tug the collar of my long-sleeved blouse. I dressed to blend in, and the excess of overpriced fabric on my body is slowly smothering me. My teachers might have claimed Jewish modesty laws served to heighten a woman’s beauty by keeping it private, but none of them had ever been five-foot-tall and pear shaped.
I swipe a cookie, briefly considering taking one to bring home for Ari, before marching towards the main sanctuary. I came all this way. I’m not missing my chance to reclaim my Siddur because I spent the entire ceremony brooding over unnecessarily gendered cookies.
The service is already in full swing, adults screaming ‘Mazal Tov’ and waving cameras while my sister Hadassah and her husband hold up the baby. The Hazan sings a welcome melody about a beloved dove. Nobody notices me slip into a seat in the back, pull out my siddur, and load the piece of code that I prepared in advance.
I glue my eyes on my parents.
As soon as the name is announced, they will use their access codes to open all the family Siddurim to update everyone’s records together. They’ll be too busy helping my little siblings enter the new baby into their own books to notice the transfer of ownership. I’ll be one small, troublesome sheep straying away from the rest of the familial flock.
“You always did love a party.”
I squeak and drop the Siddur. My Aunt Chavi swoops in to lift it up, kiss the cover once, and offer it back to me. I recall her entry from the family tree.
Chava Holtzer (nickname Chavi) daughter of Aaron and Elisheva Holtzer. Owner of Holtzer’s Herbarium.
She added the part about the flower shop herself, in the space designated for children. My mother said it was because the plants were the only children Chavi was likely to have since she was unmarried and in her forties. My father had suggested the plant mishegas was the cause of Chavi’s single status.
They said these things in a hushed whisper, letting me know I should pity Chavi and take care not to repeat her mistakes lest I end up old and alone.
Too bad nobody informed Chavi she’s supposed to be lonely and miserable. Right now, she’s downright perky in her leaf patterned tea dress and giant floral hair fastener.
“I’ll need your new address,” she says, as if this is a normal conversation and she hasn’t caught me sneaking into a family event that I was not invited to attend.
“My address?” I stammer as I frantically page through my Siddur to ensure the code is undamaged and ready to deploy. Chavi’s always been eccentric, but that doesn’t explain why she’s being friendly. Did someone forget to send her the memo about me being an embarrassment to the Holtzer name?
“I have some ideas on Venusian plant cultivation,” she continues serenely. “Some vegetables you could grow to help with your cooking. I’ll ship you the seeds.”
“You…want to send me plants?”
It explains her willingness to talk to me. Chavi never misses an opportunity to geek out over plants. In fact, she probably constructed the giant floral arch that Hadassah is standing under with the baby. It is composed entirely of plants with aerial roots, and contains far more colors than the standard pink and white. There’s no way it was Hadassah’s idea.
“Maybe I can come visit one day.” Chavi smiles and her entire face lights up. “Then I can meet your partner and get the plants set up for you both. I was never into romance myself, but I’m glad you found someone that makes you happy.”
My mouth drops open and I fumble the Siddur, almost erasing the code. I spin around to face her, but she’s already strolled off to confront the little boy stealing the flowers. Instead of scolding him, she whips out some floral tape from her pocket and creates a wreath. He plunks it on his head like a mermaid Caesar and races off to show his friends. Chavi winks at me.
Aunt Chavi – Chava Holtzer (nickname Chavi) daughter of Aaron and Elisheva Holtzer. Owner of Holtzer’s Herbarium – isn’t a cautionary tale at all. She’s ace spectrum. And she supports my decision to move to Venus. Her entry should read – Chavi Holtzer, asexual/aromantic and super into flowers, totally awesome.
I shift my eyes around the room, wondering how many more of my relatives I’ve misjudged. How many lies this stupid genealogy has told me because I’ve been reading it through the wrong lens. Assuming everyone that was single simply couldn’t find a partner, rather than considering the possibility that maybe they didn’t want one. Or maybe they had a relationship the family refused to acknowledge. Like me.
Maybe I couldn’t find them because they removed themselves from the book. Just like I’m about to do.
I’m staring at my entry when the crowd breaks into a raucous cheer. The baby has been named. Ruchama. The Hebrew word for mercy. Ari would say it is a sign.
Three swift keystrokes and the Siddur acknowledges that I am over eighteen and in charge of my own data, but my fingers pause over the seek and destroy code. I came here thinking that wiping myself out of everyone’s books and starting over was the only way forward. Now I’m not so sure.
That little boy’s smile as he festooned himself in pink blossoms flashes through my mind. I remember Chavi’s laugh as she told me she’s never been one for romance. The words Ari used to explain my name verse to me pop into my head.
You are a bringer of good news, Miriam. Upholder of the old traditions and the new.
I think of that little girl out there who is going to catch hell from her mother for ripping her tights. I think of all the relatives that might never know they aren’t alone if someone doesn’t show them the way. I think of myself, scrolling through my genealogy praying for some kind of kinship, only to find none.
Good news fattens the bone.
I don’t know about bones, but that tree has been unnecessarily pruned of its most precious leaves, and I’m going to ensure it grows plump once again.
I pull up my entry and instead of deleting, I make a few additions. Miriam Holtzer-Glasser (She/Her). Married to Ari Glasser (they/them) can be found via the general post office on Venus.
A spinning circle appears as the Siddur processes the update. It’s taking way too long for a simple one sentence addition. My stomach clenches as I worry I’ve tripped some internal failsafe and gotten myself booted out of the tree just as I determined I wanted to keep it.
Then the data uploads and I choke back a gasp. Dozens of new names have appeared. Entries that were previously restricted by parental override.
Chaim Holtzer married to Hank Stern, currently residing on Saturn’s third moon.
Leah Holtzer (they/them) SINGLE BY CHOICE! Loving life in Antarctica
Batsheva Holtzer married to Chris Rodriguez, mother to May Holtzer-Rodriguez and Yoel Holtzer-Rodriguez. Mars.
The list goes on and on.
Tears stream down my face as I reverentially run my fingers over the names of the relatives I never knew I had. The text is as holy to me as the prayers that follow it in the book. Chavi must have chosen to keep her entry neutral so that she wouldn’t be disowned, but not everyone had that option. I have relatives that for one reason or another are no longer welcome in the family tree. Their entries cannot be permanently removed by another person, but my parents intentionally hid them from me.
By deleting my entry I would have lost something I didn’t even know I had. How many others teens are going through the same thing I did, thinking they are alone, when they are not?
That cannot stand.
Thanks to Ari’s choice of a gender-ambiguous name, my entry is subtle enough that it won’t raise any red flags. Still, I hope those who need it will find it. Because when they come looking for me, I can introduce them to the rest of our family. Until then, I’m glad I finally found myself.
I myself am half Ashkenazi, but unlike Miriam, that side of my family does not follow any traditional or religious practices; however, I love to see aspects of my own ancestry reflected in stories. In the five years that I have been an associate editor with Cast of Wonders, I have seen very few submitted stories that center Ashkenazi or other Jewish cultures, and those that do are often Fantasy stories set in the past and involve mysticism and magic. So, I was delighted to read a near future, Science Fiction story that explores modern issues of identity, family, and traditional practices and prejudices.
Miriam has a plan – a plan to erase her identity from her family Siddur, the identity that was defined and controlled by her parents. The identity that was placed in her family tree of which the associated data was not under her control. What she ‘knows’ is that hers is the only identity that doesn’t match her lived experiences, doesn’t match who she is. Who wouldn’t cheer her on in her endeavor.
So, Miriam returns home and puts her plan into action, to return to the extended family who does not appear to accept her for who she is, and erase her information from each person’s Siddur, so that she can embrace her identity within her found, chosen family. Once there, Miriam quickly learns that her perception of who her family is, is incomplete. While her parents may not accept her for who she is, and there are likely others like them, she discovers that her family is incredibly diverse, with wonderful, accepting people who are proud of who they are and embrace her for who she is. I love that Miriam has the maturity and strength to recognize that she did not have all the relevant information and that it is ok to pivot, to not dig in and reject what did not fit into her preconceived understanding of her family. I felt her joy in discovery of this. Such a powerful story.
About the Author
Y.M. Resnik. is a physician and author who was born and raised in New York. When not writing, she enjoys baking, crossword puzzles and running the Jewish book blog BookishlyJewish. Her work has been published in Khoreo and Augur magazines and is forthcoming in several other publications.
About the Narrator
Victoria is an expat Brit living in suburban Philly, still trying to make sense of life in America. You can find her blog at www.abroadintheusa.com. Her first novel, Guardians of the Weave, is currently out on submission