The Jebus in the Lotus

An Unauthorized, Fictional Sequel to "The Jew in the Lotus"


Iris was the first person I met. She and her husband flew in from Houston at almost the same time we flew in from New Orleans, and after the tour guide, Martin, herded us and a few other pilgrims into the official tour group, I stared, and I was not staring at a spoiled princess. She was wearing a tichel.

Her husband was wearing a yarmulke.

I was not the only one staring at this baal teshuba duo. Leo shook hands with Norm, owner of the yarmulke, but did not get that far with Iris. He offered his hand but let it drop when she reached past him and grasped my hand. We all stood staring at each other awkwardly until the small talk got started, and the luggage started flowing on the conveyer belt. So, Leo was forbidden to draw near, like the wine drinker not even allowed in the vineyard. Leviticus: 19:10 if I remembered correctly. Or maybe it was rabbinical. Or misogyny. Or hygiene. Of course, Norm did not shake my hand. After all, I could have been menstrual. Or our grubby travel weary palms could have, out of the amused heavens, sparked lust.

New York went swimmingly and exhausted by no less than four museums we collapsed on the plane bound for London like old acquaintances, if not friends. Our group had swelled in number. We were joined by two improbable pilgrims, a young vacationing Israeli policeman and an intense young girl, someone’s daughter, in very tight jeans and a butt as flat as a matzoh, and by the time we were seated at Bevis Mark in London, sleek and gray and tucked away in its famous synagogue courtyard, guarded by two grumpy watch dogs, packing, and one which elevated Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine to Michelin dining status, I knew everyone’s age, rank, and “serious” number, or so I thought.

The sassy menu listed chicken soup as penicillin, tortellini as kreplach; chopped liver as foie gras, (which in all fairness also has Jewish origins); gefilte fish as wild sea bass instead of the prosaic carp; and a “Friday night dinner” of chicken breast and sweet potatoes. Everyone thought it was amusing except Iris, whose permanent expression seemed to be one of dolor, and an elderly man, Ben, who appeared clinically depressed. I guess, for some, exploring one’s gastronomic roots through humor was not kosher. But Ben, a returning Jubu from NYC, had last year lost his wife to cancer, and two years ago his son to Israel, and he’d looked a little stunned most of the trip. He’d gotten tired in NYC after the first museum, and tonight, just hours after debarking from the second plane, I wanted to hug him just because of those sorrowful eyes. Poor old guy. He had trembly hands. What kind of Holy One would leave me in such a condition? I could hear him thinking. A jerk, I telepathed back. As for the hug-which-must-remain-unconsummated, who knew what he was, conservative, orthodox, reformed, secular? He was one of the previous pilgrims, sure, but his sorrow belied his having been living in the combined joys of Judaism and Buddhism for the last twenty-nine years. And just like the enemies of hardline Jews, Islam, the opposite sex could very well be off limits, off limits for even a compassionate hug. Oy vey! The rules of groups! Six hundred thirteen nitpicking rules for Christians, Mitzvots for Jews, not that most followers followed them, or even knew they existed.

So, all those Jews were in various styles of Judaism. I eavesdropped on the conversations going on around me. Our almost invisible yet ubiquitous waiters had pushed together the tables into a square, so we were almost all facing someone, like two Last Suppers, cubed. Though they closed at 10 pm we had reserved the hall until 1 am. By way of the conversational tidbits I gleaned they all had something in common, and that was to add to their wisdom. Adding to new information, beliefs, or rules of conduct. I laughed inner wicked laughter. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? Matthew 6:27. I loved to secretly throw scriptures at those unaware of the irony. Oops, oh wait, that was the New Testament, or Apostolic Writings, or whatever neutral term they are using nowadays.
 I was savoring my “Friday night dinner” though it wasn’t Friday. It was Tuesday. On that Tuesday night, we all savored, resting assured nothing we noshed was boiled in mother’s milk. It was exquisite. How did the chef make something so ordinary, so ethereal? I peered around at everyone’s dish with curiosity. Rib eye steaks and pressed duck and breaded schnitzel and mizo glazed cod. There was nothing lumpen, even someone’s chopped liver was airy, like a mousse. Tch tch if you must, but orthodox Jews outlive us all, even us intermittent fasting Keto crazed vegan health nuts, barring accidents or worse. But it was nothing supernatural. It was because there was a place for dairy, and dairy was always in its place.

Over coffee, (with a little help from soymilk thanks to the author of Exodus 23:19 who had ruined more after dinner parties than Dr. Oz), and melabi, Ben brought up God’s plan. “Tell me, Adam,” he said to the youngest one at our table, one of the two wearing a yarmulke, “how does someone as smart as you believe in a divine plan. How could God make such a world as this? How do you explain suffering?” A wave of respectful yet forbearing expressions seemed to faintly light up around the table. If I knew my Zohar, it was a childish question. And the stock answer was, if God is the totality of all reality, he must also be reflected in the anger, brutality, greed, and garden variety vice that manifests itself in the visible world and blah, blah, blah.

So, he was old, but not faithful. Despite his puerile query I warmed to him. He reminded me a little of my dad, who finally started questioning the bullshit. “Back then, we were young and easily influenced, maybe too much,” Dad said. I had just told him how psychotic the Rapture bedtime stories had made me. Like my dad, Ben had a beard, the one thing from Old Time religion my dad kept. If Ben were in mourning, and his wife died last year, it was undoubtedly not the two-month mandatory beard growth, because it was neatly trimmed, and too short to signal acute religious throes.

Adam, despite his yarmulke, was the kind of guy who, on a deserted street, would, at least tentatively, make you finger your mace. Nothing wrong with seedy furtive faces. I’d known many in my lifetime, some close relatives. And two ex-significant others. But, just saying. At Ben’s question, Adam smiled, tense and tremulous. He was young, a student, and he had that quiet trained youthful respect for elderly teachers I knew so well in young neophytes, knowing they can’t fight back. Religious people were quite similar in their abuses. How insulted the Jews would be if they only knew how close they came to Pentecostals.

Adam almost whispered, “Either it is a plan that is perfect, but we don’t have the understanding to see it, or we creatures have wrecked the world.” Little known PEW fact: most young Jews dump Jewish tradition after Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and they have pocketed the gifts. Just quoting stats, here. And good for them.

His answer smacked of Kabbalah. With a touch of Pentecost. But no Buddhism. Quicker than an elder could say dispensationalism, Norm tried to save him. “Or there is a third explanation,” he said. “Perhaps God is suffering with us. He is not omnipotent and has to put up with the chaos just as we do. God is not perfect. He is in exile just as we are. How could that be? He wanted to create, so he shrunk to open up a space for his creatures. Everything was all God. When He shrunk the vessels holding his light they split into fragments and so God was broken. It is our job to recollect Him.”

“Nice story,” said Adam, in a relieved tone. “Is that in the Torah?”

“The Zohar. Thirteenth century. But it is built on the Torah. And there are Buddhist parallels. Think of one consciousness as the ocean, and we are all tiny drops. There is both the drop and the ocean, but they exist in each other.”

Can you be a little more woo woo and irrelevant? Everyone stopped slurping and rattling. For a moment I thought I’d spoken aloud.

But Ben was leaning across the table, pointing his coffee spoon at Norm. “None of those explanations sit well with me. You have some clever metaphors. So much talk of the nature of God on this trip. To God. I can tell you, He is not listening. If the Dalai Lama asks me personally, I will say God’s plan is beautiful poetry, but no help for the suffering everywhere, just a myth to share and mark time.”

The indulgent wave of polite expressions dimmed a little. We, or they, not me—I was just along for the ride—were supposed to be delegates of Judaism, so to have this chink in the rabbinical armor, this former seeker who had lost his groove, must have been a bit unnerving to those looking forward to a triumphant redux and another to-die-for photo op. In fact, there were four other former delegates seated around the square circle, sere and old, all divorced at least once, and remarried, but still full of it.

Are you referring to God’s Plan A, or Plan B? The voice in my head was kind of smart alecky. The Penneycosts (heh heh) see a clear distinction between God's program for Israel and God's program for the church. but they are the same. God is not finished with Israel. The church didn't take Israel's place. They have been set aside temporarily, but in the End Times will be brought back to the promised land, cleansed, and given a new heart. Insert Trumpet music here. In fact, conservative Christians love Jews. Some especially nutty fundies support Israel because it will be center stage for End Times. They think if all Jews returned to Israel the fun in fundamentalism can begin.

What caught my eye at this point was Iris. She kept glancing at Leo, fascinated with the conversation. Her tichel turned one way then another to keep up with the speakers, but always pointed to Leo in the end. Another way orthodox Jews were like Pentecostals—women dressed like grannies. She really was lovely even wearing that baggy clothing. I noticed mostly her eyes, bottomless, expressive, intelligent, hazel eyes that belied her new-found allegiance to orthodox Judaism. Yes, yes, the olive skin, and a rich coil of dark hair edging from her tichel like some la belle juive, Mogliani’s or somebody’s. I couldn’t imagine her a spoiled brat, materialistic, selfish, and pampered, a “JAP” as Leo said. She did come from rich folks though.

That term, anyway, was annoying. Leo had said it like he was proud of it, like it was a status symbol. In Roth, if read between the lines, it should be considered offensive to women when used by Jewish men. When used by non-Jews, it smacked of ignorance. Then there was the issue of whether Leo was Jewish or not. If Judaism was a religion, then he was not. If he claimed ethnic roots he was. Either way, he was presumptuous to use it. Nevertheless, the woman in question at that moment was giving Leo side-eyes. And he knew it.

The JAP, yet another negative image of women born from man’s insecurity. I tried to picture Iris in loungewear and matchy-matchy sets, trotting about in low-maintenance attire in high-maintenance ways, a swaddle of the exquisite basics, mundane pieces from brand names, wildly colored Prada backpacks and Cartier diamond tennis bangles. Above all, Juicy Couture. I had tried to live in the real world, but I struggled with normal constructs, the semantic conveniences everyone else seems to let fly and bat back, with ease. Nothing Leo said about Iris, what little he said, added up at that point. The term was so seventies anyway. Culture pushes us all into boxes. Take what you fear most in yourself and foist it on to someone else. And then you can vilify. I couldn’t help thinking if I cracked this puzzle piece, I’d understand Leo’s fragmentation better. His word, not mine, yes…he did live at odds. So, depending on who is talking, JAP was either fun, or libel. Too Jewish means nebbish, nerdy. Too Jappy, means too materialistic. So how could one be both? There was a lot tight lipped Leo was not telling me. There was a lot I was not telling him.

“What are you thinking so hard about?” Leo took his eyes off his ex and looked at me. “Are you having fun? Are you having fun yet?”

If mental health can be judged by how close your inner talk is to your outer talk, and the closer the better, I was in severe trouble. But for that last twenty years, as I mentioned, I had been under Dr.’s orders to consciously filter what I say lest I appear anti-social and heretical to the religious South in which I was ensconced and drawing a paycheck. Unfortunately, my two sides have become an ingrained habit. I should have had to worry about that less at the liberal Famous University where I was happily hired two years ago. But along came Leo, who could be, I discovered, quite touchy and at the same time callous about his Jewish “identity,” whatever that meant, and so, if it is not one group, it’s another. Here’s how my thing works: “I am having fun,” I said, smiling as though I appreciated the satirical jadedness in Leo’s remark and at the same time, I was childishly thrilled that I was a tourist on the trip of a lifetime. Inside? I was saying, I am having fun—marveling at these gits wanting a more all-about-me experience than traditional Judaism. Knock yourself out. That’s what Christians do, and the red hat Buddhists, even as we speak, awaiting at the Dharmsala with bated breath for a rehash of your ancient wisdom.

“I think I’ve found my ambience, my metaphor,” he said quietly. “These exchanges over the last three days have inspired me… and given me a direction for my new collection.”

“Oh?” I said, “Tell me more.” And inside the real me replied, What collection? You barely have twenty poems written, only three individually published. Your job is riding on a Brandeis diploma. And do you mean all this vague talk of the hybridization of Jewish symbols with Buddhist symbols? Already been done. You are 20 plus years too late. Jubus have been writing for years, sucking off this balegan, this shitshow. One of my favorite Yiddish words. As I said, I miss Dr. Ally.

“Have you been listening to them?” said Leo. “We’re different but the same on another level. I should have done more homework before we came. But, for example, as far as I can tell, our ain sof, no limit, is the Buddhist emptiness. For our Star of David, there are the tantric fertility symbols. Can’t you just see that as metaphors in poems? Can you see the possibilities?”

“I can,” I said carefully. What about forgiveness versus eternal arguing? What about self versus no self? What about all is one versus this land is mine! What about vegetarianism versus tasty braised corned beef brisket? (Though DL had to give up his vegetarianism for health reasons. He said.) What about religious exclusivism vs. pluralism? But this is where the words got sticky. DL’s pretend pluralism did seem to mesh with Jewish pretend appreciation of pluralism.

“What a lousy religious education I had,” Leo went on. A few months ago, he was praising his secular parents and their jellyfish rule, allowing as they did all kinds of religious forays in any direction Leo wanted, including none.

“Did I ever hear them make a blessing, utter thanks to God, study Jewish wisdom, take on a mitzvah? My heritage eludes me. My story is blank. I have no memory. Buddhism will teach me. It can and will wake me up to what is already mine. And get this, through meditation.”

And publish with a precious, salable theme.

And ah. Meditation. Let your mind be as a flowing river. Let your stillness be as the cloudless sky. And sit up straight.

“The problem is I don’t know enough,” said Leo, modestly. “I am so lucky to have this opportunity. I can’t wait to learn more. Tibet has always held mystery for me. Now I must embrace the mystery and find my identity. Sounds sentimental, I know. Remember Hilton’s novel?”

Oh, yes, the problem was maybe, after all, that silly novel, Shangri La. Tibet has long been thematic of western fantasy because of a romantic notion imposed upon them by the west. Because of that book, most of the literate world believed Tibet to be a mysterious, spiritual, untouched, pristine land full of pure monks who sat in temples all the live long day, meditating on world peace. But Buddhist monks fought vigorously with their old blunderbusses against the invasion. And I must admit, courageously.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not on either side, or maybe I feel the same about the Buddhists and the Chinese as about the Jews and the Palestinians, the Christians and the Muslims. I’d like to crack all their heads together. With loving kindness, of course. Civilian collateral, hello? My philosophy back then was don’t steal land, but if your land is stolen and you are attacked and your children are dying, run. Hunker down in India, or Italy, or Brooklyn, New York, if you have to run, and remember the secular is an allusion, so just chill. If you are a Christian, don’t act like a Muslim terrorist. And if you are Muslim, don’t act like a Christian terrorist. Simple rules for the living.

Leo was making me feel morose. My thoughts turned global: The Kurds, the Serbs, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, the Armenians, the Jews, the Palestinians—who poked the first eye out? Who threw the first punch? Who launched the first wave of rockets? Who executed the first rock-throwing teen-ager? Who grabbed and settled whose homes and who chose revenge in the face of never-ending defeat? At that point in evolutionary history did it matter? Is one hair off a child’s head worth all the land in the world? Just stop it. Just say no. No to death and violence. Remember Bede? That bird flying in one end of the cathedral, and out the other end. Life is that short.

“If you don’t mind,” Leo lowered his voice even more, “I’d like to personally talk to Iris. She has completely gone orthodox, Martin tells me, and I’d like to know more about her journey.”

“Not at all,” I said. I couldn’t help adding, “I thought you said once you broke up because she was too Jewish? But when you met her, she was a spoiled brat?” In my mind, I went further, Notice, Leo, I refused to use that word JAP, like you? I know why I hate it. It has suddenly occurred to me you are blindly referring to the daughter of a mother who worked and raised kids and suddenly had to deal with a noveau riche husband. With no real economic power after that, that was based on earnings. Reduced to nothing. What else to do but shop? And teach their daughters to shop. Become like shiksas. Culture pushed internalized sexism, much?

“Shhhh,” Leo said. “Keep your voice down. We got divorced because I actually preferred her fun side back then, but she began making orthodox noises more and more.”
 “But now you prefer her orthodox noises?” Now that you want to embrace your roots and get your “collection” published and add another layer to a self? Your nonexistent identity? Real Buddhists eschew identity. You’ve simply found another post for your social media page.

“Shhhhh,” Leo said.

I turned back to the lousy grape juice tasting wine, and its icky sweet assault on my taste buds.

I knew then it was over between me and Leo. It was just a matter of finding the right time to tell him, and then dealing with the resulting clinical depression for a couple of years. Alone, again. Yes, yes, all is dukka, dukka.

I took Leo’s advice and tuned in to the sound bites of gab floating around me, as Dickinson said, like fly buzzes…between the heaves of storm:

“You’re Israeli? How did you happen to be here?”

“I go to Rosh Hashanah to please my mother, but for the rest of the year I’m mostly atheist.”

“As Rabbi Fishbein said, `Certain teachings have been kept secret even from us for a long time.’”

“I seek enlightenment, but I cannot deny my Jewishness.”

“It was my doorway to Jewish renewal.”

“As a granddaughter I pay respect to my grandparents and take the mantra, never forget.” That was from Miss Matzoh Butt.

“Especially memorable was that time Reb Levine asked the driver to pull over so that he could daven ma'ariv with the Sikhs who were saying their prayers.”

“It’s odd, you use the word nakba.”

“Many Jews are atheists but use the Torah to justify claiming the promised land.”

“It was my very first encounter with the four worlds paradigm.”

“The Land of Israel, you see, is the historical land of the Jewish People.”

“So amazing back then to even consider women rabbis.”

“Religious myths are incapable of creating an ownership right.” Huh?

“As someone said before, ‘it’s so Jewish to always talk about suffering, as Buddhists do.’”

“The Buddhist idols are pagan. Forbidden by the Torah.” I craned my neck but could not see the owner of that. Someone was getting sloshed.

“Not that I’m big on karma, but say it does exist…”

“I am here to represent another alienated people!” That voice again.

“Buddhism shores up my Jewish identity. The specialness, you see, that has been our boon—”

Wait a minute, the real me interrupted on that one. I was getting fed up. The Buddha was Kshatriya, the highest-level caste and its vicious Brahminist system. Did he ever shout about the specialness of Brahminism?

My third glass of theologically pure wine was beginning to have an effect. The whole room shimmered in a Moscato haze at once shadowy and illuminating.

“Why does the Dalai Lama not care about how the Palestinians deal with exile?” That same boozy voice was louder than the others. Too loud. Despite the warming wine, I shivered.

Leo had slipped away. I looked around the table and saw him. And Iris. Her husband must have gone out to have a smoke or bathroom break and Leo had commandeered his chair. They were deep into their Hasidic chit chat. Was all that kosher? I realized I was drunkenly waving at them. Iris waved back politely. As the poem said, I was not waving but drowning. An old panicky neuron began to twang between my shoulder blades.

Adam stood up. He was brandishing a cap pistol. The Israeli stood up then. He, too, was brandishing a cap pistol.

I blinked several times. They weren’t cap pistols.

They were handgun-style, magazine-fed, self-loading firearms, capable of fully automatic burst fire. All the families at the Toad Suck Pentecostal Church had them.

Dead. Silence. So, a Zionist rabbi and a Hamas guy walk into a bar

Behind them materialized a security guard, the snobbier one who had been at the hidden-in-plain-sight entrance to the synagogue, eons ago, and who immediately drew his weapon. And pointed. I began lightly panting, and I realized I was also scanning our group, looking for someone, oh, my parents, who were late again.

Four thousand years of religion telling everyone to be good. And here we were? We were here.

Adam, or whoever he was, yelled, “Remember nakba!”

And the Israeli, or whoever he was, shouted, “The land of Israel is the State of Israel! Death to idol worshippers!”

Their guns were pointed at each other and the security guard waved his back and forth. “Put the guns down!” he shouted, like a line from a bad movie script when a bank robbery goes bad.

They came to kill us. Two mass shooters had come, coincidentally, to the same ground zero prologue. I was panting.

Adam yanked the yarmulke off and threw it, yelling clichés, "Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.” Instead of getting up running—there was no clear exit—some of us froze, some hit the floor. I froze, dimly aware of my sudden sopping upholstered chair. The yarmulke had fallen into Ben’s plate. Wizened Ben stood up and half crouched as though he were going to make a tackle. Then in one liquified motion Adam turned to the guard and popped him, whose subsequent falling forward in measured motion was accompanied by shrieks from all of us. In the same unhurried flow, the two dived away from each other as if choreographed. They opened up, at each other, at the walls, at the tables, at us united by blind deafening smoke, and underneath that, a blue uncertain stumbling buzz.

I glimpsed Leo and Iris falling together, Ben’s legs folding, sinking into a half lotus, staring up.

I found myself dived beside him, a overturned chair or something between the light and me, and curled into a ball like the old days. I could not get the words out, “Wait. I’m not—” because of some woman screaming. I realized it was me.

And then I could not see to see.



Dorie LaRue

Dorie LaRue is the author of two novels, Resurrecting Virgil, from Backwaters Imprint of the University of Nebraska Press and The Trouble With Student Affairs from Artemis Press; three chapbooks of poetry, Seeking the Monsters from New Spirit Press, The Private Frenzy, from Jazzbones Press, In God’s Due Time from Parousias Press; a full length collection of poetry, Mad Rains from Kelsay Press; and a full length collection of poems, An Enemy in Their Mouths, from Finishing Line Press. She received second place for Only Visiting This Planet, a short story collection, in the West Virginia Writing Awards for 2019. She lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, and teaches writing and literature at LSUS. Dorie recommends Redbone Press.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, November 11, 2021 - 22:18