Jennifer Judelsohn and Jewel Beth Davis

Judelson R

Jennifer Judelsohn
Created using Jewel Beth Davis’s story (below) as inspiration

The Expressway to Hell: Part Two
By Jewel Beth Davis

We are in the dining room of my brother Michael’s home. It’s the aftermath of Thanksgiving in Atlanta. People get up and go into the kitchen to get a piece of homemade apple pie or to top off their coffee and then wander back to their seats. I take a sip of my decaf.

“Tell us what happened to you, Bug Jewel, when you got your license,” says my young niece Anna. We have just heard my brothers’ story about that life event and I marvel at the similarities.

I can’t figure out why the very first thing my brothers and I did after getting the car for the first time was to disobey our father. I can come up with no good answer. Rebellion comes to mind, or perhaps another R word.  Risk.

“Well, at the time,” I begin, “I was hanging out with my Jew Crew from Quincy High: Linda Glick, Ellen Goldstein, who’d just changed her first name legally to Michael, Bernie Yakkus, and Mark Weinstein. I was a sophomore, Linda was a junior, and the rest were seniors…”

On the day I go for my license, somehow Ellen-Michael talks me into driving into Boston to the Northeastern University dorms if I pass the test and can get the car from Bern, my father. There is a frat party at a dorm.  It sounds exciting, and if I fail my test, it will be a moot point anyway. I easily pass my driving test, and Dad agrees to give me the car. As long as I promise not to go on the expressway to Boston. I promise.

My father’s green Chevy Impala feels good as I slide into the generous, cushioned seats and turn the key. I meet everyone at Linda Glick’s house in the big green monster and we head over to North Quincy to pick up the expressway. It’s May. The weather is great, all balmy and smelling like lilacs. I feel like a whole new life is opening up ahead of me. What can possibly happen?

Once we’re on the road, I’m petrified the whole way, certain that because I’m deceiving Fran and Bern, I’m fated to get into an accident. The radio’s on and it’s playing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The sound of my heart is pumping in my ears as we get off the expressway in Chinatown and drive through the Red Light District towards Symphony Hall and Northeastern. In 1966, it’s a high crime area, centered around prostitution. The radio starts to play Louie Louie as I pull up in front of the dorm. “A-Louie- Lou-I-Ay, wohoh-no, I say, Way gotta’ go.”

We all pile out of the car and look up at the college dorm. I don’t know what to expect but it isn’t this. It’s a five-story apartment building with dingy gray clapboard and some brick. I think, Where’s the ivy? I stare at this building and the longer I look, the more I have this really bad feeling that I shouldn’t go in there. It’s probably just guilt. Still, I’m dying to be back in Quincy, tooling down the boulevard by the beach. Stopping for ice cream at DQ or some greasy fries at Surf Haven.

The party is on the top floor and there’s no elevator. So we trudge up the grungy endless steps and I feel slightly nauseated. All I can think about is what if mom and dad find me in a place like this? They’ll ground me till I go to college. If they let me go to college.

We finally make it to the top floor and enter a filthy dark apartment that smells of either beer or pee. I can’t tell the difference. The place is dark but still light enough to see small pods of people clustered around who are probably only two or three years older but who appear so much more sophisticated and substantial. Every partygoer has a beer in hand. A sickly sweet strand of smoke weaves and meanders through the spaces between people and though I don’t recognize it, the smell makes the queasy feeling in my stomach worse.

Ellen-Michael and the guys begin making their way through the throng like old pros, touching people’s shoulders like they know them, and whispering into ears, followed by loud guffaws. Or in Ellen-Michael’s case, tinkly giggles.  Ellen-Michael is very tall, fashionably thin, expensively dressed and the only student I know who has had a nose job. She should have just had the bump taken down, but no, she had to have it transformed into a Waspy button of a nose. It no longer fits her face.  By the time our three friends have reached the opposite doorway, bottles of beer have miraculously appeared in their hands.

Linda Glick and I are paralyzed. We are perched on the thin arms of each end of a sofa that may be tweed but because of the stains, could just as easily be plaid or a solid. I pick up blurred snips of conversation filtering in and out of hearing range. One voice says, “…stole the mimeo copy of the history exam from Professor Canberry’s office desk and charged everyone a fin for it.”

Another voice gushes, “The new T.A. in Philosophy met with me in Johnson. Isn’t he dreamy?”

“Dreamy,” I say to Linda, and roll my eyes.

Another male voice to my right says, “… stopped at the drugstore for some rubbers and the guy behind the counter asked me which kind I wanted. How the hell should…”

It all sounds like a foreign language to me. Neither Linda nor I drink and if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be beer. Here I am, underage at a college frat party with alcohol and who knows what all else. All I want is to go home immediately without wrecking Bern’s car and without parental discovery. Right now that seems about as possible as my performing on Broadway anytime soon, something else I fervently wish for. Linda, too, seems uncomfortable, like a school marm at a swingers’ convention, with her heavy black eyeglasses.

It can’t be more than fifteen minutes since we’ve arrived. Ellen-Michael materializes out of the gray fog and whispers loudly in a half-drunk, half-hysterical voice, “We have to leave right now! Somebody called the cops. C’mon! Down the back stairs.”

She grabs our arms and literally drags our bodies in her wake before our minds have caught up. Nobody else seems to be running. Maybe they’re too drunk. I don’t wait to find out. My heart thumps wildly, thwappa-thwappa-thwappa, as we scramble and stomp down the back stairs, our long hair, black, blonde and auburn, flying like shining kites behind us. I knew I shouldn’t have come. I knew I shouldn’t have come… I drone to myself like a mantra.  Step after step, floor after floor; our footsteps seem to barely touch the treads, we move so rapidly. Because the sound of our descent is so loud, I’m certain the police have discovered our escape and are waiting for us around the next corner. In flashes, as I run, I imagine my parents’ faces as I call to tell them I’m in jail in Boston and would they please come to bail me out. Oh God!

Finally, amazingly, we reach the bottom of the last flight of stairs that leads into the backyard and we’re out!  We still have to climb onto a branch and swing our legs over the chain link fence and jump to the ground. It’s not a big jump and we all land without a bruise and book it to my Dad’s car, still there, still shiny, and still all in one piece. As we stand across the street from the dorm, holding our chests and breathing heavily, we see the cops arrive and watch them running up the front stairs. We hear loud banging on the door.

“Open up! Now!” They bang again louder. “It’s the police.” A door slams open and we hear a lot of yelling, cries and barking of orders.  We stand there, disbelieving, because no one seems the least interested in us, and then the two guys, Bernie and Mark, come sauntering out with no urgency whatever.

I shriek at them as I vault into the car, “Get in now. I’m leaving in two seconds. If you’re not in this car by then, you can take a cab home.”

That seems to motivate them to get the lead out and in about sixty seconds, we pull onto the expressway heading south towards Quincy. Everyone else except for Linda seems to think we’ve just had a great old time, the most entertaining adventure of our young lives. Bernie brags loudly to Mark and the girls, “We were making out for so long without a break that I thought I was going to pass out.”

Mark shouts his response. “Yeah, but it was pitch black in there. She was probably a troll.”

They laugh like hyenas. Ellen-Michael smacks them across the head and they laugh even harder.

As for me, my jaw is clamped shut and I don’t say a word the whole way home until we exit the expressway into North Quincy. By then, I’ve relaxed enough to take a detour to the DQ on the beach. I’ve never been so happy to see boring old Wollaston Beach again. As I lick the jimmies off my soft serve, I say to my friends, “That was keen! Let’s do it again sometime.”

The listeners at the Thanksgiving table laugh.

“So your father never found out?” Anna wants to know.

“Nope,” I say, “I made it home in plenty of time for curfew,” experiencing the relief all over again, despite the fact that my father, Bernie, has been dead for thirty-five years. “Because if he had, believe-you-me, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”

“Aw, c’mon,” my nephew Ben says.

“No, Ben,” my brother Mike says. “That’s no exaggeration.”

Everyone at the table laughs and then is silent for a moment. I wonder if they’re thinking about their own parents and their own expressways.

Then, without skipping a beat, my brothers move on.

“So,” Gene says, “You must be pretty embarrassed by those Atlanta Braves.”

“Why?” says Mike. “I’m a Red Sox fan.”


Judelhson I

Jennifer Judelsohn
Inspiration piece provided to Jewel Beth Davis

Ain Sof: Something’s Missing
By Jewel Beth Davi
“You have got to read this book,“ I said to a friend on the phone. It’s called Miraculous Living: The Ten Gates to the Tree of Life.”

“So,” my friend replied, “What are these gates and how do I get in? Who’s got the key?”

That is a very good question. Who’s got the key?

Who doesn’t like a good story? Rabbi Issac Luria, the Lion, had one that was hard to beat. Luria was the most influential thinker of medieval Jewish mysticism. The first time I heard this story was in Rabbi David’s Taste of Honey group at Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center in the Catskills. I’d gone there in May of 2006 to initiate my search for something that seemed missing. The empty space.

Rabbi David sat on a cushioned heavy resort chair in the fireplace room. “Adonai needed to bring into being an empty space in which Creation could occur. There had to be a space for the universe to exist and not be extinguished by God’s radiance. The only way to create a cosmos was to make a void – an absence of light, a vacuum – so that something other than Ain Sof could exist. Ain Sof had to withdraw some of God’s radiance to allow for the difference between Adonai and the Other. Therefore, a darkness or void was created before the light of our universe. This is because nothing can exist in God’s presence unless God ‘hides’ or removes the presence to some degree; if God did not do so, then there would be only God.”

Rabbi David paused to see if we were following. I soaked this up as if dehydrated and this was a saline IV.

“From the void, Ain Sof created ten states of being in which the divine manifests itself called Sefiroth.”

Ah, I thought, those are the Ten Gates.

“In this story, God is compared to a potter putting a hand into a mass of clay to shape it. So the supernal emanator’s light entered the universe and flowed out of the Eternal Adam, out of his eyes, nose, and mouth, creating ten vessels, the eternal shapes of the sefirot.” Rabbi David paused to build suspense.

“But the vessels were too fragile to contain such a powerful Divine light. They were supposed to contain the different states of being that were to create the universe, but the light of Ain Sof was too powerful and shattered the Sefiroth. The upper three vessels were damaged; the lower seven were shattered and fell. But Mankind can undo the damage done in the Creation through tikkun olam, repairing the world.“

“Wow,” I mouthed to Joshua, a twenty-two year old gay man who’d been rejected by his congregation in Albany, NY. Josh nodded, his eyes wide.

Rabbi David looked meaningfully at all of us, “And so, now that you have some background on the Kabbalah, we’ll now engage in some of the practices.”

What could he mean? I scanned the other members of the group for understanding. We were seven or eight Jewish adults of widely ranging ages and religious observance, to whom I’d become close over the past two and a half days. I trusted these people. Whatever we would have to do, I felt safe here.

Rabbi David was a mystical experience in and of himself; maybe thirty-seven or thirty-eight, handsome, pony-tailed, dark-haired, powerfully built, with a charismatic sexual power that was impossible to ignore. He was a Jewish Renewal Rabbi from New York City and the force of his own magical power exploded in sparks from him when he smiled; lighting and warming the room, it drew us in like a magnet.

“Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, one of the last great kabbalistic rabbis of the 19th century, told his followers that the most important thing in Judaism was to have a personal relationship with God. In order to do that, his followers, he said, must have a conversation with God. Every day. And not just silently. It was important, imperative even, that they speak their conversation out loud because the kavanah, the intention, was much purer when the words were uttered aloud.”

Rabbi David took a swig of bottled water, pushing thick shiny chocolate-colored hair that had escaped from his ponytail behind his ears. “So today, all of you will have a conversation with God.” Rabbi David instructed us to go out into the fields or woods and talk to God, nonstop, and empty out the old so we could be filled with God’s answers.

“By the way, you don’t have to say nice things. If you are angry with God about anything or angry with Judaism, now is your chance to bring it up to God. Whatever you’ve been saving up for years, get it out now.“

Group members dispersed quickly and I decided to visit my room to empty my bladder before I began the other emptying. My roommate, Ruth, was in the bathroom when I arrived. Ruth was an Orthodox Jewish woman from West Hartford. I was concerned she’d be critical of my nonobservant ways but instead was accepting and kind.

I gazed out my window while waiting and everywhere I looked I saw people pacing and gesticulating to the heavens as they unloaded their thoughts and feelings on God. Ruth came out of the bathroom looking slightly nervous and doubtful. She had short, dark, curly hair with small, unmemorable facial features.

“Have a good chat with God.” I smiled at her reassuringly. After Ruth disappeared out the door and onto a gravel path behind the Bayt HaAvurah (House of Rest), I decided to multitask. While conversing with God, I’d do everyday kinds of things right here in the room. I had the feeling that the movement and the simple tasks would free me from self-consciousness.  I decided to shower, blow dry my hair, and apply my makeup. It wasn’t like God hadn’t seen me in the shower before.

And so I spoke openly and freely to God as I never had before. I shared my thoughts and feelings with the One as I washed away the dirt on my skin and hair. Some of the time I spoke quietly, tears mixing with the shower. Sometimes I raged. Other moments, I spoke my truth evenly with calm conviction.

Back together again in the Lounge, before the Ark housing the holy Torah, we shared our truths with each other. We were exhausted; no one had slept much this weekend but we were glowing and serene. Then, Rabbi David handed out writing paper, pens and envelopes.

“Address the envelopes to yourselves at home. Then write a letter to God and yourselves that you’d like to read at a later time. Anything you want to say, write it. Anything you learned this weekend, anything you think will be a support to you when you’re away from here, put it on paper.  We’ll stamp it and mail it to you so you can read your letter at home when you need the words.”

I felt unbearably happy at the thought of doing this. I addressed my letter to Adonai and myself in Rollinsford NH. Apparently, God lives in Rollinsford and was my roommate. I listed the return address as The Other Side. I felt something within fill as I began my letter to God.

Dear God and Jewel,  (You and I are both God),
When I write that, it sounds like we are a couple who lives together. And maybe we are, You and I. I like to think of us working together as a pair, a team. I think we need to be and most of the time, I think we are.  Especially in the last ten years that I’ve been able to take more positive control over my life.  When I began to take better care of myself, be more nurturing, You seemed more receptive and nurturing. More open to dialogue. This weekend is no exception. The things we did here and just the very fact of my coming is great. It was my birthday. I gave myself this weekend as a present. I opened myself up to receive everything I want and need. Thank you for the spirit and the music, and of course, the people. I was so glad to find you alive and well here and within myself. I’m glad I had the chance to have this conversation with you today, God. I feel better for it. Lighter. I let go of a lot of anger towards You today and I don’t regret that. You deserved it. So, here’s the thing, God…I have worked very hard, very consistently to grow, to be a better person, to continue to explore my talents and capabilities, and I will continue to do so. So now, it is your turn to step up. You know what I mean.
Love, Jewel

The letter arrived a year later at my home. I assumed it took awhile since it had to make at least one other stop along the way. I had begun filling my vessel. Now, I believe I may know who has the key.

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One comment

  1. These may be my favorites, to date. I love the colors and movement in the art and the words. They work so well together. The story is clear in both mediums. Thank you so much for sharing.

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