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Jewish Divorce

There are only three things you need to know about a Jewish divorce.

One. This is the real divorce,
even if your husband doesn’t believe it
and your friends never heard of it.

Two. This is the real divorce,
even if your mother made you do it.

Three. The civil divorce was irrelevant to God.

The rest you don’t need to know, but only remember:

The main thing you’ll remember is the thing about the names.

The rabbis will ask you over and over
to tell them your nickname
and what was your father’s name?
And what is his nickname and what does he go
by?
They’ll ask over and over to get it right.
They’ll call him long distance just to be sure.
He’ll be startled and stutter,
I am Lazar, ben Avram.
Your husband will be furious, just like always.
You’ll whisper he should tell them his father’s on
vacation.
It’s OK to help him lie. You were his wife.
You’ll always be partly a wife to him.
That’s a pact more sacred even than this.

The room will smell like musty prayer books
with big Hebrew letters,
and fragile yellow tallises with ragged fringes.
You’ll keep looking up, expecting your
grandfather;
you’ll look for your uncles, who always judge you.
You’ll think your whole family is in the room.

The rabbis won’t let you sit with your husband
once they start to write the document.
He’ll look upset, like a little boy.
You’ll watch each other across the room.
You’ll wink at him like a wife would.

You’re allowed to ask for a cookie,
even though you’re female.
One rabbi will be writing with a quill and ink
while another one dictates.
You’ll listen to the Hebrew for a long, long time,
while a third rabbi watches them,

smoking a cigarette,
like some kind of guard.
You’ll take lots of notes.
When you get home, you’ll promptly misplace
them.

Somewhere across the country,
your father will be pacing the floor.
I am Lazar ben Avram.
He’ll wonder if he got it right.
Meanwhile, you’ll wonder if the divorce is
invalid
because they didn’t call your husband’s father.
You’ll remind yourself you didn’t tell his
nickname,
but you won’t speak up.
Perhaps this means you’ll still be married?

You can be certain that rams’ horns will blow and angels will thunder in the heavens.

You’ll wonder what your name is.
Is it Barb or Barbara?
Is it Bat Yah like your Hebrew teacher said,
or is it Basha Ruchel?
That’s the name your mother gave you
to honor her dead sister; this gives you the creeps.
Bat Yah means “Daughter of God.”
For a while your name was the same as that
man’s,
the one who’s staring at you across the room,
like a condemned prisoner.
Now you’re back to the last name you had first.

Your father will talk about the phone call
for several days.
He’ll wonder if he’s Lou or Louie.
He’ll wake up at night, saying,
“I am Lazar ben Avram.”

His name is Daddy. And I am Basha Ruchel.

There’s one part you won’t remember.

After the writing there’s some other ritual.
You turn around in circles
or maybe you leave the room.
You won’t remember.
It’s the part where your husband is allowing your
freedom.
What are you anyway that you can be given
away?
Why didn’t the rabbis ask for your mother’s
name?
Silently you’ll thank them for protecting the
legitimacy
of the future children you don’t plan to have.
Still, you’ll know this one was the real divorce.
You’ll look at your husband. He’ll look ill.

At the end the rabbis will presume they did you a mitzvah.
“Better luck next time, Basha Ruchel.”

Barbara Bialick is a poet, journalist, author of children’s books, freelance and everything writer in the Boston area. A native of Detroit, she has also been published as a poet in Jewish Currents