The Convert Down The Block

Do you know the convert down the block
the one who traded heaven with Jesus
for Hell
with you and me in Brooklyn?
I saw him in the Mikva yesterday
renewing his promise.
I waded nearby like a still rubber duck.
We were both naked.
Looking down into the water,
I remembered that my covenant was made when I was a child,
unconscious,
half drunk.
His was cut while he was grown
and hairy, like Esau
wide awake.

I wondered,
was he only chasing after the blessing
that Jacob stole?
I mean, what was it he wanted
down here,
with you and me, in Brooklyn?

Do you know the convert down the block,
the one who traded easy nights with girls
for study books in our grandfather’s synagogue?
I saw him outside the bakery last week
buying two Sabbath challahs
like the two pieces of “maan”
collected in the desert on our way out of Egypt.
One was for himself, the other for God.
(Who else to share with when you eat alone?)
I stood there holding whiskey,
all for me
none for God.
We both stared off into the cloudy sky,
our beards dangling.
His, the hanging grapevines of Eden,
mine like the hanging gardens of Babylon
or perhaps wool
taken from a sheep,
like that taken for Jacob’s arm
when he tricked his father.
I stood there thinking,
empty like a broken Sukkah booth.
I couldn’t help but ponder, what was it he wanted
down here with you and me in Brooklyn?

When I see him, this convert,
he reminds me of all my boyish fantasies,
the ones I never gave up:
my jealousy
the shopping malls I could have roamed
on the Sabbath,
the fictional “shiksas” I never had,
all the things I would trade my birthright for,
like Esau,
at some darker hour.
I was even curious of the “non judgmental” loving heaven with Jesus
that I could have earned through only one mitzva
instead of 613.
When I see this convert,
he reminds me of everything I never became,
an Adam from the earth’s dust,
an Abraham from an idolatrous homeland,
an Isaac who conceded as a grown man
to God’s command,
wide awake.

In the mikvah, he reminds me
that I keep float as a rubber duck
with a long yellow beard
quacking empty blessings like a NY taxi horn.
But, what I’m reminded of most from this orphan, this widow, this stranger,
is that blessing ,
down here with you and me in Brooklyn,
never comes easy,
And every Rosh Hashana I pray that God takes me out of Ur Kasdim.
Every Pesach I pray
that I’m taken from my own Egypt
and I pray that he rebuilds me like Adam from the earth
a new creation.
But this year specifically,
I pray that God,
in his infinite and shapeless mercy,
makes me a convert, a stranger
so that I,
with a broken heart
like Esau,
can chase after my father’s blessing
wide awake.