when webster woke up, he felt cold. joseph was not in bed with him, as he usually would be on a sunday morning. it felt odd, not to have him beside him.
feeling there was no point in staying in a bit too much than necessary, he lazily got out of bed, and opened the window. the sweet wind of september was lulling the orangish city. outside, the city was buzzing with people going to church in sumptuous clothes, with teenagers softly speaking in the morning’s soft and welcoming embrace, kids singing in an unknown language, the sun soothing away worries.
the world felt at peace this day.
when he exited his – their – bedroom, david was discontented not to find his – recently – fiancé nowhere in sight. he haphazardly sat on a chair. he was about to start whining, when a saw a single small note on a bright pink sheet of paper. he carefully took it, and gently smiled as he recognized joe’s best handwriting. it took his fiancé months to master a readable scripture.
‘i’m sorry i had to go without a warning; i didn’t want to wake you up. i’ll be back in a few hours. with sweets for breakfast. i’m at the local synagogue, next to the café where we met. love you, joe x’
david was surprised to find joseph at his synagogue; not that he disliked going there – the synagogue was one of joe’s favourite place, it was a his ‘second home’ he told him – but he did think he would find joe there on a Sunday morning, especially since he was so reticent to go there for shabbat services, mostly out of laxness or care for web. he did not mind missing a service to cuddle with webster.
but he did not push the idea. he knew nothing of jewish customs after all. maybe it was normal to have services on a sunday morning ? they just recently moved in together, and maybe joe never actually went because he was too tired to. it was a miracle for joseph to be awake before 10 a.m. on a free day.
so, he waited. he waited until he grew fatigued. he poured himself a cup of coffee. and waited. and joe came back home, looking calm and unusually serene. it was a euphemism to say webster wasn’t charmed by the tranquil look on joe’s face and his little and delicate smile.
it was rare to see joe like this – collected, laid-back, sedate. he usually came home with a sardonic grin, a booming voice chanting the tales of the day or the latest gossip the women behind the mekhitsa were speaking about. because that’s just how joe was: restless, abrasive, loud, always grinning.
‘hi’, softly greeted joe, while settling one small bag on the kitchen counter. he placed a soft kiss on webster’s temple and settled on a chair next to him.
webster gratefully took the bag and peaked inside. he silently blessed liebgott for bringing him a cherry bagel, his favourite sweet. he then proceeded to greet him back and heartfully thank him for the attention.
they sat in silence for a while, webster eating his bagel and drowning in the moment, with the sun lighting joe’s soft features – making his wet hair shine a little –, his almond brown eyes full of a sort of glee and unspoken faith, the concentrated look on his face as he read a newspaper in some jewish language – hebrew ? yiddish ? web was not sure – and the way his foot still twitched under the counter; and liebgott silently reading, obviously paying more attention to what he was reading to his surroundings.
‘so… what were you doing at the synagogue ?’
‘my momme called me and asked me if i wanted to go on a rosh hashanah service this morning, and since i did not come to one for ages, i accepted. you were already asleep when she called, and i didn’t want to wake you up. we prayed, bathed in the mikveh for the men, and chit-chatted a bit after. might be why i’m so late, sorry about that. you just can’t stop my sisters once they’re at it. oh ! by the way ! tonight’s diner is at ruth’s. i think she just wants to show off to you, to be frank.’
webster simply nodded. when joe had talked to him about rosh hashanah – last year, when they had to cancel a date because the first day of rosh hashanah felt on that night – and, as a loving and open-minded boyfriend, who also lowkey wanted to impress the love of his life, made tons of researched on it. he grasped the basics, and he was content with it. the hebrew words confused him.
but knowing the holiday and actually participating by dinning at the liebgotts’ was something else, and he genuinely anticipated it. sure, joe told him a week ago that they would dine at his mother’s place, to give web some time to soften and breathe – but hearing him talk about it felt too real. he feared he might do a mistake, make a fool of himself. ‘my parents adore you, liebling, really, you’ve got nothing to worry about’, he could joe say. but that did not ease him. if anything, it just put much more pressure on his shoulders – he did not want joe’s parents to lose their affection for him.
‘oh, g.d web, stop it already ! you look just fine ! it’s just my family !’, joe cried, throwing his hands in the air. webster has been changing clothes for the past twenty minutes, and joe did not want to be late much more than necessary to be fashionably jewish.
behind the door, webster moaned. he wanted this meeting to be perfect. all of joe’s relatives who were in america would be here – a few uncles and aunts, his sisters, his parents, his grandparents – and webster wanted to be at his best. after a few minutes, he finally settled on a simple yet chic two pieces black costume he got for his graduation, a fancy tie, a black and dull kippah joe lent him, a colourful, discreet pin to add colour and the matching star of david necklace he had offered joe for their anniversary.
when he got out of their bedroom, joe looked at him with idle amusement and enough exasperation to silent tell webster they had to hurry.
joe’s oldest – out of four others – sister lived in a big city not so far from where he and joe brought their apartment. yet, they arrived a little late, and webster was starting to get nervous. it was bad – oh ! so bad ! – to show up late to a family diner. he let joseph ring, anxiously waiting for his sister’s frowning face and condemnatory words. but when ruth opened the door, nothing but a huge smile and stretched arms welcomed him.
‘shalom yozi ! shalom david ! please come in !’, she gleefully greeted them, kissing their cheeks four times for good measure and crushing them in her arms. ‘g.d, i’m actually surprised to see you arrive this early, faygele.’, she laughed with a wink at joe’s direction. he mumbled something webster did not hear, but ruth apparently did and she just laughed and ruffled her brother’s hair. ‘c’mon, have a laugh ! the other guests are in the living room, please come meet them.’. the last remark was hinted at david, and he obediently followed ruth into her cozy living room, where joe’s parents, grandparents and one of his sister were waiting.
david politely smiled, waiting for joe to start greeting his relatives in order to copy his gestures, or for the other people in the room to make a move. finally, it was joe’s mother who broke his awkward waiting by gracefully embracing him. ‘shalom david. how you grew since we’ve last seen.’, she very gently said. she pressed a hand on his cheek and kissed his forehead.
mrs. liebgott – or mary – was petite and very gentle lady. she was serbian, from banatski brestovac, a small village in vojvodina. she was born into a poor jewish family, which forced her to quickly abandon her torah studies and hopes of becoming a female rabbi to work and help support her family. despite it all, mary was a force to be reckoned with. the liebgott children inherited her determination and her fighting spirit, but also her undying kindness and softness. she never lost hope, she always braved dangers, she always sacrificed herself for others. her life in serbia and her faith made her the woman she is today. a pious, brave and gentle woman. webster loved every aspect of her, and found so much of liebgott in her, where his siters mostly took after their father, joseph, a sardonic and playful man, who had the chance to taste life’s little pleasures before devoting his life to his wife and six children. joseph father was a funnt, bright and courteous soul, who was prompt to become serious if his family was ever in harm’s way. joe might have taken a bit of his sardonic and playful side, it was nothing compared to his five sisters: webster only saw them two other times, but he collected enough trivia on liebgott and jokes on him to last at least a year. they tended to tease him endlessly, to play and to rile him up, but they loved him more than anything, and could start a war of their little brother. ruth was a lovely and bright woman who volunteered in everything she could. she deeply believed in ‘tikkun olam’, the belief that g.d made the world unperfect on purpose for his children to fix it with prayers and his divine qualities, and so worked in a ngo for refugees. being herself an immigrant – her parents moved to america a few years after her and her little sister were born –, she understood what it meant to have to flee war and hunger and poverty and felt that it was her divine mission to help people in need. her little sister, miriam, was a literature teacher at harvard – something webster deeply admired, having himself made literature studies in harvard – and was witty and clever. she loved debating with webster about shakespeare, and worshipped franz kafka. if webster did not feel any peculiar affection for kafka at first, it quickly changed when he first met her and when she started to enthusiastically praise him and his work. he now deeply loved kafka. joe’s third sister, adina, was an abrasive fire and a really force of nature. she was a professional boxer, before retiring to become a professional swimmer. when webster first saw her, he thought he was meeting a real amazon. she was tall, muscular and had sharp features. she kind of reminded him of joe’s colleague, a man named ron speirs, an intimidating man with a killer gaze. for that reason, he never actually spoke to her, except once to ask for details about that story, when joe was five and he first visited belgrade and almost broke a statue in a museum. from the fondness in her eyes when she talked about it, she could tell she was just as nice, if not just a bit shier, than her sisters, but something in her stature intimidated him way too much. regrettably, he never met joseph’s two other sisters – elizabeth and peggy –, for one went to chile to continue her career as an astronomer in a renowned observatory, while the other was constantly on the move, being a war reporter. but despite not knowing them personally, webster couldn’t help but feel immensely proud of them, of everything they achieved, like he did with all of joe’s family. they went from nothing to having thriving, happy and healthy children. webster admired the strength of them all. he did not think he could have survived in such a hostile place, with so little money, time and help.
he hugged her back and appreciated her sweet perfume. ‘hello to you to mrs. liebgott.’, he said, trying to cover the overwhelming joy he felt at that instant, in the arms of a loving mother.
‘oh, please, call me mary, david, we already talked about it.’
‘he just can’t help it, momme. you know how harvard folks are.’, joe jokingly said, hiding a smirk as her sister blithely hit his arm. on that, she returned to the kitchen, to go fetch her new guests a drink. as the tradition wanted, the first drink would be manischewitz, a kosher wine david found sweet and enjoyable, and the day would be blessed with the kiddush. nobody was allowed to drink it until the rest of the guests – adina and miriam – arrived. while waiting for them, they idly talked, and he got to knew joe’s paternal grandparents, thaddeus and barbara, two sweet old people who arrived in america soon after their son and who settled close to them. joe had the chance to grow up with them, and so they taught him yiddish, serbian and german, as well as jewish fairytales and myths, which joe adored. the first graphic novel he ever written was about a jewish fairytale, and he proudly dedicated it to his grandpa and grandma.
adina and miriam arrived about ten minutes after joe and david arrived, and no one seemed surprised or angry, which cooled david. he felt like he fitted in, like that, surrounded by loving people, his fiancé, the sweet smell of the candles the women lit directly after the two late sisters came and the soothing sound of a jewish prayer he did not understand, but could feel deep within his soul.
the rest of the night was just as sweet as this entire day has been – he drowned in sweets, with honey, challah, sweet apples, pomegranates and other symbolic and fruity jewish dishes. he could not feel happier. he laughed and singed even though he did not know the lyrics to the jewish folk song, he shared stories and told jokes which got the whole table erupting in laughter, he touched joseph under the table and bathed in his presence, and he felt like the luckiest man on earth, and he could feel g.d was with them on this night, blessing them, and kindly judging their souls.
it was late when webster and joseph got back home. joseph has had a little too much alcohol, and he was feeling overly joyful and affective, losing himself in webster’s arms and presence, enjoying his smell and his lovely feeling he got from pressing kisses down his neck in the chilling street they had to cross to get to their apartment. webster did not complain, enjoying joe’s affection just as much.
they laughed while getting ready to go to bed, the excitation from tonight and the feeling that they were kings in this world inhibiting their reason and logic. they felt like teenagers again, felt young and perhaps a little tired – but they felt blessed.
they laid in their bed, cuddling each other in a mess of lambs and idle kisses. ‘shana tova u'metukah, einayim sheli.’, joe whispered, in the sacred silence of the moon, the stars and the dark. webster could guess he was smiling fondly at the tender tone in his voice.
‘shana tova to you too, liebling. may your named be inscribed and sealed in the book of life.’, he tenderly answered, kissing his fiancé’s hair.
joseph pleasantly sighed, and with that, they silently enjoyed the rest of the night, at peace in each other’s arms.