Here’s an excerpt from the story published in Bacopa Literary Review – you can buy the anthology on Amazon

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Here’s the link:

The Messenger

My cousin Charlie and I stand six feet apart in my living room. I imagine he has already calculated the prescribed distance before he even stepped over the threshold. He hasn’t changed. Not since I saw him ten years ago when he came to my wedding and wore what seemed to be an exact replica of that long, black coat.

When he called to say he was coming to Florida and asked if he could visit, I agreed. Of course, I agreed: He’s my cousin; he’s family. But now that he’s here, I realize it was a mistake. I should have made up an excuse or told him we’d be out of town. 

Now Charlie strokes his long beard and sways from side to side. The tzitzit, knotted ritual strings, peek beneath his jacket hem and dance along with him. I imagine rivulets of sweat pooling beneath the layers of his heavy clothing and wonder if he’ll take off the coat. I bet he’ll keep it on.  It stays. 

Years ago, we were friends. I’ve never told him otherwise. He wouldn’t understand. But his visit reminds me of how close we were when we were growing up, roaming the Miami neighborhood like wild monkeys, pulling mangoes off the trees, and launching imaginary grenades. Charlie, wild and willing to take all kinds of risks, charmed everyone. People turned toward him like sunflowers following the light, whereas I was introverted, shy, and awkward. Friends were hard to come by but Charlie dragged me along to parties where I’d do my best wallflower routine. I loved watching the faces of entranced listeners whenever he shared one of my stories. At one of those parties, Charlie introduced me to my future husband, Andrew. 

After I met Andrew, the three of us rented a house and became adventuresome explorers who did everything together. Bike rides, rock concerts,

I remember Andrew said, “If you want spirituality, why not seek it in  Jewish mysticism?” Years later, I would blame him for pointing my cousin in that direction.

Near the end of that summer, in 1984, Charlie disappeared. For the next six months, we didn’t hear from him. I wrote long, rambling letters that went unanswered. I wondered if he had run off and joined a cult. His mother, my  Aunt Helen, informed me Charlie had enrolled in a yeshiva, to study ancient  Judaism. When Andrew proposed, I tasked Aunt Helen with the delivery of his wedding invitation, elated when she told me he would attend along with the rest of the family. 

“But I have to warn you,” she added, “Charlie has become observant.”  What did that mean? The way she whispered the word ‘observant’ sounded foreboding. 

Two days before the ceremony, Andrew and I headed to the hotel where everyone had booked rooms. When the door opened, I rushed toward my cousin. “Charlie!” I cried.

He took a step back and held one hand up as if to say, don’t come any closer. He looked so different. Gone were the flannel shirts, baseball caps, and jeans, replaced with a long, jet-black coat and black fedora. He had cut his long hair short except for the payos, which curled in tendrils down his neck.  White fringe hung from the top of his pants and trailed halfway down. My cousin looked as if he had stepped out of the eighteenth century.

“Please call me Chaim. That’s my Hebrew name.” His hand hovered in the air, warding off my impending embrace. “I am not permitted to touch  women.”

I dropped my hands to my side. The ground between us split. A gaping crevasse. Charlie–Chaim–whoever this was, hooked both thumbs into the pockets of his long black coat. Then he grabbed Andrew. They thumped each other on the back while I stood alone, a pariah.


Now, ten years later, my cousin, the stranger, stands beside me in my living room. I try not to think about that moment when everything changed, how I’ve missed him, or how I feel that rumble of hope every year when we get mail from Crown Heights, even though I know it will just be a packet of prayers for an upcoming Jewish holiday.


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