He and I were standing at the other end, wrapped in darkness. It was the end of February, almost spring, but still it was quietly snowing. He was turning his face towards the sky, the distant light reflecting on his rimless glasses, enjoying the snowflakes in his face.
“It doesn’t snow much at home,” he quietly remarked. “But before I left, it was snowing at the Kotel. I went there on the way to the airport, and it just started to snow when I was there. It was amazing!”
The mention of the West Wall brought on a tangible memory of summer heat radiating from the stone. The very idea of snow in Jerusalem was absurd and impossible. Jerusalem meant summer, heat and excitement, a fire burning within.
The light of the single match, like in Andersen’s tale, suddenly initiated visions of a warm room with two candles, my mother covering her eyes as reciting the blessing on the Shabbat candle, but into the memory the scent of the Havdala spices entered into, interrupting.
He lighted his pipe and puffs of aromatic smoke filled the small space between he and I. I inhaled deeply, and immediately found myself transported back through time and space to my father’s knees, who read Torah stories to me while smoking his pipe on cold winter nights.
“When did you take up smoking?” I asked him.
“A few years ago, after I got married. I don’t smoke much, usually only in the evening after we put the kids to bed. A glass of wine and a pipe with a good book,” he explained.
The lamp flickered and then with a loud pop it went out, The red glow of the pipe was the only source of light on the platform. The train was late and I was getting cold.
“You don’t approve,” he said, laughing. “You hate it, don’t you?”
“No, not at all,” I said a little more defensively than I should have. “Even when I still considered myself Mormon, I always thought that it was everyone’s own choice.”
“What do you consider yourself now?”
“An ex-mo,” I replied without hesitation.
“That is?” he asked again. He was looking at me with piercing eyes. I wasn’t sure what to answer. Agnostic? Atheist? Neither of those was true.
“Post-Christian?” I asked hesitantly. Whatever that means. I didn’t want to believe in a higher being.
“Post-Christian,” he repeated, tasting the words. “Post-Christian. That’s a new one.”
I nodded, because I couldn’t say anything else. It was cold, and I was worried about the train, about the traffic in the city, about everything, but he didn’t let me get away easily.
“There’s one thing you have to remember,” he said as the light of the train appeared in sight. “You are a Jew, you always were, always will be. It’s your birthright that you can’t sell for a bowl of lentils. You belong to the house of Israel.”
The train pulled up, the smiling conductor jumped off the train as she waved at me to show me to the disabled door.
“And HaShem provides. He hasn’t forgotten the covenant, and he never will,” he said smiling, as he stepped on the train behind me.