Yesterday, my youngest brother Eri turned twenty-seven (Happy Birthday again, bro!). He was the fourth baby my mother gave birth to in a five-year span. I’d been pissed before about all that had happened with us regarding my mother, my stupid (ex)-stepfather, our poverty and being on welfare, and the whole Hebrew-Israelite thing. But now, along with Eri’s birth, came with it an elderly trespasser at 616, courtesy of the fifty-four-inch waist — and waste — of an idiot Maurice.
You see, my stupid stepfather invited his Hebrew-Israelite matriarch “Balkis Makeda” to stay with us. The woman claimed to be a reincarnated Balkis Makeda (Queen of Sheba and wife of King Solomon of the ancient Israelites), and was the catalyst in Maurice’s Hebrew-Israelite conversion during his separation from Mom between October ’80 and April ’81.
Because of Maurice — um, excuse me, Judah ben Israel — and our fearless leader “Balkis Makeda,” we followed a number of un-Torah-like practices. This included the requirement that we all were to believe that she was the reincarnation of the Queen of Sheba, living among us in the twentieth century as an average person and showing us the way to Yahweh and ultimate truth.
We stopped using Ivory Soap at home because our leader had a dream once about rats gnawing on a bar of it. Baby Maurice couldn’t use a soap that’s 99.44 percent pure because of Makeda’s dream, and we switched to Zest. (The real reason, I think, was because the soap was white — like Whites ethnically — and considered the opposite of pure by many in the Hebrew-Israelite community).We weren’t allowed to use the word “Hello” when greeting someone in person or when answering the telephone. Maurice explained that “Hello’s got the word Hell in it, you know, Hell-low!” We’d somehow be committing someone to eternal damnation with a universal English greeting.
Now in her seventies and in declining health, the geezer was moved in before Mom could seriously object. What a situation! Six kids, including me, plus Mom, Maurice, and an old woman living together in a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. We now needed to behave like good little Hebrew-Israelites with this woman in our house, so as to not embarrass my stepfather. Yeah, right!
One of the other rules of our absurdly orthodox practice was that Mom couldn’t cook or do any familial tasks for the next three months. She was “unclean” because she’d just given birth to Eri. This might’ve made sense in the deserts of ancient Canaan, with no antibiotics and drugs to deal with unclean issues of blood and other bodily fluids. It didn’t now. Plus I didn’t remember Mom not cooking for three months after Yiscoc and Sarai were born. This was suck-up time, plain and simple.
Maurice made what was an abyss of bad even worse by cooking dinner for three days. Three straight nights of over-boiled and under-ripened cabbage drenched in its own juices and seasoned to high heaven with red and black pepper. My stepfather could’ve been the founder of a new weight-loss diet. Mom, of course, asked me to take over her cooking duties, which I did for the next six weeks (see my “Top Cook” post from May ’09).
The woman couldn’t stand us, and especially couldn’t stand me. She probably sensed how much I couldn’t
A child in the Black Hebrews community, in Dimona, Israel, September 5, 2005. Source: Dror Eiger, http://flickr.com/photos/95465714@N00/41252116. In public domain, as file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
stand her and her idiotic notions of Judaism, even with the context of being a Hebrew-Israelite. All I knew was that when I cut through all of the words and nuggets of truth, ritual and superstition, that “Makeda” was full of crap, and had fostered the conversion of my stupid stepfather, the only person I knew who was even more full of crap than her. I was already a Christian in the closet by then. Now I faced the prospect of revealing my spiritual conversion in the middle of such a grand mess. But I knew I had little other choice.
Within weeks of “coming out” to Mom, Maurice and my classmates at Mount Vernon High School (see my post “Kufi Emancipation Day” from September ’09 for more), the older woman moved out, under pressure from Mom. Both, ironically, were under pressure from me, as I threatened to move out myself. She died in Section 8 housing on Mount Vernon’s South Side in February ’85. I dare say that she wasn’t the reincarnated Makeda. For the only one who could’ve learned a lesson from a lifetime of poverty and cult-like rituals would’ve been her, not us.