…and how they came to be made.
This year, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I traveled from Portland OR to New York to celebrate. In addition to my Gay Liberation Front t-shirt, I brought two homemade armbands with me, with pink triangles and Jewish stars, in order to make a statement about anti-Semitism. At two recent Dyke Marches, one in Chicago and one in Washington DC, the organizers banned the Jewish star. They said it represented the state of Israel, because it is on the Israeli flag, and they were pro-Palestinian.
This infuriated me. The six-pointed star has represented Judaism since at least the 11th Century, and possibly since the 3rd Century. So I said I would make two armbands, one for myself and the second for Jason, another Gay Liberation Front member.
I’m no seamstress, however, and I was rushing around desperately trying to finish the assignments on my day job and get ready for the trip. I didn’t even have time to go to Goodwill and find some shmattas of the right colors that could be cut up for the purpose. My neighbor Sarah came to the rescue. She sent one of her children over with bits of cloth, and then brought her portable sewing machine. I drew the patterns and cut the fabric, and she sewed them together.
Now here’s the back story: when Sylvia and I moved into our house in Portland in 2005, Sarah and Don lived next door. They are Pentecostal Christians. We got to know them slowly. We shared gardening together. Don, an architect, designed our chicken coop, and he and Sarah’s father built it. We shared chicken care. One time Sarah and I discussed sensitive issues. She believed that God created the universe about 6,000-10,000 years ago. I said I go with the astronomers, about 13 billion years ago. “But what do I know?” I added. “I wasn’t there at the time.”
In 2010 Sylvia and I were hit by a car while crossing the street, and were fortunate enough to only sustain broken arms. We couldn’t cook, clean, drive to the grocery, or do any of our usual chores. Don and Sarah came to our aid—bringing food, showing up every day to help.
In 2013, when we had a party to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, our neighbors came to celebrate with us.
They now have four children—t o daughters age 11 and 10, two sons age 7 and16 months. After the Trump election, Sarah was horrified about what the new level of racism meant for her younger daughter (an adopted Ethiopian), and asked me to teach the girls self-defense. I also taught Sarah and Don. During Sarah’s last pregnancy, which was very difficult, I cooked meals for the family at least once a week.
These days we have a routine of Sunday dinners together. At the beginning of the meal, Sylvia will sing the blessing in Hebrew, or else Don will say grace, a thank you to Jesus. At the end of the meal, I will recite the thank-you prayer in Arabic, which I learned while staying with a Muslim family in Indonesia.
At some point during the course of this friendship, some of our gay friends told us we couldn’t be friends with people like this—that fundamentalist Christians are our enemies. Last year I told Sarah about this. She said she’d heard the same thing from some of her people—that she couldn’t be friends with those lesbians, and that we were bad influences. We smiled at each other.
At one time I told Sarah that I don’t care what people say they believe in, I care what they actually do. And it seems to me that what Sarah and Don and their children do, not just with us but with respect to all the people in our little neighborhood, is to follow the dictum, love thy neighbor.