An excerpt from the opening of journalist Rebecca Dana’s new memoir, Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde: A True Story. The book tells about the year Dana spent living in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, with a rabbi named Cosmo, while working as a fashion writer for Tina Brown.
It’s ten o’clock on a Tuesday night, a light rain is falling on the wide streets of Brooklyn, and I’m in my living room, strangling a rabbi.
This is the first time I’ve ever physically assaulted a man of God, and I have to say, it feels excellent. My fingers, with their chipped red nail polish, are digging into the soft white flesh of his rabbi-neck. My heart is pounding loudly in my ears. Normally, I am the least violent person on the planet—a practitioner of yoga, a shopper for shoes—but in this moment, I’m completely unhinged. I’m a ballerina-assassin, a ninja superstar, a platinum-haired dragon slayer in Stella McCartney vegan loungewear. Watch out assholes: Jujitsu Blonde is in the house. (She lives here, actually. She was trying to read the December Vogue before turning in early on a work night, but then this bearded dude rolled up talking smack, and now she’s on the path of destruction.)
Somewhere off in the distance, someone is blasting the 10,000 Maniacs on a wheezing desktop speaker system, and I can just barely hear Natalie Merchant whining about something, and I make a mental note to kick her ass someday too.
Who is this guy anyway—this Hasid, this pillar of his community, this ginger-haired fucker with the squinty eyes and the placid demeanor and the beige yarmulke the size of a dinner plate bobby-pinned to his head? I want to smack the Coke-bottle glasses off his pale God-fearing face. Has he ever even seen the sun? I can tell he’s wearing tzitzit, a religious garment, underneath his clothes because the fringe is hanging out like some short sham of a hula skirt. And the t-shirt he’s got on over it is a trip: It has a drawing of Calvin and Hobbes on the front and a dialogue bubble with the words “New York Attitude.” I’ll show this gentle Yid some New York Attitude. I’ll show him what two hours a day of Iyengar yoga and a bachelor’s degree in American history and an encyclopedic knowledge of the last eight seasons of ready-to-wear from Paris, New York and Milan and a diet of sushi, soy milk and organic spinach—and, oh yeah, a broken motherfucking heart—can do. I’ll send him back to Russia with a collapsed wind-pipe and no knees!
Because the night belongs to lovers!
You’re next, bitch.
The rabbi twists around forty-five degrees and looks at me with one straining eye. We’re basically the same size, only he has more padding around the middle, and he’s wearing some heinous pair of frayed brown rabbi-shoes that lift him up an extra half-inch. But still I’m thinking: no problem. I don’t care how “chosen” this flabster is, he’s going down. My hands are steel claws. I tighten my grip, taking a moment to contemplate my options: Would it be better to body-slam him down right here in the living room or drag his limp carcass out into the courtyard first so everyone can watch? Then I notice the muscles in his back tense, and—uh oh. There are muscles in his back.
In an instant, everything changes. He reaches up and grabs my wrists and performs some freaky Mortal Kombat maneuver, nearly stripping the delicately exfoliated and moisturized skin of my forearms from the bone. He pulls me toward him, into his damp right armpit, and holds me there for just one second, just long enough that I can see the fire in his eyes, just close enough that I can smell his breath: pizza. And then without warning I go down, I don’t even know how, like one big bag of elbows clattering against the wood floor, blinkered and speechless, while above me, Cosmo the Rabbi grins madly.
Everyone has a fight-or-flight response, but in this case, both impulses strike me simultaneously. I want to run away, and I want to clock him. Fight and flight. Maybe it’s a Jew-thing. Observance-wise, Cosmo and I are opposites, but in the technical aspect, we are the same: Equal in the eyes of God and the S.S., we are both genetically Jews, both members of a tribe that has been chased around the world, kicking and screaming—fighting while fleeing—for the last three thousand years. Millennia of genetic imprinting and a lifetime of poor impulse control nearly propel me in two directions, at him and away, but in the end both lose out, and I sit there, motionless, holding back tears.
“At this point I would stomp on your face,” he says cheerfully. “Or kick you in the head, at least.”
That’s what happens when you fuck with God.
Rebecca Dana is a former reporter for Newsweek, The Daily Beast, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Observer. She lives in Manhattan.