Thick as Thieves

I have not known the love of a little sister. For many brothers it must be a magical thing. For others it could be seen as a mild annoyance. For Jake it is a matter of pride.

Jake’s love for his little sister Lily is the stuff of family legend. When he was not quite two he nearly tore my arm off in the hospital parking lot running to the maternity ward. Little Jake could not wait to see his newly hatched sister.

They have always had a connection. It is the stuff of genetic fairy dust. Year after year, especially in school, Jake has looked out for Lily. Jake’s respectful way with Lily garners the mass admiration of girls in his class, many of whom, I know, have torturous toddlers or mini Mussolinis waiting for them at home.

Recently I was cleaning up the loose items around Lily’s homework and I came across this story.  She submitted this in her fifth grade writing class.

The Super Hero Story – by Lily Rehfeldt (not edited)

Have you ever felt brave and powerful like nothing can stop you? I have. The time when I felt these things are when I am with my brother Jake. We always have the greatest times together. Even though we fight and disagree sometimes, we always find a way to get along.

There was one time I had an especially great time with Jake. That was when we played Super Heroes in the basement. Jake showed me his Marvel Encyclopedia. Every Superhero is in it. We tried to find a Superhero we liked the most. I usually picked Dagger – she can fly and make ice force fields. Hey Jake, which Superhero are you going to be? I asked. ‘I don’t know… though I really like Captain America.’ He looks awesome, I say with a smile on my face. ‘Cool I think I’ll be him’ says Jake.

We start playing and we hear this BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of a car alarm outside on the street. Jake and I stop in our tracks. We look at each other and then swing our capes behind our backs and jump off the couch and race to beeping sound. Right there in front of us is EVIL Sir Smackbottom (he is really invisible) trying to make a bomb go off.

Nice to see you again Sir Smackbottom, I say. With that I spray ice all over Sir Smackbottom. Sadly, Sir Smackbottom has a forcefield protecting him and the ice bounces off and hits me in the face and I fall to the ground. I can’t move.

Luckily Captain America is there to save us. Captain America takes his sword and shield and goes over and attacks Sir Smackbottom and says ‘You are about to die!’ Then he cuts through the forcefield and stabs Sir Smackbottom in the heart.

Suddenly the ice on me has melted. I am soaking wet (not for real.) Jake comes over to me. He leans down and gives me his hand. I take it. ‘Let’s go upstairs and get something to eat, that was too much fun.’ Ok, I answer.

I will never forget that day. It will stay with me forever. That is when I really felt like nothing could stop me. I was brave and powerful. I would never have felt that way without my brother beside me.

So thank you, Jake for being there for me when I need it. I love you and once again, Captain America – thank you. Written by Lily

I had not known the joy of having a sibling until I was eighteen, when my brother was born. Even though we were thousands of miles apart and had different mothers I still felt a deep connection to him. I remember seeing his infant picture for the first time.  In that moment I thought — we will always have each other. For Lily and Jake that statement is so very true.

Charlie Sheen, the Arm Wrestling Rabbi and Stalag 17

There is an incredible moment in “The King’s Speech” when the King’s family is gathered together in an empty Palace room to watch a replay of his coronation. At the end of the newsreel there is a vintage graphic montage of Hitler speaking to the German masses. The German people line the streets with hypnotic reverie, their right arms outstretched to the sky.  At this point in the movie Hitler’s angry oratory is commanding compared to the tongue-tied travails of the newly minted King. Hitler’s confidence and maniacal personality is evident. It’s not an actor but the actual footage. Next to me, Jake sits watching the film, fascinated by the oddly shaped mustached man. He squeezes my hand repeatedly and Jake does not let go until we get to the parking lot.

Now in my truck, Jake is shaken. ‘Dad, that’s the first time I’ve really seen what Hitler looks like live on film. The way he moves scares me. How could so many people follow him?’ I fumble for a sufficient response. I turn the conversation towards the odds on the film winning Best Picture.

On a rainy Saturday morning Jake sits with me in bed watching Billy Wilder’s film “Stalag 17” for free on my laptop via YouTube. The film has been on my mind. One of my producer friends has made several references to the film lately. The pre-Hogan’s Heroes story of a German POW prison still stands up. Wilder’s direction is brilliant. The crisp performance of Peter Graves as the Nazi spy whom William Holden discovers is an informer in Barrack 17 can still grab you. While watching the film I see that Jake is engaged with the humorous parts of the film and noticeably repelled by Otto Preminger’s portrayal of the commandant. ‘Dad, were the concentration camps like this?’ I quickly tell Jake that the art direction is authentic but the reality of the conditions were not that plush. I clarify further – Jake, soldiers were treated differently. People in concentration camps did not have individual bunks. ‘Dad, was it just Jews in these camps?’ No, from 1933 to 1945 there were mostly Jews but also Gypsies, Slavs, Poles, Russians, homosexuals, musicians, composers and artists. Many died in 1500 camps placed throughout Europe.

Several days go by. Jake is sitting in the kitchen drawing characters for the next issue of his zine, “Worldopolis”. On the radio an erudite NPR reporter tries to explain the insane anti-Semitic ramblings of Charlie Sheen. Jake looks up and blasts me with ‘Dad, why do people hate the Jews so much?’  I’m caught off guard. The parental protective bubble is exposed. I wonder for a half second if I should give him the unvarnished truth or do a temperate with a soft platitude — Jake, it’s easy for individuals to hate cultures and traditions of people they don’t understand or that they are afraid of. The harder challenge is to stop and try to learn about groups that are not like you. There is a pregnant pause and Jake returns to drawing.

It’s Jake’s first meeting for his Bar Mitzvah with our Rabbi. In the middle of the meeting, the Rabbi rolls up his sleeves and challenges Jake to an arm wrestling match. He pushes the Torah and prayer books out of the way. This challenge is no easy task. The Rabbi leans in. At first Jake is surprised. The Rabbi’s grip is serious and he is not going lightly. Jake laughs, I can see he is squeezing hard and starts to put up a fight. The Rabbi says to him “Do you know what your name means, Jacob? Jacob means God Wrestler. As we prepare for your Torah reading, let your mind wrestle with the text.” At this point the Rabbi has Jake’s arm in the Leaning Tower position. His face is red. They are both laughing. Jake caves. The Rabbi wins. Whew. It is powerful thing to witness your son wrestling with his Rabbi.

The Rabbi rolls back his sleeves. “The Jewish tradition believes that by engaging with the text, God talks to us. The act is holy. What thoughts or ideas do you wrestle with right now?” Jake tells him how he is haunted by the image of Hitler. Jake then artfully talks about his confusion as he peers down the dark well of history, at the human soul, looking for answers. For the next thirty minutes the Rabbi and Jake have a conversation that journeys from the past to the present and it lands on a discussion about the history and existence of Israeli state. ‘Jake do you know that Jacob’s name is changed later to Israel?’ Before they can proceed time runs out.

My twelve year old, my God Wrestler turns to me later ‘Dad, I’m so excited for my Bar Mitzvah.’ I am too Jake. I am too.