The Promised Land

April 2nd, 2023

My son, Hans, bought himself another Harley last week. He already has one, but the engine needs work, and that bike has been a static display resting on an oil stain in his driveway for years now. Anyway, he went out and found an old Electra Glide Classic. I think he said it was a 2007. It’s a heavy bike. Hans told me that it weighs 800 lbs. without any baggage. The engine is just shy of 1600 cc., and it apparently has a lot of torque.

Why did he buy it? Well, there are a number of reasons for getting it; some good, some not so much. His wife was apparently all for him buying the Harley. She thinks that riding helps to keep him sane. I think that’s true. After Hans came back from Iraq, he used to ride a Harley all the time, just to clear his head. He would crank it up, let the bike choose the route, and go until he arrived somewhere unexpected. I guess the motorcycle was fast enough to outrun his PTSD. Hans told me that riding the Harley calmed him down as he became one with the bike. It sounds to me like a Zen kind of thing.

I went to the synagogue yesterday. It was the last Shabbat before Passover. after the service was done, I gave a ride home to a friend of mine from the shul. The guy is an old man, pushing ninety. He has a son just a bit younger than I am. When I was deployed in West Germany back in 1983, his son was fighting in Afghanistan with the Soviet Army. My time in Germany was relatively uneventful. The other soldier’s deployment in Afghanistan was not.

I thought things were bad when Hans got hurt in Iraq. I don’t know what all happened there, but I know he got shot at least once. Hans’ experiences don’t at all compare with what happened to my friend’s son. His vehicle got blown up by an IED. He was the sole survivor from the explosion. Now, forty years later, he is still a mess. His father tells me about it every time we are together.

My friend is a Ukrainian Jew. He came from Kyiv. He is convinced that I am Jewish. I tried to explain to him that I’m not, but he simply can’t accept that idea. Back in the Old Country, he never met a Christian who wasn’t a Jew-hater, so If I am his friend and I go to the synagogue with him, I have to be a Jew. The old man takes his tradition with the utmost seriousness. He plans on celebrating Pesach (Passover) with his daughter. He asked me,

“My friend, will you celebrate Pesach with your family, or does your Catholic wife only celebrate Easter?”

I answered, “We won’t be celebrating Pesach together.”

He smiled a bit, and said, “I think you and your wife, you made an agreement. I think I know it. Your sons were raised Catholic, and your daughter, she is Jewish. After all, your grandson, her little boy, Asher, he has a Jewish name. Am I right?”

I dodged the question. I said, “My wife and I worked it out.”

He nodded and said, “Okay, you worked it out.”

He asked me, “Your son the soldier, Hans, is he okay? And his family?”

I told him, “Hans is alright.”

Then he started talking to me about his boy.

“My friend, it is hard. My son, he never stops drinking. In his dreams, his comrades who died in the attack, they come to him. They speak to him. My son, he wants to be with his soldiers, but they are all dead. My daughter, she knows what he spends his money on. She tells me that he buys a bottle of alcohol each day. Every day! He is going to die. My wife and I have lived with this for forty years already.”

I had been thinking about Pesach. My wife and I have been to seders. We know the story. Passover is about freedom from slavery. My friend’s son is a slave to his memories and to his addiction. My friend keeps waiting for his boy to be liberated from all of that. If God could free the Israelites from Pharaoh, then God can rescue his son from his disease.

I thought about my friend’s forty-year-long wait for salvation. The Exodus story begins with the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt, but the saga continues after that. Pesach celebrates that glorious initial experience of freedom. What follows is forty years of wandering in the desert until the Hebrews arrive in the Promised Land. None of the Israelites who remembered Egypt lived to see Eretz Israel. They never made it.

My friend desperately wants to see his son healed. He keeps waiting to enter his version of the Promised Land. My friend might not get there. His son might not get well. He may die before his father does. There is no guarantee. Moses stood on Mount Nebo and gazed longingly on a land he would never enter. The leader of the Exodus was not allowed to go to the Promised Land. He died first.

Hans has his Harley. Maybe he can ride it to his Promised Land, a place where he is at peace, even if that place is only in his mind and heart.

How can my friend’s son find his Promised Land? Is it here? Is it in a bottle? Or is it somewhere in the next life, where he can be with old comrades again?

When my friend finished talking, he grasped my hand tightly. We had arrived at his home. He asked me,

“Your grandson, Asher, you love him very much? He is in your heart, the very bottom of your heart?”


The old man smiled and got out of my car. He waved and said,

“Kiss Asher for me!”

A final note: My friend’s son died on 04/03/2023, two days before Passover. I hope that, after so much suffering, he found freedom.

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