The next time I saw Betzalel I had given Mr. B a Hebrew Bible in English translation soft cover and asked him to give it to Betzalel. I put a note on the inside with the page number where Betzalel is mentioned in Exodus 31 and I highlighted the verses.
I went up to the cubicle. We talked some more. He would be at the Clayton jail longer than he thought and he knew he was looking at serious time. I told him that Mr. B had a soft cover Hebrew Bible in English translation for him.
How do you say it [his Hebrew name, recently bestowed], and he tried to say Betzalel but it didn’t come out right.
In the Bible coming to you they call him Bezalel, with a z, you can use that if you like and I felt myself beginning to speak easy English to him thinking he’s not going to get this Betzalel easily and in mid-sentence as I was explaining how he could say Bez-a-lel nice and slowly, he said:
It’s a tzaddi — (the Hebrew letter that is more correctly transliterated as tz or ts though there is no exact English equivalent).
Yes, I said, it’s a tzaddi, realizing he had been studying Hebrew and once again I betrayed my bias and how wrong I was to assume he had not entered deep into his name into this search he is on for meaning and how irrelevant it is that he is a foot away separated by thick glass — we were talking by phones through the jail-house window — he is a black man and when the keepers of the purse asked me who are the people you see in the prison house are they white are they black are they Jewish how completely irrelevant that is on so many levels and how many of my questioners know what a tzaddi is anyway?
Forgive me, I thought, I smiled a big smile shamed by my bias, yes I said it’s a tzaddi just say it slow and in syllables until it becomes comfortable: B’tzal-El. It means in the shadow of G*d.
What to do, where to start.
I felt some urgency in bringing these stories out, we have been too secret with our stories of ascendance and recovery, and our stories of descent and tragedy, we have been too secret all around. I searched out ways to reach more people, to lift the shame curtain on our addictions and our depressions and our imprisonments and our secret illnesses when the inner world goes dark.
I felt that our spiritual and our social institutions were like gated communities behind which stories are kept for ourselves. I think we could work better together to serve our communities with more intelligent strategies. The first step: tell the stories.
Some of the stories are triumphant, some difficult. All are true. Though the stories are stripped of details, names, identifying qualities, almost all the individuals mentioned are heroic meaning they value the necessity to serve. They want to turn their experience into benefit for someone else. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is part of the problem.
Thus this series: These Are The Stories.