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J is for Jewish

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Dave used to wear a Jewish star next to his dog tags. It was gold, heavy, and Klaus used to like to play with it when they were kissing.

David Aryeh Katz is born during the boiling hot summers of Flatbush, Brooklyn, in July of 1939. His father, Moshe, is the Gabai - the director of services - in their community synagogue, as well as one of the community cohanim ; his mother organizes food for new mothers and teaches classes to brides-to-be on how to keep a kosher home.

David - or Dave, as everyone but his mother and the shul Rabbi calls him - is the youngest of four brothers. He's quiet, and artistic, and he loves going to synagogue with his family to sit and listen as everyone around him chanted in Hebrew and spoke in Yiddish and lives.  

It's his life, and it's a good life.

Dave keeps his head down, studies hard, and spends his free time with his head in a sketchbook. He gets along with his brothers, loves to play basketball in the streets of Brooklyn, and for the most part he's a normal kid.

The Vietnam war breaks out in 1955, when Dave is 16; America enters the war in 1965, and David Katz's life is forever changed.

"Rabbi,” Dave said slowly as he studied the chaplain before him, “does one have to make a bracha on army rations?”

“Why would you not, David?” The Rabbi asked, clear eyes focused on Dave's, and Dave couldn't help the impish grin that spread over his face.

“Well, I wouldn't exactly call that stuff food, would I?”

The Rabbi studied him for a moment before bursting out in laughter; Dave happily joined in.

There was never much cause for laughter on the front lines, but whenever Dave made the appropriate blessings on his rations, he looked back on that conversation and smiled.

It was the little things, after all, that mattered most.

When Dave showed his parents the draft notice and announced his intention to serve, his father got up and left the room without a word. His mother, on the other hand, folded into herself and began to cry.

“Davidaleh, my Davidaleh…” he can hear her terror through her sobs, and for a moment he doubts himself, doubts if it's really the right decision to fight for a country that still calls his parents “Greenies” even if they left Germany in 1935.

He watches his father's shoulders shake through the doorway to the kitchen and thinks of the five uncles and two aunts he'll never meet, because even though his parents made it out of Germany before the war doesn't mean everybody did. He bears the names of two of his uncles - his Father's older brother Dovid, and his mother's younger brother Ari - in memory of those who never made it to America.

They haven't heard from the majority of their family members since before Dave was born. How can Dave risk his life overseas, knowing that?

But he thinks of the people fighting for his country - not Germany, but America, where life is good and Jewish people like Dave and his parents aren't being killed for their religion, and his mind is made up. He will fight, for his parents and his friends and for the family he no longer has in Germany. He will fight because in Germany his family was never given that chance.

He is David Aryeh - he bears the name of a king, and his middle name means Lion. He was born to be a fighter.

Who is he to say no?

“What about the other brachot?” Dave asks the Rabbi in front of him. “We have blessings for thunder and lightning, is one obligated to bless the thunder of cannons or light from explosions?”

“We only make blessings on that which comes from g-d.” The Rabbi says to him, repeating what Dave already knew, and yet-

“But doesn't everything come from g-d? Including war?”

The Rabbi regarded Dave with sorrow in his eyes.

“No, my son,” he says in Yiddish, wisdom beyond his years radiating from his voice. “G-d gives man ideas; it is man who acts upon those ideas, for both good and evil.”

There's not much time for prayer on the front lines, not as much as Dave would have liked, but he keeps a small Siddur in his pocket anyways.

He pulls it out occasionally, when the gunfire has ceased and quiet settled over the camp. He runs his fingers over the familiar Hebrew letters, lets the comforting words fall from his lips, and within those words he speaks to the One above him. He prays for an end to the fighting, asks Him to keep the guys in Dave's unit safe, to let him shoot straight even if Dave doesn't want to kill anyone because that's what needs to happen for Dave to keep his family safe.

He's heard it whispered around camp, and he figures it's true, what they all say: the only people who support war and fight over who are right and wrong are the ones who've never fought. After all, when it comes down to the basics of war, Dave is learning, it's all just senseless death.

There is no glory in war. Only sweat and metal and blood and pain.

Dave's learned. Maybe that makes him a good Jew - his father always did say the trademark of a good Jew is the ability to learn from and adapt to every situation - but here, he doesn't feel like a good Jew.

Here, he only feels terror.

When he was younger, he'd tried kissing Rachel Weiss behind the school. It had felt good, he guessed, and they dated for a bit after that, but they broke up after only a few dates.

Perhaps that had been his first indication that something wasn't right with him.

He never mentioned it to his parents, though. It wasn't worth hurting them.

Klaus Hargreeves appears in a dirty towel, clutching a metal briefcase, when Dave's troop is en route to a relocation. Its weird, and unexpected, and no one really knows what to think of the scraggly guy with the tattoos.

It's the best thing that’s happened to Dave since he was drafted.

Klaus is different, and not just because he seems lost when he looks at a gun or because he flinches at the sound of gunfire. It's not because he’s a druggie, either, or because he sometimes talks about things none of them have ever heard of before snapping his mouth shut and looking apologetic.

Klaus is different because he's good ; an adjective Dave doesn't ordinarily apply to his unit or even himself. Despite the war and the drugs and Klaus's quick sarcastic wit, the man truly does have a heart of gold.

Dave thinks that Klaus's heart is really what made him fall in love with the man.

The first time Dave gives another person a tattoo, he makes a bracha on the act.

He's not sure that's the right thing to do, especially since Jews aren't allowed to get tattoos, but his mother had always taught him to make a bracha on important moments and this one feels important.

It's not like there's a Rabbi around to ask, anyways.

So he lifts the needle and prepares to tattoo the guy in front of him as the guy who taught him looks on behind him, and the words fall from his mouth before he can even think.

Ba-ruch A-tah A-do-noi E-loi-hei-nu, Melech ha-olam she-he-chee-ya-nu v'ki-yi-ma-nu
vi-hi-gi-ya-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

It just feels like the right thing to do.

Falling into Klaus is the easiest thing Dave has ever done.

Kissing him feels like fire, touching him and dancing with him right like nothing else has ever been right before.

Dave thinks he's in love.

He kisses Klaus in between dancing and shots, and he knows it's wrong but it doesn't feel wrong. Something blooms between them, quiet and beautiful and theirs . He gives Klaus tattoos and watches Klaus smile; they swap stories of their families and Dave decides that if he ever meets Reginald Hargreeves he'll rip that man a new one.

It's good.

And then they're laughing on the front lines, and Klaus is all snark and he's beautiful and Dave looks at him for a moment-

And then pain is all he registers. Hot, blinding pain, and then


When he gets back to 2019, Klaus gets a tattoo of a Jewish star, half-covered by a pair of dog tags.

He never does explain the star.