The End Times and Julita Valenski

 

John R. Guthrie

 

 

Rev. Ian MacLeash leaned forward in his seat at the banquet table, “Many Christians feel like the End Times are upon us. Sexual perversion! Promiscuity! Abortion! The desecration of the Lord’s Day! God excluded from the public schools! Darwinism!”

The dinner was a must-go event that Monday evening for Dr. Christopher Jacques (rhymes with “rakes”), a family physician in the town of Austerity.

Austerity is a place of great natural beauty. It is tucked into the northwest corner of South Carolina where the Piedmont foothills climb upward to the cloud-capped Smoky Mountain range of the Appalachians. Dr. Jacques had grown up there. Now, two years out of his residency in Atlanta, he practiced medicine there.

The banquet occurred in the dining room of Austerity’s Regional Medical Center. It involved the dedication of the new Varian Clinac Linear Accelerator—a multi-million- dollar, state-of-the-art cancer-fighting device that could apply destructive radiation to cancerous growths with great precision.

Chris Jacques came in late, having had to see a croupy child in the emergency room. Still in his white clinic coat, he took the first available chair when he came in, one near hospital pathologist Dr. Hilary Stein. Rev. MacLeash of Austerity’s First Church had provided the invocation for the event and sat next to Stein. As they waited for the waiters to serve the meal, Chris nodded and smiled at the woman in the adjacent seat. “Hi, I’m Chris Jacques,” he said.

She said, “Hi Chris, I’m Julita Valenski--Julie.” She smiled, an utterly charming smile, eyes violet like the twilight, jet black hair was in a pixie cut. A couple of loose strands fell across her forehead. Her cheek bones were pronounced, her lips full and generous.

“You’re not from Austerity, are you?” Chris said.

“No.” She shook her head.

“What brings you here?”

She wore a pleated raw silk dress in deep amethyst. From its elegant cut and drape, Chris recognized it as a designer item. Good taste, but she also would have looked good wearing a grocery bag.

“Hilary.” She waved her hand in Dr. Stein’s general direction. “He’s my first cousin. He’s also a good friend since childhood. I’m traveling from Jerusalem to LA. My flight stopped in Atlanta, so I rented a car and drove here to see him.”

Surprised, Chris said, “Jerusalem? Fascinating. Tell me more.”

Her eyes sparkled as she spoke, “I’m a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union University in LA. I’m hoping to finish a Doctor of Ministries degree in counseling this year.” Julie took a sip of water.

Chris nodded and said, smiling, “Aha! Doctor Valenski! Wonderful.” Brains and beauty in a woman had always been a compelling combination for him.

Julie cocked her head a little to the side as she spoke of her work, “It’s been quite an adventure. My university offers the option of spending a year at our Jerusalem Campus. While there, I did things that I found to be absolutely fascinating.” She leaned closer, and gesturing with both hands, said, “I went on an archeological dig at Qumran, for instance. An early Jewish sect, the Essenes, had a monastic community there.”

“Sure, I’ve heard of Qumran,” Chris said. He imagined Julie in a wide-brimmed hat, khaki shorts and shirt, those exquisite cheek bones reddened by the desert sun, lace-up hiking boots on her feet. She would look flat out good, brogans, sunburn and all

She continued, “We actually recovered some document fragments. They were related to the eschatological beliefs of the Essenes. They believed the End Times had arrived over 2000 years ago.”

“Well, I’m pleased that they were wrong,” Chris replied, smiling.

Rev. MacLeash, seated to their left, leaned forward and said, “End times? Eschatology is a special interest of mine.”

“Oh, really?” Julie said, smiling, one eyebrow raised as she considered this.
MacLeash continued, “Many Christians feel like the End Times are upon us….” Here he catalogued his favorite sins.

Julie nodded slightly as she listened.

Rev. MacLeash angled his chair toward Hilary, Julie, and Chris. His gray hair was artfully cut, not a hair out of place. Nodding, he said, “It’s all in the scriptures. Book of Revelations. May I share it with you? It may change your life.”

“Uh, sure, Revered,” Julie nodded slightly, looking doubtful now.

Dr. Jacques nearly choked on the sip of water he’d just taken. He was in regular attendance at First Church, and never gave it much thought, considering is simply as part of Rev. MacLeash’s rhetoric. Chris actually liked the music best. First Church had a great music program. And he liked seeing his friends and neighbors. But now he realized that this conversation was heading toward a train wreck. Pathologist Hilary Stein was Chris’s friend and confidant. He did not wish to be embarrassed in front of him and his elegant cousin. He found himself attempting to derail the conversational train.

“Pastor, have you seen the new linear accelerator Dr. Stein helped the hospital obtain? It’s just astounding…really hi tech…”

MacLeash rolled on like main battle tank, and holding one hortatory hand aloft, said, “I don’t mind telling you, Dr. Stein, Miss Valenski, the Jews and the Jewish state are central to God’s plan. That’s why we Bible-believing Christians have a special love for our Hebrew friends and neighbors.”

“Jews are central?” Dr. Stein said, looking a bit mystified.

Chris realized his face was flushing. He tried again, interjecting, “Dr. MacLeash, perhaps sometime we could take a walk through radiology...”

Julie, Chris noted, brow a bit wrinkled, looked worried now.

MacLeash’s face glowed now as he continued. He chopped one hand into the other, “Yes! The End Times prophecies can only be fulfilled if the Jews are in possession of all the lands given to them by God, all of Biblical Israel and the Temple will be rebuilt on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.”

Julita said, “What about the mosque that’s been there since 1035? Al-Aqsa

Macleash took in a breath and chuckled. He winked conspiratorially, “Al-Aqsa? Baked Alaska!” “If you know what I mean. The Tribulation to come will affect the entire earth, but will center in Israel. Jesus will appear in the sky, and all true Christians will be raptured up to join him.”
Looking incredulous, Hilary Stein said, “Like, beamed up?”

MacLeash said, “Indeed. As God's chosen, Jews, though left behind, are to be protected until they have an opportunity to accept Jesus as the Messiah."
“Oh?” Julie said softly. “And if we choose not to?”

Nodding, MacLeash continued, “The book of Ezekiel tells us there will be a time of unimaginable suffering and horror for Jews, a people who have rebelled against the Lord and Shepherd's rod. He will separate the perfected ones, those who have professed Jesus as Messiah, from those who haven’t. All who persist in unbelief will die a terrible death.”

Hilary drew back, “A terrible death?”

Chris was flinching as he thought, I’ve never fully realized what a fool MacLeash is.

“Then they will be cast in to hellfire! Hell, Miss Valenski! There will be no relief from pain. Ever! No Morphine, Dr. Stein. Consider that I’m saying as a friendly wake-up call Ms. Valenski.” MacLeash shook his head sorrowfully. He looked from one face to the other.
Chris continued to listen in abject horror; Rev. Dr. MacLeash had morphed into Dr. Mengele

“Oh,” Julie said, “In other words, Christians are supporting us in order to abolish us.”
“Not at all. When Christ returns and defeats the forces of evil led by the Anti-Christ at Armageddon, any remaining Jews will be given a final opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

Julie spoke again, “Rev. MacLeash, you’re saying Christian prophecy will not work without us, but in t1he end, we’ll either all be begging to become Christians or die and go to eternal agony.”

He nodded, smiling smugly as he said, “It’s God’s plan, Miss Valenski, not mine.”
Dr. Stein pushed back from the table as he spat out, “I haven’t felt so honored since I got accepted at Harvard Medical.”

”Wonderful!” said Dr. MacLeash, reaching for his water glass.

“Sure,” said Dr. Stein. “But Reverend, the next time you talk to that God of yours about his plan, please tell him to just leave Dr. Hilary Stein out of it. Good evening, Reverend.” He stood and walked briskly out of the cafeteria, the swinging doors ca-whumping behind him as he left.

Moody fellow,” said MacLeash to his wife, Jeannie, who sat to his left, a woman with a permanent smile pasted on and the demeanor of one who has undergone prefrontal lobotomy. Reaching for his salad fork, MacLeash said, “Terribly moody, Dear.” Jeannie, still smiling, nodded, stared straight ahead.
Julie fiddled with her napkin.

Chris took a deep breath, then said, “Oh, my. Julie, let’s go check on Hilary.” They stood and walked toward the exit.

Outside the cafeteria’s swinging doors, Hilary Stein stood, unmoving, pale and visibly shaken. He held his steel-rimmed glasses in his left hand, his award plaque he’d received for spearheading the effort to obtain the linear accelerator in his right hand pretending to read it.

“Hilary,” Chris said, placing his hand on Hilary’s shoulder. “Hilary, old friend, I’m sorry.”
Hilary sighed, “Chris, it’s not your fault.”

”Look," Chris said, "let's get out of here. I'd love to buy you and Julie a drink. We could go out to the club, visit a little, grab something to eat.”

Stein, his color returning, took a deep breath. “I’d love to take you up on that, but I have two post-mortems tomorrow. They are particularly complex due to legal issues. I’ve still got to check some references this evening. Rain check, please? Julie, you and Chris go ahead. I need to go home and get to work.”

Chris looked at Julie questioningly. She smiled graciously. “I’d love to, Chris.”

Clearing his throat, Hilary added sternly, “Chris, I must insist that you be on your very best behavior with my cousin. And get her home early!”

Chris did a double take. Hilary’s demeanor softened and he chuckled, and then said, “You two have a good time.”

Chris and Julie were soon sitting in the Jasmine Room, the informal dining room at the Chickasaw Country Club. Fleming, the bartender, a youngish man with bleached blond hair and a modest gold hoop in his right ear, greeted them warmly. “Dr. Jacque! So good to see you again, Sir. Would you care for a menu?”

“Good to see you, Fleming. Sure. A menu would help. We skipped dinner.”

“And to drink, Sir?

Korbel Brut champagne sound OK with you, Julie?”

“Yes. And Fleming, consider this a champagne emergency!”
Fleming smiled, “Right away, Ma’am.”

They both ordered bouillabaisse and a Greek salad with a cheese and paté plate to share. Julie drained her full flute of champagne. The food arrived.
“I’m starved,” she said. She sampled the bouillabaisse. Yumm! Delicious!”

Chris smiled. He found it satisfying to see an exceptionally lovely woman who didn’t pick at her food. He took another sip of champagne. “Julie, when Pastor MacLeash got on his End Times kick, he embarrassed the crap out of me. I felt so bad for Hilary.”

She replied, looking thoughtful, “Stuff like that happens occasionally. Even when we were kids, though, Hilary was the sensitive one. He had a pet white rat named Ruben when we were ten or so. Ruben died. Hilary cried and cried. Though I felt sad, I insisted that we bury Ruben. We did, in the backyard. Then Hilary demanded that the two of us sit Shiva.”

Jacques chuckled, envisioning two solemn little Jewish kids sitting in kitchen chairs beside the small mound of dirt that marked Ruben’s grave.

“But there’s some other history, Chris, behind Hilary’s reaction to MacLeash’s conversion of the Jews story.”

“What’s that?”

“My grandmother, for whom I’m named, died in Ravensbrück just before its liberation by the Russians in 1945. My grandfather and Hilary’s, Isaac, ended up in Treblinka, near Warsaw. He survived the war, just barely. He emerged from the camp when the Soviet Army got there a living skeleton; five feet ten, 70 pounds. All his brothers and sisters and his children from his marriage to Julita died in the camps.”
Chris took a deep breath, shaking his head, said, ”And what became of your grandfather after the war?”

She nibbled at the French bread that came with the bouillabaisse, held up a finger signaling the need for a pause, then swallowed and continued. “He ended up in New York, in Brighton Beach, where Hilary and I grew up. He got a new start, remarried and sat up a little shop like he’d had in Warsaw, selling sewing notions, buttons, thread, needles, sewing machines and such. The shop grew. He began shipping goods all across the county and to Canada, too. He died three years ago, at 91. Oh, Chris, he was such a dear.”
Chris smiled, nodding as Julie continued.

“Right up to the end, he had to have his one cigar, a great, smelly thing called a Lord Beaconsfield Round and a glass of Mogen David wine every evening. ‘My medicine’ he called it. He left a trust fund for all his grandchildren, Hilary and me included. Not a huge amount, but enough for me to pay my tuition and expenses, and enough for the occasional shopping spree.”

“Wow, fascinating story,” Chris said. “More champagne?”

Poker-faced, she said, “Sure. My Medicine! Is there a cigar available? Lord Beaconsfield Round?”

Chris looked at her in consternation, then saw the smile playing at the corners of her mouth, the dimple appearing on her cheek as she tried to keep from laughing.

“No cigars,” Chris said, reaching toward his pocket. In Austerity we favor chewing tobacco. Care for a plug of Red Man?”

She laughed in spite of herself, spewing out a bit of champagne as she did so. She was even more beautiful when she laughed. Pausing, she wiped her mouth with a napkin. She paused a minute, then she was somber. “I miss my Grandpa,” she said. “He was the kindest man, so sweet to me and so funny. So much history died with him. He loved to tell me about his first wife. I was always special to him because I was her namesake. But at least, the Nazis finally let her die instead of the eternal torment Rev. MacLeash proposes.”

Chris looked closely at her. Her eyes were shining. “Hey, MacLeash, I hate to say it, is my preacher. That stuff is his stock-in-trade, standard for evangelicals. I realized this evening that he’s also a nut case, and that in a lot of ways I don’t belong in his church at all. But I like seeing my friends and neighbors there, and I like the music.”

She swallowed hard. “Yeah, I think I do understand. As much as I love the tradition, I’m not all that observant a Jew, rabbinical student or not. It’s just that so many people in this country think like MacLeash these days and ‘love’ us Jews in the same way—their intent being that we end up gibbering prayers to Jesus on our metaphorical Hebrew knees or go to torture that puts the Nazis to shame any day. It’s scary, like Praying Mantis love. When the Mantis’s are done mating, the male is decapitated.” Tears were flowing down her cheeks now.

Chris leaned over, put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. She leaned into him. Behind the bar, Fleming was pointedly looking into the distance as he wiped glasses with his towel. Chris picked up a linen napkin and dabbed at her tears. She sniffed, forced a smile. “Chris, this isn’t me. I’m not a crybaby, promise. I’ve just been on an airplane for 14 hours, gone through more time zones than I can remember, then drove from Atlanta.
“Some things are worth crying about,” Chris said.

“Yeah, but I’m just jet-lagged beyond to the point of no return. As much as I enjoy your company, I need to get back to Hilary ‘s house and get some rest.”

“It’s been great to visit with you. You’re an intriguing person.”
She smiled, leaning against him again, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow. “Flattery, Doctor, may just get you everywhere.”

At the door to Hilary Stein’s house in the Lakeside subdivision, Julie turned and gave Chris a hug. “Thanks for the outing, Chris.”
“Hey, it was great. I guess you’re leaving tomorrow?”

“Yep. Gotta catch a plane to LA. I’ve a dissertation to finish.”

“I hope if you’re ever back this way, you’ll let me know.”

“I will. And when you’re through Los Angeles, give me a buzz.” She replied. “LA’s like Atlanta. If you go much of anywhere, you’ve got to go through LAX eventually. LA’s a fun town. Look, here’s my number.” She gave him a business card. Then she wrapped her arms around him, pulled him close. Chris savored the touch of her, the warmth and fullness of her body pressing against his, the smell of her; lavender, musk, sandalwood, all the spring times in the world melded together.

She stepped back, then reached up and kissed him on the lips, holding the kiss a little longer than necessary for a first date good evening kiss. Then she turned, entered the house, and for the moment at least, Julita Valenski was gone.

 

 

 

Harvard Square Commentary

 

May 26, 2008