Dov Bear Comes for Shabbat

Son Number Three was enrolled in nursery school, and it was his turn to take Dov Bear home for Shabbos. Dov Bear was a cuddly, nubbly, squeezably soft stuffed toy, with a smile permanently stitched on his face and a kippah sewed to the top of his head. During the week, he remained zipped up in his own knapsack, but each Shabbat, he went home strapped to the back of one lucky preschooler.

Dov Bear arrived with a journal in which we were supposed to document the events of his weekend. I flipped through the pages to review what the bear had experienced with other families. Dov Bear helped light Shabbat candles. Dov Bear was given the best seat at the Shabbat table. Dov Bear sang some rousing Shabbat tunes. Dov Bear consumed copious quantities of chicken soup and gefilte fish. Later, he was tucked into bed, listened to some bedtime stories, and drifted gently off to sleep. The next morning, after a healthy breakfast, Dov Bear dressed and went to shul; in the knapsack, there were adorable little outfits to change him into. After lunch, he had a nap and went to the playground. Dov Bear held the candle at Havdalah.

Knowing the journal would be read aloud in class, I carefully noted down Dov Bear’s activities at our house. In the end, I was forced to make most of it up; Son Number Three tired of Dov Bear’s charms after Friday night and abandoned him in a corner of the dining room. To please the preschoolers, I conjured up a fanciful little conversation between Dov Bear, our Shabbat guest, and Hello Kitty, a fleecy resident of my daughter’s toy shelf.

As it happens, we really did have company for Shabbat lunch during Dov Bear’s visit. Had I been completely truthful, our journal entry would have gone something like this:

Dov Bear sure knew how to animate our Shabbos table. After sharing a D’var Torah and a new niggun, he got into a heated argument with Hello Kitty.

“How could you vote for Obama?!” he asked incredulously. “And you voted for him TWICE! The man would give all of Eretz Yisrael to the Arabs!”

“What are you talking about?” shot back Hello Kitty. “He’s done more for Israel than any previous president. Who gave them Iron Dome?”

“Yeah, yeah, that was yesterday. He also wants Israel to go back to indefensible pre-1967 borders. He thinks the formula for peace in the Middle East is for Israel to give the Palestinians their own state in the West Bank. Now, with the failure of Arab Spring all around us. Why? So Hamas can take over and point rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? You give the Arabs an inch, they’ll take the rest tomorrow!”

“That’s ridiculous! You want to rule over millions of Arabs who hate you intensely?” argued Hello Kitty. Her whiskers were trembling with righteous indignation.

“He criticizes Israel in front of the whole world. And the way he treats Netanyahu gives me the chills,” Dov Bear declared, banging his fluffy paw on the table.

Hello Kitty rolled her tiny plastic eyes. “Oh, please. Don’t get me started on Netanyahu. What was he thinking, the leader of a foreign power, addressing Congress and advising them to vote against their own president? If you ask me, he’s done more to incite anti-Israel feelings abroad than any Prime Minister in history.”

Dov Bear sounded defensive. “Hey. Netanyahu was just telling it like it is. Congress has a right to know all the facts. Kerry was leading the American people by the nose, telling them about the peaceful Iranian nuclear program, and that Zarif and Rouhani are sweethearts. Now Obama is lifting sanctions without any realistic plans of how they can be put back, and Kerry is giving the Iranian scientists all the time they need to hide their real nuclear sites. He’s even letting them police their own inspections. They’re laughing at us! They’ll have a bomb within the year!”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” I could tell Hello Kitty was trying to remain calm, but her tone was steadily rising. “Radiation signatures don’t disappear overnight. Inspectors will be able to tell whether there were any nuclear activities going on. I’m not saying it’s a good deal, but it’s the best one we could get. With the deal, at least there will be some oversight. All kinds of scientists are lining up behind it. Besides, do you really think Iran wants a war with a superpower like America? In any case, this regime won’t last. The Iranian people are fed up. It’s only a matter of time before they rise up against the ayatollahs. This deal will tell them that we recognize their aspirations.”

“What kind of fantasy world are you living in?” Dov Bear barked, an ugly gleam in his button eye. “The only thing this deal will achieve is that the Iranians will have billions more to finance international terrorism. If you ask me, we should bomb them back to the dark ages, like we did in Iraq.”

“Oh, yeah,” Hello Kitty said sarcastically. “That worked great. Iraq is a shining beacon of democracy since President Bush stepped in to lend a hand. And now his brother wants to run for president!”

“Like Hillary Clinton is better!” Dov Bear bellowed, his velvety brown pelt bristling. “You can’t trust her! First she lied about the Tunisian embassy, and now she’s lying about her emails! Who knows what else she’s hiding? You want her for president? She’s like Obama in a skirt!”

Hello Kitty was pulling out her plush white fur by the roots. “What about health care? What about the growing cost of college education? What about the disparity between the rich and poor in this country? What about the fact that there won’t be any physicians left that accept Medicare for our parents?”

“You worry about your own first!” retorted Dov Bear, “And that means Israel! Israel should transfer all the Palestinians to Egypt and Jordan!”

“That’s the most quixotic nonsense I ever heard!” Hello Kitty screamed in exasperation, pulling off her pink bow, throwing it on the floor and stomping on it. “My brother in Israel, whose kids are in the Israeli army, voted against Netanyahu and for Obama! Are you saying he’s an anti-Semite too?!”

“Well he voted wrong,” exclaimed Dov Bear smugly. “If it was up to him, Obama would give it all away, and so would Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush is a religious man. He believes in the Bible.”

“I see. So, you’re comfortable living in the United States of Jesus?” purred Hello Kitty, while an uncomfortable silence fell across the table.

At that moment, Geoffrey Giraffe interjected loudly, “HOW ABOUT SOME MORE ZMIROS!” And the tension eased while dessert was served. It was honeycomb, Dov Bear’s favorite.

About the Author
Helen Maryles Shankman is an artist and author. Her book, "They Were Like Family to Me," originally published as "In the Land of Armadillos," was a finalist for The Story Prize in 2016 and won an Honorable Mention for the 2017 ALA Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature. Her stories have been published in many fine literary journals, including The Kenyon Review,, Gargoyle, and Cream City Review. She is a columnist at The New Jersey Jewish Standard.
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