Denny and Naomi sat in the third row.
The synagogue was filled. Denny turned to look at older, better-dressed men and women sitting behind them. Men in the congregation spoke loudly. Some pointed to the speaker.
It was Friday night Shabbat.
Like an ancient Greek theater, the seats were arranged in semi-circles, radiating out from a platform.
A man in older middle age, stood there. “A Southern Baptist,” he said shaking his head. He looked out at the astonished congregation and continued, “We have no choice.”
Voices behind Denny and Naomi grew louder.
Denny had been to Christian churches, but in his experience, churches were quiet, contemplative environments. At churches, the preacher talked, and the people listened.
Here, the congregation were loud, shouting, cursing.
Denny turned to look behind him again to watch. He looked at Naomi sitting to his left.
She was delighted. “This will be fun,” she whispered, the smile on her face widening.
The man standing at the podium, pointed a bony finger to the congregation. “The choice between a Republican appointed by a criminal and a Southern Baptist,” he said, shaking his head. “…is NO CHOICE.”
“Is he the Rabbi?” Denny whispered to Naomi. But people were yelling. She didn’t hear him.
“What the hell are you saying?” a man behind them shouted.
“Republicans are not our friends,” the man at the podium responded.
Angry shouts grew louder.
“Southern Baptists will strip away protections,” the speaker continued. “We cannot vote for either party.”
“Goddam you!” a man shouted from across the auditorium.
“Go to hell,” another man shouted.
“…jeopardize everything?” a woman’s shrill voice yelled.
Denny was astonished.
“We should not vote,” the speaker said again. “There is no choice.”
People stood, some shook their fists at the speaker. Some turned to leave. People were shouting, yelling insults. Two younger men walked to the speaker to usher him away from the podium.
Naomi leaned over to Denny. “This is the one,” she said. “We’ll join this congregation. This is where my family goes.”
Naomi, certain she had convinced the beautiful young man to be in love with her, was planning their future.
“What does it mean?” Denny asked her. “Shaare Emeth,” he paused to look at another man shouting. “What does it mean?”
Naomi looked straight ahead the activity on the platform. She tried to remember. She turned back to him. “Gateway. It means Gateway, like the Arch,” she said. “Shaare Emeth means Gateway.” She referred to the Gateway to the West, the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, commonly known as the St. Louis Arch.
For a year now, since high school, Denny had been searching.
Twice, he thought he had found the way, only to be proved wrong.
The path away from his family, away from the conservative, racist culture of Tupelo, was labyrinthine. He had almost given up. A way out would appear, only to be snatched away.
He’d moved with his chorus teacher to Mobile, only to be abandoned.
He’d gone to Florida with young man, only to have him declare he was no longer gay.
The Gateway to the outside world was amorphous, shifting, like the arms of an octopus.
After he had given up, when he had decided he would never leave Tupelo, only then did the most unlikely scenario present itself…Naomi.
He tried to change, to reform himself. He tried harder than he’d ever tried.
Openly gay since the age of 15, he’d lost all his friends. Then, he’d met the sister of a new friend…Naomi.
But Denny was simply another young man in a long-line of failed attempts. She’d brought Denny to St. Louis, to her home, to ensnare him, to hook her claws into him more deeply.
Naomi was to be unsuccessful in converting Denny into a husband, but, she inadvertently presented him with a Gateway, his pathway out.
Denny had found his Gateway to the outside world.
He’d found his Shaare Emeth.