A Fish Out of Water

A Novella by Altimexis

Posted January 2, 2010, revised December 8, 2017

Danny's Baltimore HouseNew York SunsetJerusalem


Those familiar with my writing may be aware that my inspirations for stories are often drawn from personal experience. My first novel, Love in a Chair, for example, was inspired by my dealings with youths undergoing rehabilitation after having sustained a spinal cord injury. My Naptown Tales series was inspired by growing up in a conservative, Midwestern city.

Many who read A Fish Out of Water might think it to have been inspired by the wonderful 1967 novel by Chaim Potok, The Chosen, which tells the story of friendship between two Jewish boys, one a member of a Hasidic sect and the other raised in orthodox traditions, just after the Second World War. Although this story does bear a strong resemblance to the aforementioned novel and the subsequent movie and play that were developed from the novel, both of which I can highly recommend, neither was on my mind when I began writing A Fish Out of Water, nor did they influence the plot significantly as should become evident.

The inspiration for this tale took root one day when I was taking a walk in the Lower East Side of New York, an area that was once predominantly Jewish, when I spied an interesting sight. There across the street was a very young teenage boy in traditional Hasidic garb - a crisp white shirt, a black jacket, neatly pressed black pants and shiny black shoes. He had flaming red hair with red side curls, and his head was topped by a black yarmulke, the traditional skullcap worn by all Orthodox Jews. The most amazing thing of all was that he was perfectly balanced on a skateboard and was rolling down the sidewalk, weaving in, out and around other pedestrians as if they were standing still. I have since seen this boy on his skateboard a few other times, but always alone.

Although I am neither Hasidic, nor an Orthodox Jew, I have made many visits to family who are Orthodox and live in Baltimore, and knowing the traditions fairly well, I decided to base my story’s main character there, also a skater, who meets the kid from the Lower East Side and discovers they share more in common than their love of skating.

The Hasidic Jews, or Hasidim, are a group of very religious sects of Orthodox Jews that are not unlike the Amish in Christianity, but with a greater emphasis on spirituality. Hasidim do not reject the modern way of life per se, but the study of spiritual life, rabbinic teachings and Jewish mysticism is considered as essential to life as is breathing. Needless to say, just as do their Orthodox Jewish peers, they view homosexuality as a grave sin and an affront to God. Every other Jewish denomination, including the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Humanistic branches of the faith, have at their international meetings adopted positions that in some way recognize homosexuality as a normal variation, and all now ordain openly gay rabbis.

Among the most orthodox of Jews, including the Hasidim, boys and girls are forbidden even to touch, let alone have sex before marriage. As a result, boys often dance traditional folk dances with other boys just as girls dance with girls, and close physical contact among boys is not unusual. Gay Hasidic boys may enjoy a surprising level of physical intimacy in public… until the day they enter into their arranged marriages with a bride they may not even have met before.


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story and Low Flyer in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. I would also like to thank Rigel for correcting some of my errors with respect to traditional Orthodox Judaism. This story was written as part of the Gay Authors 2009 Novella Writing Contest. The version posted here, however, differs from the one submitted to the contest in a couple of key ways. Firstly, a small amount of material that needed to be removed from the contest submission to preserve anonymity has been restored. Secondly, mouse-over definitions of unfamiliar terms, as well as embedded links, neither of which were allowed in the contest submission, have also been restored for the benefit of the reader who would like to learn more about the elements of the story.

A Glossary of Terms used in A Fish Out of Water

  1. Abba: Hebrew word for ‘father’.
  2. Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah: Hebrew terms that, literally, mean a son (Bar) or daughter (Bat) of the commandments. The term is generally used to refer to the ceremony performed at the age of thirteen in boys and twelve in girls, marking the transition to adulthood. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah is responsible for leading a Sabbath prayer service and, in particular, for reading a portion of the Torah, after which a large celebration or party generally ensues.
  3. Bimah: The pulpit in a Jewish Synagogue.
  4. Chuppah: Hebrew term for the wedding canopy under which a marriage is performed, it also refers to the wedding ceremony itself.
  5. Cooperative (Coöp): An owner-occupied apartment building or complex in which the tenants own shares in a cooperative corporation. Unlike with a condominium, the complex is entirely tenant owned - there are no outside investors. However, potential buyers must be interviewed and approved by the coöp board.
  6. Goy or Goyim: A Yiddish term, generally derogatory, for a non-Jew or non-Jews.
  7. Haggadah: The prayer book used in conducting the Seder at Pesach.
  8. Hasid, Hasidic or Hasidism: An ultra-religious sect of Orthodox Judaism in which members attribute spirituality to every act of daily life.
  9. Havdalah: A concluding prayer service performed at the end of the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holidays, marking the end of the holiday and the start of the regular workweek.
  10. Hazan: A cantor, the person who conducts the liturgical part and sings or chants the prayers in a traditional Jewish prayer service.
  11. Ima: Hebrew word for ‘mother’.
  12. Judea and Samaria: Hebrew names for the land within Israel and Palestine that is generally referred to as the West Bank of the Jordan River.
  13. Ketubah: The traditional written marriage contract associated with Jewish weddings. Ketubahs are often very ornate and framed for display; however, the content, written in Aramaic, is generally outmoded and not intended to be enforced except in the most Orthodox of families.
  14. Kibbutz: Popular in Israel, a communal settlement in which all members contribute to the operation and well-being of the community. Generally agricultural in nature, Kibbutzim may also be organized around industrial operations, or for purely religious purposes.
  15. Klezmer: An Eastern European Jewish form of song and dance, the Yiddish term is also used to refer to a band that performs Klezmer music.
  16. Lubavitcher: A member of the Chabbad branch of Hasidism, which follows the teachings of the Lubavitch Rebbi
  17. NIH: The National Institutes of Health - a large government run agency for funding medical research in the United States.
  18. Oneg Shabbat or Shabbos: Hebrew term for a celebration or party held to welcome the arrival of the Jewish Sabbath.
  19. Pesach: The holiday of Passover, which celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their delivery from slavery.
  20. Rebbi: Formal term for the chief Hasidic rabbi.
  21. Rosh Hashanah: Hebrew for ‘Head of the Year’, it is the celebration of the Jewish New Year. Ironically, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated, not in the spring, when the Jewish year begins, but in the fall, after the harvest.
  22. Schule: A Yiddish term for a synagogue - a Jewish place of worship.
  23. Schvartzes: A Yiddish term, generally derogatory, referring to black people. It’s origin is from the German word for ‘black’.
  24. Seder: Hebrew word for ‘order’, used to denote the organized service, celebration and meal to celebrate the Jewish Holiday of Pesach, or Passover, marking the Jewish exodus from Egypt.
  25. Shabbat or Shabbos: Hebrew word for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins on Friday at sunset and ends on Saturday at sunset.
  26. Shalom: Hebrew word for “peace’, it is also used as a greeting to mean both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’.
  27. Shtetl: A Yiddish term meaning a small village, often referred to as a ghetto. Ghetto is itself a Yiddish term, probably originating in ancient Venice, meaning the Jewish part of town. Indeed, one can still find gates with Hebrew lettering in modern day Venice, spelling out the word, ‘Ghetto’.
  28. Talmud: An extensive treatise on Jewish Law, with commentary from some of the most notable scholars and rabbis of the era. The Talmud was written over a period of nearly three hundred years, and was finished several centuries ago.
  29. Torah: Hebrew name given to the first five books of the Bible (Old Testament), also known as the five books of Moses, which were supposedly dictated to Moses by God himself at Mount Sinai.
  30. Tzdakah: The Jewish commandment that all must give to charity. Because all must give tzdakah, rabbis have interpreted this as meaning that people must give enough so that even the beggar has enough to give to someone else.
  31. Yom Kippur: Hebrew for ‘Day of Atonement’, it is the holiest day of the Jewish Year. Beginning at sunset, all must fast and pray to God to ask for forgiveness for one’s sins. The Jewish definition of sin is much broader than the Christian one, however, and even the act of failing to do a good deed that one could have done is considered a sin. The act of fasting and praying on Yom Kippur is said to only atone for one’s sins against God. To atone for one’s sins against humankind, one must seek out each and every person they have wronged and ask for their forgiveness. Likewise, if someone asks for forgiveness in preparation for Yom Kippur, it is incmubent upon the recipient to forgive them, no matter how egregious the sin may have been.

Disclaimer: This story is fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is purely coincidental and unintended. Although a number of the locations, businesses, institutions and residences described in the story are real, the author in no way implies the actual behavior of the owners, managers or other individuals at these establishments. Some of the characters in the story may discuss or engage in homosexual acts, some of whom are underage. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. Opinions expressed in the story are those of the characters and they do not necessarily reflect those of the author, nor of the hosting website. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of this story in any form.