I’m Far from an Über Jew (Part 1)

Becky Mandela Coloring1Wow! Tuesdays’s post (See “In Case You Didn’t Know: I’m Jewish“) led to some interesting and thought-provoking conversations, via email, text, Facebook DM, and in person. My mind is still processing it all. I didn’t realize when I was writing it what an incredibly personal thing it would turn out to be and hitting “Publish” was hard. After all, with a nod to Billy Joel, I only reveal what I want you to see, and this blog is the most personal public place I have. Typically, only a handful of people read it, but sometimes it goes places and distances I never imagined. So, I took a deep breath, hit “publish” and then left. I took the dog and went on a walk and didn’t know what reactions I’d find upon my return.

So far, it’s been read by nearly 200 people and shared more than 100 times, which is huge for me since I don’t work to market my blog much. It’s really a place for ME, but I’m thrilled beyond belief when somebody reads something I write and gets something from it.

What’s surprising to me is that so many people identified with my feelings as what they termed an “American Jew,” even though I think of my beliefs as unique.

On the one hand, my experiences–and feelings from them–are uniquely my own. I try not to speak about that which I do not know. And, although this is my blog–my playground, if you will, where I make the rules and can throw you out if you don’t go along with them–I welcome comments and opinions and viewpoints that might help move the conversation along. Not set it back, but move it forward. People were afraid to comment publicly, but were brave enough to comment personally, directly. And I thank them for that.

I am not über Jew. I do not make, nor ever will make, any assertion that I know everything about Judaism. On the contrary, I likely know less than 10% of what there is to know about Judaism. But I know 100% about my experiences as a Jew living in Central New Jersey, West Country England, and Northern Israel. And how often I’ve been the only Jew somebody has met. And how that puts a heavy responsibility on my shoulders to do and say the “right” things, or at least I feel like it does.

After all, I hate to think that Jerry Seinfeld or Woody Allen are our representational Jews. Allen actually makes me cringe, he’s such a stereotype of the nebbishy, New York Jew that I can’t bear to watch him. Weak-willed, self-loathing–his characters are everything I detest in a person, let alone a Jew. And yeah, I know this type exists–after all, stereotypes are usually rooted in reality–but I try to put as much distance between them and me.

So what was the right response to my post on Tuesday? I thought my point was that the “church lady” shouldn’t have felt the need to say anything else after I mentioned that I was Jewish. Her blessing to me was fine; my response should have finished off the conversation without any awkwardness. It was that little bit extra, that seeming need to justify that she knew Jews and they were great people, that was awkward. And unnecessary.

As I always do in situations that leave me thinking “huh”, I checked myself first. Do I do that? Have I ever met somebody of a different race, religion or sexual persuasion and said – Hey, I know more people like you and they rock! I don’t, actually. And moreover, I’ve gotten myself into sticky foot-in-mouth situations because I’ve said things, made jokes, without realizing that some of the people I was with were actually that race, religion, or sexual persuasion because I sometimes forget to notice such things. I’d left my political correctness pin in the car…or somewhere around here…

What’s surprising to me is that so many people identified with my feelings as what they termed an “American Jew,” even though I think of my beliefs as unique. Doug and I tend to be irreverent about religion, as we are about so much of life. He’s been turned off of his religion by hypocrisies such as Christians who say “peace unto you” to one another after Easter services, and then try to kill each other in their rush to leave the parking lot, as well as the presence of items for sale in gift shops located in the nave of St. Patrick’s and Notre Dame.

I likely know less than 10% of what there is to know about Judaism. But I know 100% about my experiences as a Jew living in Central New Jersey, West Country England, and Northern Israel.

I come by my Judaism from a mother who was raised Orthodox and spent her summers in the Borscht Belt because her dad was a maitre d’ at a hotel there, and a father whose parents were “below” even Reform Judaism in their religious practice, even though his paternal grandfather had been a rabbi back in the shtetl in Poland. Conservative Judaism–smack dab in the middle of the spectrum–seemed like the perfect arm of Judaism for them to raise their four children in, along with a semi-Kosher house (no meat and milk together, no pig, no shellfish, no two sets of dishes), though my Dad petitioned for the ability to still enjoy real bacon out at restaurants. (We were raised on Sizzlean, which really should have been grounds for DYFS removal).

People have asked me if my parents were against my marriage to Doug. I’m the youngest of four–my oldest sister had already “broken them in.” Yet, I don’t doubt it was painful for them to witness the dissolution of a long-held belief. My Dad has said more than a few times over the years that his father–his non-practicing, Hassid-hating, cigar-smoking, mechanic-turned-chicken-farmer father–would have disowned any of us for marrying non-Jews. But he’d been dead for more than a decade when we got married.

When we moved back to this area, we put the kids in the preschool at the temple I’d grown up in. But when it came time for Becky’s naming ceremony, the rabbi–who we knew and liked–apologetically informed us that Doug, as a non-Jew, was not permitted on the bimah (the stage, if you will). Doug was alright with it–after all, it was a small ceremony and we could just do the entire thing below the bimah, on the regular floor where the congregation sat. He didn’t mind. But I did.

I understood the temple’s stance on non-Jews not being permitted in front of the Torah. Having grown up in the rigidity of Conservative Judaism, I knew they wouldn’t change for me. However, this wasn’t the segregated South in the 1960s and I wasn’t going to make my husband go sit in the back of the bus. In my eyes he was no second-class citizen, and there was no way I’d let my religious institution say that he was.

So we left. And the incredible thing is that my parents, who had practically been founding members of the temple, left too. And that was huge.

(to be continued…)

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One thought on “I’m Far from an Über Jew (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: I’m Far from an Über Jew (Part 2) | challaandhaggis

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