Saturday, April 24, 2010
Yes, I'm Jewish. What's it to Ya?
I was born a Jew and raised to be proud of my heritage. I was picked on occasionally by all the neighborhood Catholic kids because we were the only Jewish family they knew. In retrospect, it wasn't antisemitism, it was just a way for kids to pick on each other. I made it easy for them because I was a geek. They picked on my geeky ways and my high GPA. They also made fun of the fact that I was always wearing hand-me-down clothes from my rich cousin: "I thought all Jews were rich!" and "Aren't you supposed to have a big nose?" The worst was, "Hey, there's a penny. Go get it, Jew!"
But, what did Judaism mean to me? I know we celebrated Chanukkah. I remember going to my cousins Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I think we went to Temple once, or maybe twice. I had seen (and heard) a shofar. I'd worn a yarmulke. I'd eaten matzoh (and matzoh-brie for breakfast - yum!).
But the big unspoken thing was my Bar Mitzvah. As in, I didn't have one. I remember asking my dad about it. My cousin, who was 6 months younger, was either getting ready for or just completed his Bar Mitzvah. He got tons of presents and was a Big Deal. What about me? Dad gave a non-committal reply. I think he asked if it was something I really wanted. Did I want to go to all that extra school to learn Hebrew? You know, that means cutting into your play time? Are you sure you want it? I eventually stopped asking and time went on. No coming of age ceremony for me.
I now have a 12 year old boy. He's asking the same questions. We took him to the Temple and met the rabbi. He was genuinely interested... for about a week. When I asked him again if he was serious, he said no, probably not. We have a family Bar Mitzvah coming up next month. I think I'm going alone.
Today on the golf course, I was paired up with a threesome which included Ares, an Israeli Jew. The first question he asked me was if my oldest (who was with me) was a Bar Mitzvah. I told him no and mentioned that I wasn't either. He gave me one of those looks, like, "Oh. I see." Then we let it drop.
I'm Jewish. My wife is Jewish. My family is Jewish. But what does that mean? I honestly have no idea. I have asked both of my kids if they've ever been picked on for being Jewish. They both said no. Lucky kids. For me, I got to experience all the downside of being Jewish with the only tangible upside being that I got presents for 8 days when my friends only got them on one.