Warning: Serious post. And long.
Tonight marks the start of the Jewish New Year and, for me, a new beginning in Judaism. Until recently, I mostly identified as a Jew in the face of mild, silly anti-Semitism. I’d be the butt of a joke or stereotype and snap a retort or glare at my tormentor.
Or a Mormon would appear on my stoop and I'd have to endure a windy sermon on why my Semitic soul needed saving before gently closing the door on his toes.
Or I’d go on a date with a fellow Member of the Tribe who mistook me for a gentile and then watch his face fall when he learned otherwise. My religious/ethnic identity wasn’t helped along by flagrant snobbery towards my low-rent journalism career, a discount-store wardrobe and homemade jewelry. The disbelieving, haughty looks I got from men and women alike were dispiriting. Being an introvert, I found handy excuses to stay away.
As for the depths of my faith, I had to be dragged home for the High Holy Days, and the real point seemed to be loitering in front of the synagogue to shmooze with childhood friends. I tagged along to my parents’ friends home for strong coffee, delicious pastries and warm company. I didn’t pay much attention to my soul.
I married the least Jewish man I could find. He’s openly agnostic, calls organized religion “brainwashing” and hasn’t set foot in temple since our wedding. But then my son was born. I immediately wanted a bris, a circumcision ceremony, and held it in our home on our kitchen table. Really. I invited about a dozen people. Forty showed up. I was overwhelmed by the acknowledgement of this wholly sectarian rite of passage even from Christians and Catholics.
Now my son is old enough to get excited about lighting Sabbath candles and stares at them in awe. He screams “Shabbat” (Hebrew for Sabbath) when we pull into the synagogue parking lot for pre-school. I once had to show him the darkened sanctuary to prove the congregants weren’t secretly meeting without him. How wonderful, to want a Sabbath every day. Me too!
Yesterday, I had to pull him away from the wine rack. He insisted he wanted a glass of vino, just like Mommy. An idea struck. I put two bottles of kosher grape juice on the rack and told him it was his special wine and he could have some whenever we lit candles. That grape juice had sat forgotten and dusty in a bottom cupboard until just then.
Tonight we’ll be lighting candles for the New Year and breaking open his “wine.” If I remember, I’ll stop by a bakery that sells challah, though I think it’s too late to order the special round loaves served only on the holiday. It’s also too late to scrounge up a ticket to services, even in the event I could afford it and also find a babysitter. I can’t cough up the steep temple dues, either, so I’ll be scamming Tot Shabbat services again for free this year. Miserable excuses, I know.
Typical me, spontaneous on a good day, forgetful the rest of the time, but I’m doing my best. I read Jewish blogs and realize how much about my religion I never learned, or maybe it just didn’t sink in. I’ve read several books on the kabbalah and have tried to change the way I imagine G-d. Last weekend I blogged on a Saturday and felt guilty all week. Plosh is taking Friday off, the second day of Rosh HaShanah, and we’ll be going to special services at Minitaur’s pre-school for half an hour (reform temples don’t usually celebrate the second day, so this is a bonus).
The sad thing? Anyone Jewish still reading this is sneering.
The snobbery that drove me away is still out there, but it’s as intellectual as it is financial now. Too many disdain novices or “secular Jews” like me and would be annoyed to share a pew with me. They’ve already written me off. I’m not Jewish enough for them and never will be. Are Christians like this? I suspect so. I don’t think Jews have a monopoly on self-righteousness. Or look at the Taliban – we’re certainly tame by comparison!
I just don’t want my co-religionists to write off my son too. My husband, as irreligious as he is, backs me on this. If we have to scrape dimes off the sidewalk, we’re going to try and afford a Jewish day school for him. I don’t want him to sing Christmas carols in school assemblies and feel like an idiot. Or worse, refuse to sing them and feel hated.
I want my son to make Hanukkah decorations and sing in Hebrew. I want him growing up around people who are openly, proudly, in-your-face Jewish. I don’t want him learning about kabbalah from Madonna. I want him to say the words “I am a Zionist” without shrinking.
So I am trying, however belatedly, to set a good example, just as soon as I figure out how.
Here’s to new beginnings and second (third, fourth) chances.
L’Shana Tova (Happy New Year)