Friday, November 26, began my least favorite time of the year. It’s the time that reminds me I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, and have never really understood the frenzy that accompanies the season.
While I have tried not to define myself as a Jew, it’s hard because everybody in New York is a hyphenated something and most Jews come from families that were distinctly not allowed citizenship in the country that the family originated in.
When my father asked my grandmother if she wanted to go to the former Soviet Union for a vacation, she spat. While that might have been a classless act, it was an understandable reaction. In Russia/Poland (the borders were constantly changing) she wasn’t allowed citizenship, to own land, or to go for further education.
My other grandmother was chased by a group of Cossacks and had to hide in a friendly Christian’s cellar for a week while her parents didn’t know if she was alive or dead. She was eleven.
Until recently I thought that America was a safe place for me not to practice my religion. Since I’m Jewish, my religion is also my culture and that’s where the problem begins.
I’m proud of my religion and its history. Until the end of World War Two and the establishment of Israel we were forced to survive on our brains alone. Israel, I was always told, provided the muscle.
I’m a Rabin Jew. His assassination was the saddest day in Israeli history because it began a new era of fighting. I don’t like or agree with Sharon; I wish that the lands had been given back years ago.
What does that have to do with my life in New York? A lot. Many people can’t understand why non-religious Jews, or cultural Jews, still partially define themselves as Jewish. Because it’s our history; because we were raised to respect it and all religions. Because I feel comforted by certain rituals and prayers even if I don’t understand all of it as I never went to Hebrew school and my parents wouldn’t let us learn Yiddish as they wanted my sister and I to be 100 percent American.
Because the Evangelical movement is growing rapidly in America and won’t be satisfied until all Jews convert. I forget the names of the best selling series of books in America but I’ve read enough about them to know that they are a call to arms.
Because Bush believes that his small popular vote victory was a mandate and he feels that he can do anything as president including screwing with The First Amendment–the Amendment that allows me not to practice my religion and feel comfortable with that; and to say anything that I damn well want to say.
Jews are two percent of the population of the US, yet our mere presence seems to incite people to hate. Hey, I didn’t start the mess in the Mid East. It really began when no country including this one would let survivors in after World War Two. We took the survivors, put them into displaced persons camps and treated them as if they were the criminals.
Our big punishment to the Germans–we didn’t let them have an armed force so they could put all their resources into creating goods and a vibrant economy.
But this isn’t about Israel or how much I disliked it the one time I was there.
It is about assumptions. People assumed that my dad had help going to college and that’s why he became successful. Nobody helped him. He had to drop out of day school, lose his basketball and math scholarships, work during the day and take courses at night. When he finally graduated, at the top of his class, he saw classmates who barely graduated join large accounting firms. Same for his friends who graduated law school.
Since the large prestigious firms were closed to them just because of the size of their noses and their religion, they created their own firms. That is, I believe, the American way. Though when newer groups began coming up they made room for them in their firms because that’s the honorable way. They would take on lost, unpopular causes that might run contrary to their own views because every person deserves a good defense, or in my dad’s case a good accountant.
We’re not a religion of Shylock’s–money lending was one of the few professions open to us during medieval and later times.
We don’t control the media though we are represented in larger numbers than our two percent of the population. Is there shame in striving? Nobody complains when we give large gifts, endowments, and other things to more disenfranchised groups.
No other group feels the need to apologize for having made it. No other group, except perhaps Muslims and Sikhs, feels the need to apologize for having certain views.
When I was a teenager I almost killed my father for bringing home Allan Sherman’s “Jewish American Princess” album. I still think it was stupid, but as I grow older I understand how proud he was in having raised two princesses.
Our religion and culture might not be soulful, hip or too cool for words but if anybody has denigrated it, it’s been us. Woody Allen’s the first of several hundred examples that spring to mind. We satirize both our weakness’s and our strengths; we make fun of everything.
Hundreds or thousands of years of living as oppressed people has made us wary of our luck. In our collective unconsciousness we know that it could end at any moment. Only Jew can think that too much happiness is a bad thing. Only Jews can think that guilt is a very useful and good defense. So we joke to chase the evil eye away. Kinehora.