Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Jewish Thing, Part 1: Barrington Balagan

DISCLAIMER: If you thought last week I started taking myself too seriously, this week is gonna be difficult...
It's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year; any Jew will tell you that it's a very important holiday for anyone who subscribes to the religion. I have been asked if I would like to go to services tomorrow - my response, verbatim: "Will there be lunch involved?*" You may find this tasteless - it's a religious service, after all. But considering that in the last ten years I haven't even considered going to services, it's a minor victory for the faith. My inner [insert hard-hitting journalist] tells me the obvious follow-up question is, "Why haven't you been to services in ten years?"

That's right kids, buckle up. We're gettin' into the Jewish thing. Prepare for some complaining.

*This question is VERY Jewish and is perhaps is an indicator that I should go.

I grew up Jewish in an extremely conservative Christian area. This experience, for those of you who did not share it with me, feels something akin to being trapped on one side of one-way mirror, watching everyone else have a party without you. And when you start banging on the mirror, trying to let them know what's up, the smug little brats turn towards the noise and start pelting you with eggs. Overdramatic, sure, but everything's overdramatic when you're a child. Correction, everything's overdramatic when you're an overdramatic child.* Still, I maintain to this day that I was in the right.

*This sentence would seem to imply that I am no longer overdramatic. This sentence would be lying.

It starts young. Kids are dumb, and they can be mean without knowing it. It would seem, based on my experience, that they don't have the mental capability to feel empathy. Or maybe it was just the kids around me. No, wait... it was the adults too. That is, perhaps, the most frustrating part of it all. One of my two biggest pet peeves in the world is adults who act like children, and maybe this contributed to that.* I have a running log in my head of some of the incidents that were an affront to me. Let's begin, shall we?

*The other is when someone opens a can of soda, takes one or two sips, and then leaves it on the counter where it immediately gets flat and is wasted. WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU? Have you no decency??

In kindergarden I first got a taste of how completely oblivious people were to the mere idea of inclusiveness when were all given Christmas Trees to color. It seems it had not occurred to anyone that someone might not celebrate Christmas. Then, in second grade we had a "Christmas Concert" where we sang all Christmas songs. I asked the music teacher if we would sing any Hanukkah songs. "Well", she sighed, "Light the Candles All Around the World is sort of a Hanukkah song." "Uh, no bitch, it is not" I didn't say; I was a nice boy.* In fifth grade we had a Christmas party that included games like "stuff the Santa" and "guess the Christmas song". I was recently told by a friend (shout-out to my homegirl Katrina!) that she distinctly remembers me being deeply upset and as a fifth-grader she thought, "yeah, that isn't really fair". I boycotted that Christmas party. I sat out in the hall, against the lockers. NOBODY cared. No teacher came out to talk to me. Nary a peep. Nary!

*But seriously it isn't.

Kids can be cruel. Time after time I would get asked, "What's wrong with you?" "How can you not do Christmas?" "Don't you know Christmas is way more fun than Hanukkah?*", and my personal favorite, "so how can you just, like, not believe in Jesus?**", as if my religion was any weirder and more random than theirs, or as if I had anything to do with the religion I was born into. A kid wrote his in-class story about Christmas vs. Hanukkah (guess who won - it rhymes with Bristmas). I used to get so angry and defensive, inappropriately so, and I didn't understand why. A classmate in high school recounted to me, "I remember when someone said something about Christmas and you stood up and started yelling - six million Jews died in the holocaust!" "Oh my god, that's embarrassing" I said, turning red. I have no memory of that incident, but I have no doubt it happened. I do remember going to sit in the hallway when someone brought up Jesus Christ in class, requesting angrily for someone to come get me when they were done.

*"HANUKKAH HAS EIGHT DAYS THOUGH SO THERE" became my defensive response.
**I got asked the Jesus question even in high school. Nuts, ain't it?

So while the tantrums were perhaps misguided, I do understand the place they were coming from. Unfortunately, I developed a reputation as that Jewish kid who hated Christmas, which only further added to the problem; now to the other kids, Jews seemed really grumpy. Kids used to ask me why I hated Christmas - another super fun question! - but that wasn't it at all. I have no problem with any religion or holiday... what bothered me, really made my skin crawl, was the fact that these people could not even wrap their minds around the idea that somebody could think differently than they did. It was a foreign concept that anybody might do anything other than the things they themselves did. It wasn't that they didn't like Judaism; it was that they didn't even seem to know (or care) that it was a thing. And while "that's not a thing" is one of my favorite expressions, it most certainly was a thing. I imagine two blonde parents in country club argyle sweaters, sipping coffee and reading the paper as their daughter comes home from school...

     Daughter: Hello mummy! Hello papa!
     Mother: How was your day sweetheart?
     Daughter: Oh, it was so exciting! There's a new boy in class, and he's a Jew!
     Mother: A what?
     Daughter: A Jew, mummy.
     Mother: What on earth is she saying?
     Father: A Jew... oh, like on the television? Like that Seinfeld show that you love.
     Mother: Oh, sweetie, Jews aren't real! 
     Daughter: But he is, mummy, I saw him!
     Father: Sweetheart, what did your mother and I say about making up stories?
     Daughter: But papa!
     Father: What did we say?
     Daughter:'s not polite to lie.
     Father: That's right. Goodness me, it says in the paper the president had an affair...

Did I overdo it? Well, you get the idea. Anyway, the whole situation just felt bad in my core, my inherent sense of what was right and what was wrong. My mother feels so awful when I talk about this aspect of my childhood - "I feel like I failed as a parent!" she says. But growing up that way gave me empathy for anyone feeling like a minority or an outsider; I know how it feels to feel marginalized.* It's cruel, it hurts, and nobody should be made to feel that way. Many (powerful) people don't seem to care about the feelings of others anymore - we could use a little more empathy in the world. So I learned how wrong discrimination and marginalization were - I say that's a pretty good trade-off for being pissy during a couple of class parties. And possibly more importantly, when I see Bill O'Reilly on TV talking about the "War on Christmas" and "how DARE Target change their sign to say Happy Holidays", I know he's an asshole. Because being NICE AND INCLUSIVE to all people is A GOOD THING. It's kind. We could use more kindness, too. Kindness and empathy, and also smaller size frozen pizzas because I always end up eating the whole thing even when I'm not actually that hungry, y'know?

*And don't think I'm not aware that my experience PALES in comparison to many others. But this happens to be mine.

This still hasn't quite answered the question of why I stopped going to temple, but we're out of time for this week - I've gone on long enough; I'm stepping off my soapbox now. So to all my Jews, have a good Rosh Hashanah. And to everyone else, enjoy work/school! Jews are taking the day off, suckas!


1 comment:

  1. once when i said that i don't believe in jesus the person asking me said, "but, you do believe in the virgin mary right?" i felt bad bursting her bubble actually..