Monday, November 5, 2012

The Jewish Thing, Part 2: The Wrath of Bubbe

I told you I'd come back to it. With no new exciting life developments a'happenin' (a.k.a. no job) I'm dipping into that old yamica of tricks* and continuing on with the Jewish thing. My mother's friend Eve gave only one note about my blog - "be kind to the Jews". Um... uh... this part might be rough going for you, Eve. But it all wraps up nicely in Part 3 after I go to Israel and learn a bunch, so don't get too upset. Whoops - did I just give away the ending? I have so much to learn about story structure...

*I refuse to spell it 'yarmulke', because my brain reads it YAR-MULL-KEY, which is gross.

So if we recall, Part 1 came from me trying to explain how it was that I stopped going to temple. I talked a lot about how it was fairly difficult being a lone Jew in a conservative Christian suburb - it made me - what's a nice word? - disenchanted with organized religion, to say the least. I saw firsthand the way it divided people, made people treat others poorly. But y'know what else made disenchanted with my religion? My religion. Yup, that's right. Judaism is just as much to blame for driving me away from religion as close-minded Christians are. Sorry, Judaism. I love you dawg but you know it's true! See, as much as I was the token Jew in my hometown, the funny thing is that I was never actually all that Jewish really. My family was reform, which is the Jewish equivalent of threat level green - it's as low-down on the totem pole as you can go. We weren't super religious - we never celebrated shabbat, which I only realized on my recent Israel-trip is quite abnormal for Jews. It was mostly high holidays, which meant services. Services were hours long and painfully boring - I never liked going. And OH YEAH: Hebrew school.

I hated Hebrew school. HATED it. For one thing, it was more school after school. What kid would like that? With no Jews in the area, we had to drive twenty minutes to get to the temple - to a kid whose age was in the single-digits it felt like an hour. All of the other kids there knew each other from regular school, so for them it was like extra hang-out time - for me it was more like, "who are all of you?" or perhaps, "Do any of you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" I remember week after week screaming and begging and crying, running out of my house and taking off down the street in a refusal to go. A couple weeks it worked, but most of the time my mother would pull up in the car and bribe me by promising a McDonalds run (fat kid kryptonite).*

*Let's be honest though - she could have bribed better. If she had offered to take me to Taco Bell instead I probably would've converted to Orthodoxy. 

And the teachers... well, we didn't have the best of relationships. I was not happy to be there, and I guess I could be occasionally... surly. Yeah, surly. I remember gleefully telling one teacher that I was going to miss the next class because I had family in town. Then, in the pick-up line*, this teacher approached my car and asked my mother if I was indeed missing class. My mother said no (though I had thought we had reached an agreement on this point), and with god my mother, my aunt, and my cousin as my witness, this teacher - a grown-ass, middle aged woman - looked at me, an eight or nine-year old - and shouted "HA HA, HA HA, HA HA..." in my face. As my mother pulled away in the car, we could still hear her yelling. So not the most healthiest of environments for anyone involved, it seems.

*You want to see sheer inanity? Go to a Hebrew school pick-up and watch how it takes cars tens of minutes to simply get their kid and leave.

All of this might have been fine if I had been way into the religion itself or something... but you'll be shocked to hear this wasn't the case. I found the logic of religion... specious. My questions were given trite, patronizing answers - I think people felt because they were talking to a child, they didn't have to earn my beliefs in a real way. They were wrong with this kid. To this day, whenever he sees my mother, the president of the temple asks her, "How's Alex? Is he a lawyer yet?" because I argued so much. I just never liked being told what to do and not being as good reason as to why. "Just because" didn't cut it for me. There were silly rules and silly traditions that made no sense - any organized religion has them. And I didn't like being told that I had some sort of obligation to some greater thing that other people insisted was important, even if it meant nothing to me. I thought Yom Kippur was the worst. One of the high holidays, Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, where you apologize to god for all the bad stuff you've done all year. I remember thinking, "I'm not going to apologize to some supposed deity. If I wronged another person, I can apologize to the person, but I don't owe some anyone else an explanation. and I can police my own morals thankyouverymuch, I don't need fear of a sky bully to make me be a good person."

The point is, after my Bar Mitzvah*, which I did for my parents, I was out. They were all like, "we want you to do confirmation" and I was all like, "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" Okay, I didn't really say that. I would never swear in front of my parents. But hopefully the harshness of that sentence indicates just how flabbergasted and not-agreeable - putting it lightly, here - I was to the idea of continuing my Hebrew studies.

*I still maintain that people should have their Bar Mitzvah when they're 18 or 21. A party that expensive, that nice was wasted on me - I didn't have any fun. I didn't get to eat any food, almost none of the people who became my best friends were there, and most importantly, at that age I refused to dance. And we all know that now I love dancing. I would kill to have that party now.

But honestly, the straw that broke the camel's back probably happened way earlier - this camel was walking around with a broken back for years before he quit. In the mid/late 90's, right after the Lewinsky scandal broke, I was at my Bubbe's house in Michigan. I was seven or eight years old. Bubbe had recently gotten e-mail - remember when internet was new? remember when WiFi wasn't a thing? - and like all old Jewish ladies, used her screechy, insane dial-up mostly to send chain joke e-mails. I was sitting next to her, staring at her weird fake plants while she was reading an e-mail. Suddenly she laughed uproariously. I read the joke - "If a Jew was president, all the secretaries would be shiksas!" I asked her why this was funny, and she explained that Jewish people didn't marry people who weren't Jewish. At the time, I was convinced that I was going to marry the pretty blonde girl in our neighborhood who had become my best friend, so I said - and this is verbatim - "Well, if I loved somebody who wasn't Jewish, I would marry them?"

"Aw, how sweet!" You're thinking - you'd be mostly right, this was before I got fat and I was a pretty cute kid. Bubbe disagreed. She began screaming at me. Screaming, at a child. Screaming that I should never say that, that Jews married Jews - the finite details of what she said are a little lost to me, but I remember two feelings very well. First, I remember feeling how wrong she was, and how mad I was that she thought she could tell me how to live my life based on her rules - "I'll marry whoever the hell I want!" Secondly, I remember the feeling of, "It is completely inappropriate for you to be screaming at me when you're an adult and I'm a child". Honestly, even at such a young age, I was feeling "how dare you scream at me like this! Just because we have differing opinions doesn't give you the right to bully me, Bubbe!" I wasn't then speaking in those grown-up words but the feeling translates.

The irony that Bubbe couldn't see is how badly her bullying (Bubbying?) backfired. Instead of shaming me into feeling I had to stick to the Jewish conventions, I instead - chip on my shoulder - became more determined that no person, no religion, no ridiculous rules would tell me how to live my life. I life my life on my terms.

This got suuuuuuper serious, didn't it? Yee-ikes. Sorry, this is just sort of how my Jewish journey continues, I guess, and I'm trying to write it all out, warts n'all. But remember, Part 3 is way more upbeat. Falafel is involved.


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