Born in 1951, I’m the by-product of parents from the Bronx New York tribe. When I reached communication age (mostly muttering “Huh?” and “Wha?”), they disclosed the “You’re-a-Jew” essentials. We are God’s chosen people; Jesus was a rabbi and died a Jew, not a Christian; Jesus is not the Messiah or God, let alone George Burns or Jim Carrey—God is God; everybody is actually Jewish—descendants of Adam, Abraham, Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal; we observe all the Jewish holidays with bonus days for Christmas and Good Friday; we don’t need to read the Bible—God’s Chosen People are already in; we eat matzoh during Passover until surrendering to a bagel, lox and cream cheese; we drink disgustingly sweet Mogen David wine after all prayers; we eat holiday meals only when mom extols, “OK, enough praying. Let’s eat before the potato knishes are hard like hockey pucks.”
Our early Judaic formation demands five years sentenced to Hebrew school. We graduate, understanding that we nosh mostly on foods rich in butter, refined sugar, and fats. Key examples of our fare include black & white cookies, halvah, cheese blintzes, Danish (the baked type, not the citizens), rye and pumpernickel bread, Muenster cheese, creamed herring, fatty corned beef and pastrami, and various kugel dishes. We gain weight. Then we say prayers for low cholesterol and blood sugar counts. We prepare for Bar (male) or Bat (female) Mitzvah when we turn thirteen—this culminating with a catered party for the parents’ friends, envelopes filled with cash or check, Cross pen & pencil sets, and official declaration by the rabbi that you are now a man or woman. Male Jews spend the next four years trying to understand exactly why becoming a man is not immediately associated with having sex.
Most Jewish men enter college pursuing their mother’s directive to secure a medical or law degree—I was inept in math beyond division, vomited while dissecting a frog in the 9th grade, and got a ticket and criminal record after jaywalking on the way to school when I was nine. I was screwed. In defiance of pursuing accepted and guilt-free careers, many become standup comics and discount jewelers. After graduating, anxiety persists with the next edict to marry a nice Jewish girl—preferably one of your mom’s Mahjong friends. Those who knuckle under spend the next decade trying to understand why marrying a nice Jewish girl is not immediately associated with having sex.
After marriage, we live the time-honored model of Jewish family life: buying a house and car you cannot afford, having kids for the grandparents to spoil, snipping foreskins, singing “If I were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, and asking your parents not to drop by unannounced—which invariably occurs on those rare occasions of having sex. Finally, you face mounting psychiatric bills from all the guilt, vexed looks from your parents and lack of sex.
Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my Jewish heritage. There are numerous traditions and reasons why the Jewish faith is cool, not the least of which is our direct relationship with God, aka Yahweh from the Old Testament. We were definitely tight. Passover is the best illustration of our BFF connection; the whole slavery of the Jews for 400 years in Egypt, ten gnarly plagues climaxing with the Angel of Death (not to be confused with any Marvel comic villains), 40 years wandering with Moses in the desert (we’re talking hot sand, snakes, rocks, scorpions, and irritable camels), and finally crossing into the Promised Land, described in the Old Testament as “…a land flowing with milk and honey.” Boy, those ancient Jews were shocked when they arrived in the much-touted Promised Land. Anyone who has actually visited Israel since Moses’ crew, has discovered that the “land flowing with milk and honey” tagline was, in fact, the first Israeli Convention and Visitor Bureau’s bait-and-switch—Israel is mostly hot sand, snakes, rocks, scorpions, irritable camels, crumbling ruins, with the added bonus of a dead sea.
All things considered, with the addition from years of counseling and medication, my Jewish foundation has been a real blessing. Among its many benefits, I genuinely appreciate the flavor enhancement of fats in any foods, I have embraced feeling guilty about most things including feeling guilty when I don’t have anything specific to feel guilty about, and I get satisfaction and more for my money from knowing where to find the deepest discounts. Mom said it best. “You don’t have to be Jewish to have a better life, but it doesn’t hurt.” I am enjoying a better life, but sometimes it is irritating. Thank God for Benadryl.