I am Jewish. Shocking I know. My brother and I have strong biblical names – Rachel and Noah. This almost didn’t happen because my mother had a momentary lapse of insanity after each of us was born and we were this close to being Farrah and Paris, respectively. Farrah Feldman sounds like a tax attorney dressed in a Kmart Jaclyn Smith suit and navy pumps showing too much toe cleavage. And Paris Feldman…well, I just have no words. Count your lucky stars baby brother.
And I am proud to be a member of the Tribe. But for me, Jewish doesn’t mean religious. I identify with my religion on my own terms, am raising my daughter Jewish, and it’s something that will never change for the rest of my life.
My family is unique. My mom has two sisters (they may as well all be the same person). While my parents are both Jewish, my two aunts broke tradition and married non-jewish men. Big, burly, unfiltered, hilarious Italian New Yorkers. So it’s not uncommon in my family to have a Bar Mitzvah one weekend, and a Communion the next.
And guess what? Nobody shot up in flames or is doomed to spend eternity in hell because of it.
I love so much about my religion. This is by no means an exhaustive list but they are the frontrunners. And don’t worry about my spelling. There are like 35 different ways to spell these words so you can’t really get it wrong.
- So much beautiful history
- Matzo Ball Soup
- Yidd-lish (you know like “Spanglish” but instead of Spanish, replace with Yiddush)
- Playing Jewish Geography
- Instant camaraderie in any community when you meet another Jewish person
Here’s what I do NOT like:
- Jewish preschools are basically out of commission for most of Sept and Oct and April because of Jewish holidays. So now I have to figure out what to do with my kid. Good thing the same school that’s “closed for the holidays” operates a mini camp on the same campus for an additional fee even though we’ve already paid school tuition! L’chaim!
- Fasting for Yom Kippur
- Other Jewish people who don’t think I’m Jewish enough because I don’t go to temple.
Here are some common misconceptions I have dealt with regarding my religion. All direct quotes.
Q: “Oh, you don’t eat pork? Is it because you’re jewish?
A: “No, I am not kosher. I will eat the shit out of bacon and ribs, but don’t like pork in every form. I’m picky about my pork.”
Q: “You’re Jewish! I’m so glad I met you! Now I know what y’all look like!” (That little gem happened week one in my UF dorm)
A: “You know…We don’t actually all look alike! Oh wait….”
Q: (My first year living in Boston) “Ohhhh you’re Jewish? Do you know (insert any last name that ends with berg, stein or man)? They live in Indiana!”
A: “Ummm, no. I’m from Florida. I don’t know every Jewish person everywhere.”
Growing up, we always celebrated every single jewish holiday and still do to this day. It’s less about the religious components and more about being together with my family. And there is NEVER a dull moment.
When I was younger, my parents gave me the option of a Bat Mitzvah or a Sweet 16. Lemme get this straight…I can either have a party after I spend years in Hebrew School learning another language. Or I can forgo that party, wait a couple of years and have one without said obligations? Duh.
My brother on the other hand did not have a choice. He is a Jewish boy and there was no negotiation because every Jewish boy should have a Bar Mitzvah. After a short stint in Hebrew School where he engaged in a few unfortunate activities including but not limited to leading his class around the Bema (jewish for stage) singing, “Oh When the Saints Go Marching in”, my parents had to look into alternatives.
And they found one.
This man is rather well-known around South Florida. He is in fact a legitimate Rabbi and a real mensch (jewish for stand-up guy), but let’s just say he is willing to do whatever you need for a price – not unlike a mafia hitman. He also rivals George Hamilton for the best tan and is decked in designer duds including his Louis Vuitton garment bag. Why is his rabbinical business thriving?
Because he will basically officiate any kind of Jewish service you need. Kid get kicked out of Hebrew school? No problem, a bar mitzvah he will make. Interfaith or interracial marriage? No problem, see you under the Chuppah (jewish for little tent over the altar). Same-sex marriage? Mazel Tov!
My brother and our family are no less Jewish because he wasn’t bar mitzvahed in a temple. We might however be less Jewish because my aunt and uncle’s song, when they came up to light their candle, was 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny”. True Story.
Passover starts today, which means lots of food. But no bread. In typical fashion, my mother goes into a panic about 2 months before any holiday she is hosting. She will recite the menu to me a few times, then she will call my aunt and do it, then my other aunt, then my cousin, until none of us give a shit where the brisket is coming from or if there even is a brisket. Yes, that’s right, our holidays are usually catered. And not because my mom can’t cook, she just hates it. She’ll make a few staples that she’s really good at, like noodle kugel, otherwise the rest is coming from somewhere in Aventura where she can call and discuss the menu with them 4 or 500 times without them hanging up. Last year, she ordered Rosh Hoshana dinner from a Jewish deli that has been there forever and is owned by a nice gentleman who I believe is either Arab or Palestinian (can’t make this shit up). My mom was in a sweat heating up all the food in her tiny oven, I’m sure there was at least one error, and just as things started to calm down, Jason pulled a twistie tie out of his mouth from a bite of stuffing. Accident? Or perhaps one too many phone calls to review the menu? Well played sir, well-played.
The food sucked, as it did the year before from another place where they also made egregious mistakes.
Slowly, my mother is being blackballed from Aventura’s Jewish Food circle. Word has gotten around. We will all starve. Yeah right, we’re Jewish for goddsake, that would never happen.
So this year, everyone is cooking something because we couldn’t repeat the twistie tie incident. Jason is making the brisket. I made the latkes, sweet potatoes and matzo candy, my aunt made stuffed cabbage, my mom bought the soup and dessert (in disguise just for added protection) and is making a kugel. So I say…
“Mom, how bad would it be if I put bacon and cheese in the latkes?”
“Rachel, don’t you dare! It’s Passover! That is horrible and you cannot do that!”
“Mom, we are not even religious. Ava is the most Jewish out of all of us and she’s five.”
“Rachel, you do not serve bacon, much less with cheese, on a jewish holiday, what is wrong with you?”
“Ok fine. I’ll make them plain. What are you making?”
“Mom…you realize it’s Passover and we are not supposed to eat bread – that means noodles too.”
“You know what Rachel, that’s what’s great about Judaism, you take what you want and make it your way.”
And this is the story of my life… Happy Passover everyone!