ONE JEWISH BOY
By Leora Harling
"He likes Jewish girls ya know..." she told me "Monica was Jewish!"
"But Grandma," I said, "he's the President of the United States!"
"So, he's got a lot of money, maybe he could help you pay off your loans"
"But Grandma, he's NOT EVEN JEWISH!"
"Listen Leora," she told me, "it's about time you learned that not everyone is perfect, not even Presidents... "
There's really no reasoning with her. For my
last birthday, she bought me a series of golf lessons. She had mentioned to me before
that that is what she was getting me. I told her that I didn't want golf lessons,
that I didn't like sports. She asked me "so how ya gonna catch yourself a husband
otherwise?" I explained to her that if I took golf lessons, I would only meet
sports guys, and why would I want to meet a sports guy if I didn't
"Well you should learn to like sports!"
I assume that if you decide that you just want to find a doctor, you've resolved yourself to lonely nights at home as well as a husband who's probably a big geek. My grandfather was a bartender at a seafood restaurant. He did the best magic tricks. I wonder if my grandmother would have loved him more had he been a doctor... I'm not sure, all I know is that I had to get out of New York City. It's not that I didn't enjoy the other eight million or so meshugennas that I was living with, I just wanted to see what life was like with out a bunch of Jewish people.
Realizing that you live your life for yourself is a really difficult thing to do. I'm not going to marry a Jewish man or "catch" myself a doctor because my grandmother wants me to. But I'm not going to not do it becauseshe wants me to. My mother only ever dated one Jewish man. That was my father, they stayed together for just enough time to have me. A perfect Jewish child, just for Grandma!
Don't get me wrong, I love being Jewish. I
love Hanukah, I love getting presents, getting drunk on Passover, I love Jerry Seinfeld,
Billy Crystal and Faberge Eggs, I also really, really love my Grandmother. I grew
up breathing Judaism. But loving knishes, identifying with Woody Allen, and living
in New York is not what being Jewish is about. Anyone can be one big Jewish Stereotype.
It never struck me as fair that my grandmother assumes that the only thing to being
Jewish is marrying a Jewish person,
Cynical I sound. I know it. I was originally
really excited about writing a piece on Jewish identity, but the more I thought about
my role models and the way they want me to identify with Judaism, the angrier I became.
Judaism is a beautiful and colorful religion. I love it. What I don't love is being
identified as a J.A.P (Jewish American Princess) or the
My name is Leora. That means "I have light" in Hebrew. I feel lucky that my parents did that for me. My Hebrew name is Chaya, which means "life". It helps me to feel out my identity, it reminds me constantly of the roots from which I came. We came up from struggle, again and again.
I met a woman my age recently. She was born in Russia and had to worship in secret. Russian Jews were never allowed to be Jews. Her family fled here to avoid religious persecution. Her grandparents though, were exiled to Siberia. I can't imagine risking death to be able to practice my religion. Would I? Would you? It's a question I ask myself again and again. It makes meunderstand also.
Grandma. When she was in her twenties, her family was being tortured, raped, and killed if they were lucky. When I ask her why she wants me to marry Jewish she only says "because it's the right thing."
People of that generation don't talk too much about the Holocaust. It's too close. There are still voices in heir heads, the screaming and suffering of millions still haunt them at night. They still see their parents and brothers and sisters begging for mercy. They weep for the millions of unborn Jews who don't exist. It's a race to re establish the race before we become extinct. There are only 13 million Jewish people in the world. Six million were killed during the Holocaust. Where will we go? We can just fall away, like the skeletons thrown into holes in the dirt and burned, disappeared into thin air. Like the Mayans, like the dinosaurs. They want us to remember.
It's our heritage and memory is our tradition.
In college, almost all of my friends said that they were Atheist and did not believe
in God. My Jewish friends said that they were Jewish and did not believe in God.
Judaism is not merely a set of beliefs. It is a long lineage of tradition, it's a
culture, it's a sitcom, it's a hot knish on a cold night, it's Central Park in Autumn,
it's too much Manischevitz on Passover. It's getting drunk with
My mother hates Fran Drescher. She says that she makes people in the Mid-West think that Jewish women are sex-kitten, nose job, diet coke drinking, body-obsessed, nasal talking sluts. I don't know if this is true, I've never been from the Mid-West and neither has my mother. We stereotype non Jews. We assume that they only think that we are the Must-See-TV, shows about nothing, types of people. That's not fair either.
I don't know what I'm saying. But I know who
I am and I identify very strongly not only with my religion, but with my culture
and with my religion. I am rarely lost. As long as there is another Jewish person
nearby to identify with, I know I have one of my own. I know that I have a strong
identity, because somehow, we are all able to bond. We can all relate to our grandma's
kugel, and how our fathers' can't fix anything and breaking
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