One of the Boy’s friends was in town this weekend.  We played tour guide to the Panhandle’s brunch scene, the Golden Gate bridge (note to self: bring ear muffs and thicker jacket if there’s a next time), and the late-night-strange-ness of the Mission.  The Friend of the Boy had been up here many times but his girlfriend had not, despite growing up in LA.

Over the course of the weekend, I think that that girlfriend and this girlfriend had a hard time keeping up with the conversation between three computer programmers (The Boy’s roommate joined us for a while.)  They used words that were definitely English… but I could not define them if my life depended on it.  So there was lots of sitting around quietly while they bonded over shared industry horrors and feats.

I also kept quiet because Friend of the Boy kept commenting on the Boy’s size, and momma bear fangs were out in full force.  Like, you’ve known him for a while now, since college at least.  You know he’s lactose intolerant.  You know he’s not the biggest guy as a result.  So stop bringing up his body.  I don’t know if this is some weird dynamic of male friendships or placing each other on some hierarchy where big tall dude =manly and skinny average-height dude = sissy or something.  But I do know that it required me to consciously tune out the conversation at least three times before I inserted myself into it in unpleasant and possibly unrepairable ways.

But during brunch, it came up that Friend of the Boy was interested in geneology.  His dad wasn’t volunteering much information about his side of the family, but Friend did know that his mom was a Jew.  Ah, finally something that I could talk about!

The Boy and I both said simultaneously, “and what about her mom?”

“Also a Jew.”

And in stereo, once again, “Then you’re a Jew, too.”

As the Friend is a self-declared ADHD individual, the topic quickly changed and moved to something else.  But later in the day, while waiting around for The Boy to find parking, out of the blue, “I know we talked about this earlier, but I just wanted to say, I’m not a Jew. I’m an atheist.”

“You are a Jew to me.  You are an atheist Jew. There are also cultural and religious and secular and agnostic.  We’re all Jews.”

“But I don’t consider myself to be one.”

“If I needed to say kaddish, I’d count you in the minyan.”

“I have no idea what that means.”

I think Judaism’s concept of Jewish-ness is one of the hardest to explain to non-Jews or Jews who weren’t raised with any sort of Judaism.  Sometimes it’s frustrating. “So like, pretend your mom is an American citizen but she gave birth to you in say Zimbabwe….”



2 thoughts on “Yiddishkeit

  1. I have a cousin whose mother (and her mother) is Jewish. He’s being raised completely sans any Yiddishkeit, except for Passover seders with her side of the family. It’s depressing, but I’m not really sure how to handle it, as she and I have never really talked about my Jewishness, and I don’t want to create family tension by stepping in and going, “Listen, X, you should know that you’re a Jew, and if you want to practice Judaism, you have every right (and responsibility) to do that.” Of course, given that he’s a sixteen-year-old boy, I doubt he’d be impressed.

    As someone who converted and has to deal with all of those attendant issues, as well, it’s also incredibly frustrating to me to meet people who (from my perspective, at least) have it all, will probably never have their Jewishness questioned, and are just throwing it all away. Obviously, I don’t make a habit of saying that to people, because that’s my hang-up, not theirs, but that doesn’t really keep me from thinking it sometimes.

    • I can totally relate to the “you have no idea how easy you have it… grumble grumble” aspect of talking to Jews who don’t know or care they’re Jews.

      But even when, at the end of the day, I don’t give two hoots whether people who are born Jewish participate in another faith, or no religion at all, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience trying to remove the Christian lens it seems like everyone in this country uses to define religious identity to consider other POVs.

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