I AM

“Let us dress ourselves in the garments of G_d – compassion for the needy, embrace of the stranger – and then spread the canopy of peace over all the world.” (From the Reform prayerbook Mishkan T’filah.)

"Let us dress ourselves in the garments of G_d – compassion for the needy, embrace of the stranger – and then spread the canopy of peace over all the world." Click To Tweet

I am a Jew. I came to it a bit later in life, accepting the heritage of my father’s family. Some would consider me not a Jew, a fault of my maternal heritage. But I am a Jew.

Anti-semitism has apparently become the topic du jour, not that it ever went away. But in a thread on Facebook that I was following that was begun on the topic of racism, I read something that I had to read more than once. The writer say he was a Jew but had never been touched or “flinched from” anti-semitism. He went on to say that perhaps progressive Jews were more sensitive to such bigotry.

This last statement is so loaded with problems it is hard to know where to start. To begin, I have no idea what he meant by progressive Jews. Contextually the implication was that somehow the liberal snowflake Jews would take more offense, bringing us into the more overtly political. And then to infer that it is just a sensitivity of uber political correctness to be offended by anti-semitism. Finally to imply that more sensible (less liberal politically) Jews would not be bothered by bigotry. Fallacious notions all.

When my son was young and we lived in sub-urban New Mexico, he experienced a great deal of prejudice. I concede that it was primarily born of ignorance not of hate, but it was painful nonetheless. And those who acted on their prejudices could not have cared less what branch of Judaism we practiced, or what our political beliefs were. We were Jews, we were alien.

And the current social media war that rages over whether Jews can be real Americans if they are Democrats, or whether Democrats can be supporters of Israel is despicable. I am a liberal Democrat, although I try to be a thinking independent as needed. I am a reasonably religious and observant Jew. I am a supporter of Israel although not in every action that they take. I have always been hopeful for a peace that seems farther from our grasp than ever. I am deeply offended by the notion that any of these things are mutually exclusive and that our divisive and combative national dialogue has now made my religion an issue of patriotism. I love what this country should be, and I am a constitutional nerd. I also believe in the values embodied in the quote I started with. But my religion is not, or should not be, a political issue. My politics are grounded in the values my religion teaches; a very different matter.

Where I live now it is astounding how many people do not know what a Star of David represents. Most have no idea what Judaism is, what our beliefs or values are; despite the fact that they embrace the old testament as part of their own various faiths. To many we are still money grubbing baby killers. People always seem surprised to learn that I am Jewish, as if a pleasant 60 something woman should be somehow other than.

“Judaism is a doing which can be grasped only by the heart.” Julius Lester

Things I Want My Son To Know #10 ~ Respect Your Heritage

You have a complicated heritage. Your are adopted so there is a part of your heritage that you may never know much about. We do know that part of the heritage of your birth family is Native American. Since it is what we know, and it is special, hold it close and cherish it. This is a particularly spiritual and compassionate heritage and someday you may want to know more about it. I wish I could tell you more but that is all we know and all we have been able to find out.

But… you have the heritage of your family as well. That is us. Your maternal grandmother is, if anything, a Unitarian (religious preference). More importantly she is descended from early colonists and English missionaries to Hawaii. She was born into the Daughters of the American Revolution, as I understand it, but was drummed out for marrying a Jew (I think they are slightly more liberal now). There are two things important about this, first that she is descended of those revolutionaries in America and second that she experienced discrimination against Jews (something you should never forget). There is a history of her family among my books.

Your maternal grandfather is a Russian/Polish Jew whose grandmother fled Russia with her eight children and no husband and no English as a result of discrimination and poverty. Her story is an amazing one and your great grandmother described their journey to your Uncle Dan who wrote it out. This precious piece of writing is saved for you too (of course).

Your paternal grandfather was Irish through and through, and Catholic by upbringing; there is little we know about his ancestry but despite your father’s stubborness there is a little magic there.

Your paternal grandmother is, I believe, English and German. If this is wrong, I will let your dad post a correction! She is the toughest woman I have ever met and she is the only one in the whole family that is really good at handling and saving money. You could take a page out of her book on this one.

Finally, although you are many things, you are a Jew. You were raised as a Jew with Jewish values. Your dad was raised as a Catholic but chose to be a Jew because he believed in the values and principles of Judaism, he believed in Judaism as a way of life. And he chose it with no input from me. The Jewish heritage is a rich and vital one. It is a heritage of learning, knowledge, charity, spirituality, community service and kindness. The rituals are beautiful and many of them revolve around the home, rather than the house of worship, making them even more special; the candles, the seder, havdallah, chanukkiah (menorah).

It is important to respect that at least on two counts, your ancestors would have experienced terrible discrimination and physical violence merely for being who they were. If for this reason alone, you should be proud to be who you are, a Jewish man with Native American roots (among other things). You should wear your star proudly and never be ashamed of it. The Jews historically fought for civil rights in this country, side by side with African Americans seeking equal rights because they knew what discrimination was. You should always stand up not only for yourself but for those who are treated as lesser.

Whatever you think of religion ultimately, light the candles in your home; light a chanukkiah; conduct a seder with your children and re-tell the story of our liberation from slavery. It will make you feel proud and good; it will make you feel closer to your ancestors.

have a seder with your children you will feel closer to those who are gone.

Things I Want My Son To Know #7 ~ Cook With Your Children

Whipping up recipes long held in your family can whip up fond memories as well.

Cook your family recipes; some things should be kept alive. In ethnic families there are rituals, usually tied to the religious, that are important and become part of the legacy and memories. In most families, eating together is a ritual that preserves legacy and memory. Even more, there are foods, cooked and eaten at particular times or times of year, prepared in a particular way, by particular people that especially preserve legacy and memory.

There are things you need to know. How to make the letter cookies your great grandmother, and then I, made when each of us in succeeding generations were small. How to make the cherry filled cookies that your great grandmother made for your grandfather and which are his very favorite. How to make your grandfather’s chopped liver (yes, the secret is in the schmaltz) and your grandma Joan’s lemon meringue pie which is too good to put in a pie, just make a double filling and eat it. I don’t know how you came to dislike brisket but you should still know how to make the best brisket on the planet, and the best potato latkes (you will always have friends at chanukah, guaranteed).

Whether you choose to be an observant or participating Jew, you should know how to make a seder. It is important to pass our story on to our children, year after year. The food is part of it, it is the glue that helps to bind our memories together, it keeps them real. The food is the taste and smell of the past and a path to the future. You know, being who I am, that I will have collected the recipes for you, and bound them in some kind of book for you to keep. But a book on a shelf isn’t enough. A few times a year, you need to take it down, make something yummy, and think of me, of your dad, of your grandparents, and the times we cooked and ate those foods together. And when your children are little, cook with them, and tell them the stories of the food and the memories… and they will live on.

Things I Want My Son To Know #3 ~ Have Faith

Have faith. Whether or not you have religion, which I will talk about in a minute, have faith. A spiritual life and a religious life are not the same thing. Believing with your heart that there is something greater than yourself, whatever you call it, means you are not alone when you don’t have people around. It means you don’t have to control everything in the world. In fact, I have come to realize, I have control over just one thing, my behavior. I can’t control my thoughts, dreams, fears, hopes, imaginations. But I can control how I act. I want my son to know that faith has an action component. Having faith means getting up and going to work or school for another day when you think you can’t, unpacking one more box on moving day when you are about to drop, reaching for an f sharp when you have barely ever sung an f, putting one foot in front of the other when there seems no point. The action component to faith is never giving up but allowing faith to carry you when you have nothing left and believing that you will be okay no matter what. It means living in the moment. You can make sensible, logical plans but in the end you have only the now and you can’t control the random part of what life will bring you. You create what you can and then faith has to kick in. I do believe that religion is important, it gives a community, a history, a ritual and a sense of belonging. But whatever you choose about religion, find some faith, find a way to be spiritually centered in your life. Suit up one more day because you are alive, do the job one more day because you can, reach for the f sharp, always.

And Kagan On the Other Hand?

Kagan scares everyone, liberal and conservative alike, except the President who, we presume, knows who he is nominating. Politics anyone?

So after yesterday’s post and its idealistic rhetoric, let’s talk politics.  Religion aside there is a whole other conversation going on; although the conversation about her being Jewish seems pretty loud.  Generally speaking you hear lots of grumbling from conservatives if there is a liberal paper trail, or at least one they can interpret as even marginally liberal.  And sometimes you hear grumbling from conservatives when, as now, there is virtually no paper trail, although that is not particularly common.  What is unusual, as far as I can tell (and I am not an historian of these sorts of things so feel free to correct me), is that liberals are now grumbling because there is no paper trail. 

There are whispered rumors that she is secretly much more conservative than we lefties would like, hiring so-called conservatives onto the faculty at harvard and allegedly adopting Bush-Cheney ideals in memos about Guantanamo.  National Public Radio tonight quoted a memo tonight that Kagan wrote when she was in the Clinton White House recommending that Clinton approve or support legislation banning partial birth abortion with exceptions only for rape, incest and the life of the mother, an obviously controversial position depending on your vantage point.  That, for sure, is a discussion for another time but what is clear is that everyone is scared of Kagan because nobody really knows where she stands. 

BUT… do we really believe that Obama or his crew have not asked her some of these questions?  Do we really believe that Obama is nominating her with absolutely no clue of her position on important issues, or at least her inclinations?  I find that mind bogglingly naive.  As I wrote yesterday, we have seen many appointees change considerably in their views from where we thought they started as their years of service progressed.  Nevertheless, knowing very well the judicial temperature on the current Supreme Court, and knowing very well whose chair he is filling, it seems impossible to me that there have not been some very serious, very intense and very private conversations between the President and Kagan.

So anti-semitism aside, religious, racial or gender “majorities” aside, the politics have to be in play.  That’s what we in America are all about.  So ideally we expect the scholar, the thinker, the ultimate lawyer, but can you have that and your ideological favority too?  Don’t know, stay tuned.