Monday, December 27, 2010

Being Jewish

When I was growing up in a blue collar area in Connecticut, right off "the thruway" (ie, I-95), I lived in a close knit neighborhood where people tended to stay for years. As matter of fact, I can still go back to that same neighborhood 30 years later and find one or two people I knew as a child, although they are in their sunset years now.

We lived on a dead end street, a great place for young families. As kids, we often played in the street, without any fear of traffic. The neighbors all knew each other, and each other's kids. Our house was smack dab in the middle of the street, at the "T" intersection of two dead-end streets. Kids took a shortcut through our yard to get to yet another dead-end street behind our house. Nobody minded kids taking a shortcut through your yard in those days. Well, except for the old couple across the street with the six foot tall evergreen hedge; we wouldn't dare try to get a ball back if it got accidentally thrown over that particular hedge.

I attended the public school, two blocks away, from kindergarten through third grade. Then, our parish school opened, so my dad sent all of his school age children to Catholic school, at great expense, since he had five children to educate. At the Catholic school, we wore uniforms, blue and green plaid jumpers over white shirts for girls and grey pants and navy blazers for boys. We got out of school an hour earlier than the public schools, and had different vacation schedules. We got out two of school weeks earlier in the summer, and had the day after Halloween off (yea! All Saints Day), which was great because we could sleep in after trick-or-treating the night before.

More than anything, I wanted to be like all of the other neighborhood kids. I wanted to wear my own dresses to school, not ugly uniforms. Most of the neighborhood kids, whose families tended toward the Protestant variety of Christianity, went to Sunday school. Our whole family went to Mass on Sunday mornings; religious education was just another subject to study during the school day.

But I just wanted to fit in. I wanted to go to Sunday school. I didn't want to be seen as special or different from the other kids in the neighborhood, which is the way the one Catholic family in the neighborhood (ours) was viewed by some of my friends.

And that is why have never understood why my (very few) Jewish schoolmates seemed so happy to be different, to be off from public school for special Jewish holidays, to go to Temple on Saturdays while the rest of us slept in and watched cartoons on TV. I figured there must be something really special about being Jewish that they would not want to believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. When I was six, in my childish attempt to make sense of this, I came up with the conclusion that Catholics believed in God, Jews didn't believe in God, and Protestants didn't know what to believe.

Fifty years later, I still don't understand why my Jewish friends love "being Jewish". Maybe one of them can clue me in.


  1. well... I'm not fully Jewish, and was raised as a Christian, but I have many many friends who are practicing Jews and I can tell you this:
    being Jewish is a connection to a long long long unbroken line of faithful. It's deep ancient traditions, still practiced. Prayers that were old when Jesus learned them. It's the pride of survival as part of a people who have been persecuted in more ways than one can imagine, yet still keep their culture and faith intact and alive.
    There are many aspects of the Jewish faith I agree with - the belief that our purpose is here in this world and that we must make the most of it, not wait for reward in another 'life'. THIS is our reward and we'd darn well better start appreciating it. The family-centric and matriarchal aspects - keeping Shabbot (the Friday evening meal) is such a blessing. A way to connect and remember who you are and where you come from, both in immediate family terms and broader cultural terms. The fact that they acknowledge the mother as the heart of the family and trace lineage accordingly.
    Sure, my Jewish friends are often envious of the Christmas hoopla - but it's just that, the hoopla, not the holiday. And that often wears off as they get older and become observant on their own, and feel the pride of being part of continuing the ancient line.
    We are fortunate to have good friends who include us in their Passover, Chanukkah, Purim and Sukkoth celebrations, and we include them in our Easter Egg Hunts and Christmas Parties. No reason one should miss the hoopla, but also no reason to not be proud and happy of who you are and where you come from!

  2. Thanks Jenn....a most thoughtful comment...Nancy