It had to happen…


Being married to a self-proclaimed Evangelical Agnostic and drifting further and further away from my faith, the question loomed large. What are we going to do with the child? Since there is more to being a Jew than the religious aspects, we really were faced with a significant challenge.  The Evangelical Agnostic is not shy about his feelings.  At one point, he said anyone who followed any religion was “stupid.”  I was sitting in the den.  EA was standing in the doorway.  Hanging on the wall, facing me was a plaque that reads “Shalom” (it’s still in the same spot but the den is now Milky’s bedroom).  My house is not outfitted with Judaica but there are bits and pieces here and there.  I collect dreidels.  I have menorot (one via my grandmother and namesake).  There is a mezuzah on the doorpost.  None of these things speak to my level of commitment to my faith, though.  At least not on a conscious level.  They’re more along the lines of “things Kang likes” or “things you just do.”  When you move into a home, you put a mezuzah on the doorpost.  It’s just what is done.  As Milkface grew inside me, I thought of the whole “stupid” comment while sitting in my den, looking at the word “Shalom” and trying to keep the definition and spirit present within and wonder…what do we with the kid?

While I’m of the Reform persuasion, looking back, my upbringing was leaning a bit conservative.  Had it not been an interfaith marriage, I’m pretty sure our family would have been members of the Conservative temple.  For years, my stepfather dragged me to and from shul for Hebrew school (Mondays or Tuesdays), Sunday school and confirmation classes.  My mother would deal with my sullen, unpleasant tween self by forcing me out of bed, into a dress and over to temple for whatever classes were on Saturday and services. I’m a proud member of the Jew Camp Illuminati (credit to Foster Kamer for that brilliance), having gone away to the Poconos for eight glorious summers of shenanigans, kosher food, prayer and the opportunity to not be a minority for at least four to eight weeks a year.  Jewish summer camp is a pretty big deal and I highly recommend reading City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder by Herman Wouk if you’re interested in learning about the long tradition of sending little Jewish kids off to the mountains in the summer since it’s been going on for nearly 100 years.

Ultimately, we decided that, at the very minimum, Milky would be culturally Jewish.  He would identify as a Jew.  Half of his family is Jewish.  Random Yiddish words pop up in conversation so naturally that I’m completely unaware of the occurrence.  My family is delightfully neurotic and prone to self-deprecating humor.  On my part, there is a very strong passion to keep the family folklore alive – from how my father’s family managed to evade a Pogrom, my stepfather’s family experience with the Holocaust and the general immigrant experience that many Jews either had first hand or have heard via tales from their Bubbes and Zaydes.  Then there’s the ugly baggage that comes along with being Jewish (culturally or observant) – bigotry and rampant racism.  If the child is going to be raised as a Jew (practicing or non), we, as parents, are going to have to prepare him for that.  There is no avoiding that.  Not even if you grow up in suburbia with other Jews.  The bigots…they will find you and depending on where you are in life, what your experiences are and how you are adept at managing this bullshit, your life will become a temporary hell.

Now that we consigned Milky to his fate, without his permission (something oft criticized by the EA set), all we needed to do was put the plan in motion.  Here you go, kid.  Have fun with your new identify!  You is J00, now.  You will have latkes, gefilte fish and chopped liver and like them.  You will grow up being told that you will be a doctor and a doctor you will be (Sorry, it’s your father’s fault you were born male).  Your mommy will wreak such havoc with your psyche that all future romantic partners will curse my existence for perpetuity.  And don’t even think about looking at a state college, pal.  It’s Hopkins, MIT or Duke for you.  Fret not, you’ll find other young, Jewish males whose soul has been sucked from them, too. You will sit around bars and basements with them, watch sports and critique the game play at an expert level while being completely unable to play said game yourself because, let’s face it, we’re not exactly athletic people.  You’re welcome.  Really. You should be a little more gracious and appreciative, however.  Mommy had to do an enormous amount of work and sacrifice a great deal of herself to provide you with all of this.  And you won’t even pick up the phone and call…

Since we are not religious and are not practicing anything other than how to not leave the living room looking like a toy tornado ripped through it, religious symbols, holidays and other things haven’t exactly been high on the list of things we discuss.  Sure, we’ll whip out the menorah at Chanukkah and light the candles but we also have the tree and give presents on Christmas.  Dock may not like the concept of religion but he sure as shit loves the concept of presents.  This year, however, things are changing as Milky is in kinderMAPP and is learning *everything* at a pace that defies description.  This includes symbolism.  Last month, it occurred to Milky that the “stars” are ours and the “t’s” belong to everyone else.  Ok.  Time to discuss religion, explain symbolism and tell him that there are many more flavors at the old ice cream parlor.  But the point – Milky knows he is Jewish and he seems pretty down with that.  Kewl.  Let’s hope he doesn’t decide he wants to go to synagogue or have a Bar Mitzvah because I’m not sure I want to deal with that aspect of it for reasons I’ll explain later.

The drawback to Milky’s realization and self-identification is now he knows he’s Jewish and to my point earlier, this privilege comes with a whole lot of unnecessary and unpleasant baggage.  The other day I wrote about my experiences on Rosh Hashanah where the Jews were eating each other.  I don’t want Milky to experience that.  I don’t want Milky to have to listen to ramblings about how Jewish he is because his lineage isn’t 100% Jewish.  I don’t want Milky to be put in the position of questioning his identity as I was when I was a teenager.  That shit hurts!  You think you’re in a safe zone when you’re among your own and it turns out…you’re not!  Scripture is murky and can be interpreted many different ways.  Some may say that certain people aren’t Jewish but others will accept that they are.  People outside the faith make no distinction when it’s time to put us on train cars, though.  So, that’s huge problem number one:  potential discrimination from within the tribe.  I don’t like dealing with that.  Do you think I want to put my child in those crosshairs?  Say what you will about my parenting methods but no one can say that I’m not one hell of a protective mom.

On to problem number two:  discrimination and intimidation from everyone and everywhere else.  I mean, do I really have to cite specific examples?  Is that really necessary?  Were we not paying attention in history class, folks?  Very well – what happened yesterday in Paris? Unsatisfied with the outcome at Charlie Hebdo’s office, the fanatics decided to raise the bar on the berserk scale and go buck wild at a kosher grocery shortly before the start of Sabbath.  Four people were killed.  Why?  Wrong place at the wrong time?  Did they do something offensive?  Did they run over a cute little bunny on their way to work?  Possibly.  Nope.  Nope.  They were killed because they were Jewish. Of course.  Now, France doesn’t have the best track record managing anti-Semitism and I feel fairly comfortable pointing a finger because I did spend time in France and did spend over ten years of my life studying all things French.  So no, I’m not rambling from a knee-jerk perspective, looking for a source to assign blame.  That said, you know it’s bad, you know it’s legitimate when François Hollande flatly declares the attack at Hyper Cacher was anti-Semitic.


I should like to add – as the events of yesterday unfolded and I was jabbering with my family, this came as a surprise to no one.  We all saw this coming.  As soon as the words “kosher market” were said, we knew.  We knew why.  We knew what the outcome would be.  We know these things because we have lived this directly or indirectly.  And, as I mentioned the other day, there will be plenty of commentary stating that the evil, horrible Jews deserved what they got.

Tell me, again, why I chose this life for my child?  Of all the things I could bestow on my kid, I decided to give him a life of managing this? What was I thinking?  Why am I even thinking these things?  I’m not the one with the fucking problem.  Neither is my family. Nor most Jews.  And please, shut the fuck up about Israel.  This is about being Jewish; not Israeli.  Stop linking the two every single time something happens and stop using politics as an excuse to be a fucking racist asshole.  Jews don’t deserve to be targeted because of the actions of a nation they don’t live in.  YES.  It is that simple.  Furthermore, if people keep attacking Jews and killing us, these people are simply enforcing the need for a Jewish state where we nice, minding-our-own-damn-business Jews can go about our lives without having pennies thrown at us, having to endure hate speech, see swastikas, listen to “jokes” or worry about being killed.

My question about whether or not human beings deserve such a privilege as religion may be nearing an answer in my own brain.  I’m beginning to lean towards:  NO.  It’s far too destructive and we do not use the tool/device as we should.  Looking back through history, we haven’t been, either.  My personal perspective – I’m very close to cashing in the old chips and walking out the door with my remaining kitty.  I know I’ll never cease being a cultural Jew and that part I will not relinquish.  That part I will pass along to my child.  As for the religious aspect, I don’t think I am capable of fully relinquishing that, either. There’s too much guilt and fear.  Yet another reason why I wonder if religion is a good thing.  If you think about walking away from it but don’t because you’re guilty or afraid – that isn’t a good thing.  That’s an abusive relationship, is it not?

Another day, more words, continuing frustrations and no answers.  And in due course, I’m going to have to have the conversation that all Jewish parents have with their children. I’m going to have the good fortune of trying to explain why, throughout history, people have been killing us because of religion.  No amount of self-deprecating humor, jokes about the IJC or funny stories about the insane allegations that Mommy is an agent of Mossad will soften the blow, either.

I do not want…

…your fucking shirt.

Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes – Harry Nilsson

No, he wasn’t talking about the cacophony emanating from the human race but the lyrics really suit the mood of the day regarding cacophony.  With the pain of the mass murder of the great minds at Charlie Hebdo still fresh, condemnation freely flows.  A good amount of it is justifiable.  From our perspective, no one has the right to silence another because the message may be unsavory.  We have a right to argue.  We have a right to disagree.  We have a right to ignore.  We have no right to kill another human being because we find their particular message distasteful or blasphemous.  This seems to be lost among many (regardless of preferred religion).

Along with the justifiable outrage, sheer terror and tremendous heartbreak, now we get to wade through the sea of bigotry because this is what happens when a subset of a particular group behaves horrendously.  The few become the sole representation of the many and unfairly so.  Being a religious minority myself, I certainly appreciate that special feeling of mortification and understand the dread in anticipation of the backlash.  Each time Israel blunders, I steel myself for the hate speech and look at the computer monitor through splayed fingers with a turning stomach and legs that feel like lead.  Today, tomorrow and, potentially, the following day, decent Muslims will be attacked by the ignorant masses who presume that bad apples represent an entire belief system.  It’s shameful and disgusting.  It’s why so many people looked at Australia with wonder in middle-December when they responded to an attack with love instead of hate via I’ll Ride with You.  The rest of the world seems completely incapable of doing that.  It’s why I have a tendency to get a bit twitchy and bitchy when I hear people say :insert random demographic here: are dangerous/evil/vile/must be wiped off the planet.  It’s why I won’t allow others to besmirch what they do not know or understand – at least in my presence.  It’s very easy to look at something, form an opinion and stick to it when you lack basic facts and knowledge, especially when everyone else appears to be doing the same.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that is the very definition of prejudice.   Oh…and you thought you were so very evolved and enlightened, didn’t you?

Alas, this isn’t a tentacle wag at the bigots.  This is actually something a bit different.  The above is actually a rambling aside.

I freely admit that I spent a large portion of my time in my 20s in a drunken stupor or stoned (possibly).  If you’re unmarried, childless, gainfully employed and unencumbered by any other responsibility, your 20s are the appropriate time for fucking around and fuck around I did.  That said, for as drunk as I was, I don’t recall the world being as barking mad as it appears to be today.  Could it have been because I spent ½ of my 20s living outside of the Bible Belt where religion was just one of those things that was a part of life and not the sole point of life?  I really don’t think so.  I lived in predominantly Catholic Western Pennsylvania, went to a state university and for the life of me, I don’t recall the cafeteria feeding us meat on Friday.  It was fish.  Every Friday in Western Pennsylvania was fish and mac and cheese day.  Yet, no one was hounding me to surrender my faith.  Those who even bothered to ask really didn’t care that I wasn’t one of them.  Oh, and I really loved fish and mac and cheese day, too.

Religion didn’t really become an issue for me until I moved to the Bible Belt.  Since then, I have had the joy of experiencing discrimination at every single job I have had.  It’s not pleasant.  But what’s really unpleasant, what’s really the catalyst behind my picking up my ball and going home (reevaluating my entire position on religion, in general) is the incessant attempts at evangelization.  Yes.  I understand that certain groups have instructions to go forth and seed.  And, yes, I have tried to be patient and respectful of this but a person can only stomach so much before it becomes offensive.

As I see it, religion and attempts to shift someone away from their existing ideology to the ideology of another is just madness.  And it’s presumptuous, rude and in very poor taste.  Think about this scenario:

You’re out and about doing whatever it is that you do and someone walks up to you with a shirt in their hands.  They see that you’re already wearing a shirt but that doesn’t really matter to them.  That person thinks their shirt is better than the shirt you’re currently wearing.  They say “Look.  I have a shirt for you.  I think you need to put it on right now.  This very minute, to be exact.”  You tilt your head in confusion.  You point to your shirt.  You tell them that you’re already wearing a shirt that you quite like.  Yet, the person you’re speaking to is neither listening nor caring about the words coming out of your mouth.  Instead, they say “NO.  You must wear THIS shirt.  This shirt.  Right here in my hands.  Wear it.  Wear it now.”  Again, you look at your shirt and the slightly deranged person talking to you and you say “Allow me to iterate, I have a shirt.  I’m wearing a shirt.  It is a comfortable shirt.  No thank you.”  Still in denial, they thrust the shirt in your face and adamantly exclaim “But MY shirt is better than YOUR shirt.  It will save you!”  “Save me?  Save me from what?” you ask “Is it made of Kevlar and thus bullet proof?”  The shirt bearer stares at you like you’re crazy and says “No.”  You ask “Is it impregnated with some sort of anti-bacterial and/or anti-viral substance that will keep me immune from all disease?”  Shirt bearer shakes head no.  “In the event that I’m standing atop a very high building, near the ledge, and someone decides to shove me, will a parachute deploy and will I float safely to the ground?”  The shirt bearer, again, responds “No.”  You follow with “Ok.  Given that there is zero evidence that this particular shirt will save me from three imminent threats (or three terrible traps, three terrible traps, three terrible traps – so terrible!), please tell me how and why you think this shirt can save me.”

Marginally flummoxed, the shirt bearer responds in the only manner they can “Well, it’s because that is what I believe.”  You, finding this data insufficient, tell the person that you disagree with them which prompts the de rigueur “But then you will go to hell.”  Not one to pass up the opportunity to scramble brains, you say “Well, the joke is on you.  I don’t believe hell exists.”  Completely exasperated, the shirt bearer hollers “PUT ON THIS SHIRT!”  You calmly say “Please take your shirt and leave.”  “MY SHIRT IS BETTER THAN YOUR SHIRT!  I WILL NOT BE DENIED” howls the shirt bearer.  You repeat “Please take your shirt and leave.”  “WHY WON’T YOU WEAR MY FUCKING SHIRT?”  Losing patience, you testily snap “Please take your shirt and your very un-pious self and go away.”  “I HATE YOU.  I WILL ONLY LIKE YOU IF YOU WEAR THIS SHIRT. “  Again, “Please take your shirt and leave.”  Shirt bearer snarls “YOU ARE A VILE HUMAN BEING AND I’M GOING TO SPEW HATEFUL WORDS AT YOU, YOU BLASPHEMOUS, SINFUL PIG!”

In that scenario – do you want to put on that shirt?  Do you want to spend time with that shirt bearing freak?  NO.  And now you understand why many of us are growing tired of religion, in general?  Is the popularity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster starting to make sense?

Within the first few months of living in North Carolina, a colleague asked me out to lunch.  I was excited as I thought “Hey!  Friend making time!  Hooray!!!”  And, since we know how much I love putting myself out there and trying to make friends, this was a pretty big deal to me.  On our way to lunch, she played Christian rock which I found peculiar but kept my mouth shut.  At lunch, she openly prayed before eating.  Again, for someone not from the Bible Belt – different but something I was going to have to accept as the cultural norm.  Then she proceeds to talk to me about religion.  She expresses her grave concern for my soul since Jesus is not my savior.  She is very worried that I’m going to hell; so worried that she invited me to lunch to talk to me about where I was going astray.  All I could do was look at her, smile and say “I’m not concerned about hell.  I know you’re praying for me and that should take care of it.”  We never went to lunch together again.

Mind you, all of this isn’t meant as an indictment of Christianity.  Like every family has its crazy relative, each religion has its crazy zealots who taint the rest of the followers.  Each religion has its own issues with thinking it’s the only path (towards what…who the fuck really knows).  Each religion sits in judgment of the next.  Shit – each religion judges itself.  I spent one Rosh Hashanah listening to a Rabbi drone on forever about how horrible the Hasidim are towards those who are less orthodox.  The Rabbi condemned someone in our own faith for condemning us.  It was one of the most fucked up experiences I have ever had.  I wanted to walk out of synagogue but I was too afraid that the Almighty above would smite me for leaving temple in the middle of a High Holy Day.  And don’t even get me started on how fucked up being afraid of something that may or may not exist is.  My attempts to reconcile that one over the past 18 years have proven unsuccessful.

And this is why I sit with a very fatigued brain and heart and wonder if any of this is worth it.  Aside from some inner peace which could, theoretically, be obtained through various other methods, what is humanity getting out of this whole religion thing?  War.  Discrimination.  Murder.  Death.  Women being treated as chattel or worse.  On a good day, we’re lucky if someone is simply offended by hearing their religion used as a verb, it seems.  That’s not sufficient enough for me.  Not anymore.

There are many things I think humans are not capable of handling responsibly, as collectively, we all do a wonderful job of dropping the ball and screwing things up.  I’m starting to wonder if religion is one of those things.  Have we bastardized the whole concept to the point where it is more detrimental than beneficial?  Is religion simply an outmoded technology (a series of laws before there were actual governments)?  I  genuinely do not know.  What I do know is this – I cannot bear another yesterday.  I don’t want to raise my child in a world where yesterdays are not only possible but normal.

THANK GOD (A Reclamation Project)

So much to be thankful for,
That’s why I say it, nothing more,
No bearded man up in the sky,
No entity, no reason why,
No dogma, no theology,
Just thankful’s a good way to be,
So no,
I do not find it odd,
If now and then I say thank God,
There’s so much to be thankful for,
That’s why I say it,
Nothing more.

If you don’t get just what I say,
Let me put it another way,
Just because I don’t believe in God,
Does not mean I’m not humbled and awed,
By the great whole wide world we share,
By wonders I see everywhere,
It’s natural that me and you,
Want something to be thankful to,
So we made it up, we made a name,
A symbol there to love or blame.

But I like the word, I think it’s nice,
A sound literary device,
No spirit, no nor entity,
The word God is just you and me,
Represents all that we can be,
Our collective thoughts and energy,
No church, no heaven; all that’s absurd,
And truly just pollutes the word,
The word God should mean so much more,
Should show what we’re all thankful for.

God is not good, God is not great,
Got is not angry or irate,
And if you think, I’m sure you’ll find,
God only exists in your mind,
No need to confess or pray,
Just learn to think another way,
Accept who you are and how you’ve been,
There is no original sin,
God is a word, and nothing more,
To show what we’re all thankful for.