Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Judaism

My Once A Year Jewish Rant

Today, I’m going to take this time to explore some Jewish-related subjects that I’m in the mood to rant about to you, my Jewish and non-Jewish friends.  I’m not sure why it occurred to me to write this today.  Maybe it was the bagels and lox I had for breakfast.

I’m usually much of a ranter.   I don’t have too many hang-ups over religion.   I’m not overly-touchy about Israel.   I don’t see anti-Semitism in every joke.  That would make me hypocritical, especially since I spend a good deal of my day making jokes about Catholics and Mormons.  We all have our own ethnic and religious prides and foibles, and the great thing about America is that we can freely express it.

It’s pretty clear that I am a Jewish guy, right?  So, I think it might be interesting to you to hear what I think about some of the following topics.  And if you disagree with anything I say, don’t be afraid to say it.

1) Merry Christmas – Happy Holidays

christmasandhannukah

Remember me?  The guy who throws the online Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa concert every year?  I like all holidays. Maybe next year, we can throw in a Muslim holiday into the concert mix as well! I’m all for inclusiveness.   However, every year, I find myself in the middle of the same boring argument — should Christians say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?”  Some are adamant that America is really a “Christian” nation and are upset that outsiders are undermining the sacredness of this three month consumer bonanza we call “Christmas.”  Naturally, the haters always come out to play.  And we all know who are the biggest kvetchers about Christmas, right?  The Jews.  First Jesus, now Christmas.  What spoilers!

Here’s my take.  If you live in a big city were there are many religions and minorities, you should be able to make a big public display of your holiday.  There are plenty of those not celebrating your holiday, so we don’t feel bad.  We go for Chinese food.  Everyone loves Christmas trees.  However, if you live in a small town in mid-America where there is only one Jewish and one Muslim family, it probably would be nice if you went OUT OF YOUR WAY to make the outsiders feel comfortable, which means stop pushing for nativity scenes outside of the public library and city hall!  Who wants to be told “It’s a Christian nation” right to your face? It isn’t polite.

2) Israel and Gaza

gaza

Is God playing a joke on the Jews with Israel?  What a pain in the ass this country is! And have you ever tried to date an Israeli woman.  Talk about tough!  Israel is a tough subject for liberal Jews to talk about in public.  I have no problem with it.  During the recent election, I found it extremely annoying how the McCain campaign was trying to appeal to American Jews by creating “Obama is a Muslim” fear, as if we were a bunch of idiots.  Jews go to college.  We’re not that stupid.  On the other hand, I don’t find much of the progressive community a big fan of Israel, since these good-hearted souls prefer to side with the underdog, and not the American-allied bully.  And who can honestly root for a country that bombs poverty-stricken innocent women and children in their mosques and schools?

So what is a liberal Jew supposed to do?

I’ll never forget when some columnist wrote a post on the BlogHer political site advocating shipping all Jews from Israel to some place in Siberia, which would help defuse the problem in the Middle East, and friends of mine, normally outspoken political women, were protecting this writer, saying, “Well, perhaps it is an issue we should discuss.”  Maybe conservatives are right about liberals being the Jewish people’s worst friends!  My mother went to Boca Raton to escape the cold.  No Jew WANTS to move to Siberia!

Some of my favorite progressive bloggers, especially the ones in Europe, were very angry over the recent fighting in Gaza.  Many Europeans dislike the Israeli government, and think the American media is controlled by the pro-Israeli propaganda machine.  Two bloggers I know wrote pieces demanding that Israel be held for war crimes for the murder of innocent children.  On one of the posts, the word HAMAS was never used once. The scenario in Gaza was presented as “Israeli occupiers vs. people of Gaza.”

“What happened to the real bad guys in the story?” I commented.

Talk about propaganda!  While I was worried that I was losing my liberal credentials by bringing this up, it bugged me that someone could complain about slanted views, and substitute it with another man’s propaganda!   Wasn’t Hamas shipping in increasingly powerful weapons and hiding them in schools and mosques AND purposely endangering innocent victims for their own purposes?   What the hell was Hamas doing (with Iran’s help) by sacrificing their innocents for power and ideology?  Shouldn’t THEY be put up for war crimes?  The deaths of so many innocents is shameful, and it angers me that so many excuse the actions of Hamas as if they a local boy scout troup.

Sometimes I think the best thing for the Palestinians to do is to accept that they lost the endless war and start to figure out a way to live peacefully with their strong victors, like Japan did after World War II. Forget talking about 1948 and 1967.   Much of the Arab world likes to keep the Palestinians angry and in poverty, so they can keep them as a symbolic thorn in Israel’s side, and control their own corrupt governments.  HAMAS needs to accept Israel already, stop throwing bricks at the big bully’s head, and start asking their Arab brothers to help build some nice hotels by the Ocean and trying to really compete with Israel by offering better vacation packages.

But no one progressive would ever say that.

3) Beautiful Barcelona

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January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember the victims of the Holocaust.  This date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

As I mentioned, Europeans were very angry over the recent fighting in Gaza.  And many European cities have large Muslim populations that are a growing political power.  Because the local Barcelona media had run stories comparing the Israeli stance on the situation in the Strip to Nazi atrocities, the Catalunya government called off the city’s public memorial service.  This was to be the only public event marking the day, and was scheduled to take place in Barcelona’s central piazza.

“Marking the Jewish Holocaust while a Palestinian Holocaust is taking place is not right,” a local City official told Barcelona’s La Vanguardia newspaper.

Despite my love for the beautiful city of Barcelona, I found this quite disturbing.   Even if one is upset over Israel’s actions, why exactly is this the fault of those exterminated in Nazi death camps?  They don’t live in Israel.  They’re already dead.  If the Barcelona government was more logical, they would CELEBRATE this occasion, because if these six million would survived, there is a strong chance that THEY would be living in Israel themselves, as well as their children and grand-children, and the Israeli population would be three times as large, and Israel would even have a larger army in which to go into Gaza!  So next year, rather than pooh-poohing the holiday, I say free Tapas in Barcelona for everyone!

4) 1/3 of all Europeans

berniemadoff

A week after the Bernie Madoff scandal broke, I was having coffee with my friend Barry.  We were discussing the amazing hubris of this guy.  How could he pull this off?

“There’s one thing that is cool about this country,” I said.   “Bernie Madoff is clearly Jewish and his victims were wealthy Jews, but Americans never say things like, “Oh, the Jews, they’re always ripping people off.   All they care about is money.”

My friend laughed and said, “In Queens, they don’t, but believe me. they’re are doing it everywhere else.”

Call me naive, but I would assume most of those old stereotypes have died already in a country with an African-American President.  That’s why it is good to have Europe around for some of that old-fashioned anti-Semitism.  Good ol’ Europe — home of the Crusades, the Inquisition, forced conversion, and the Holocaust.  Even when most of the Jews are killed off, it is still the fault of the Jews… especially during economic downturns.   It has to be someone’s fault, right?

The Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday that a survey it commissioned found nearly a third of Europeans polled blame Jews for the global economic meltdown and that a greater number think Jews have too much power in the business world.   In Spain, 74 percent of those asked say they feel that Jews hold too much sway over the global financial markets.  That is the highest percentage in the survey.  Nearly two-thirds of Spanish respondents said Jews were also more loyal to Israel than they were to their home countries.

Did I ever tell you that Sophia and I honeymooned in Spain?  We loved it, except for the fact that it was almost impossible to find anything to eat that wasn’t made from the pig!  Hmmm…

5) Circumcision

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Can you believe that until I read this post on Her Bad Mother, I didn’t know that circumcision was such a big issue and that there are many ANGRY over it?!   I know that Americans tend to be circumcised more readily than Europeans (uh-oh, I can feel the American Jewish doctors having a hand in this… more trouble), and that it is considered unnecessary to many.  But what is the big deal?  I say, if you don’t want your son to get circumcized, don’t do it.  Who cares?  I don’t remember any discussion in the locker room between circumcised and uncircumcised men, or any laughing and pointing.  They are just penises.

But the fact is that circumcision is a big deal in Judaism.   It is probably one of the oldest traditions in the book, a symbol of the convenant between God and his people.   Jews have been doing it a long time without much trauma (unless research shows that circumcision is the cause of our neurotic behavior, but how would we then explain the neurotic Jewish women?).

Her Bad Mother’s post was intelligent and well-reasoned about her personal decision not to have her son circumcised, but if you do some googling on the subject, you find some scary stuff, and not just from crazy people, but from seemingly “loving” people who care about their children.   Circumcision is called “primitive” and “barbaric” and “genital mutation.”  It “destroys a man’s sexual pleasure” and “torments” the baby and should be “made illegal!”  WTF are we talking about?  Jack Bauer’s interrogation techniques on “24?”

Even if a person did have these beliefs about circumcision, I would think it impolite to blast a tradition so integral to another religion — in public!  There are all sorts of weird rites and rituals that occur around the world, and we appreciate them as part of some other culture.  Do people really want to make the bris illegal?  Would the same person feel as comfortable saying that wearing a burka should be made illegal?  Can you really compare the bris to female genital mutilation?

The whole issue sort of amused me.   Have you ever been to a bris?  The ceremony is done quickly, and then everyone eats a lot of food.  The only thing barbaric about the event is the amount of cholesterol in traditional Jewish food and the overly-sweet taste of the kosher wine.

Danny told me that he once wrote a post about the Jewish bris on the Huffington Post, and it received so many anti-Semitic comments that they had to remove the post from the Huffington Post.

Here is Danny’s post
, which is on his own blog, Jew Eat Yet.

This was his reaction after taking the post off the Huffington Post. And remember — the Huffington Post readership is a progressive one, believers in freedom of speech and religion.

Last Friday I posted my piece about circumcision which was mostly a family reminiscence based on an old discovered film I saw of my 1959 bris. I added a few comments about the people who oppose circumcision and I adopted an over-the-top and I thought humorous tone of intransigence about Kendall’s ambivalence towards the procedure. When I first saw my post zooming to the “Top Posts” list on Huffington, a way they have to track the most-read pieces, and the comments started pouring in fast and furious, I was excited that my post was generating such controversy. But I was unprepared for the level of hysteria that the “anti-circ” people would unleash, some of it accompanied by blatant anti-Semitism. Never in a million years did I mean to imply that circumcising your male child was the “right” thing to do, I was just sharing my own very personal feelings on the subject, all the while saying that this anti-circumcision group makes some valid points (which I still feel they muck up by resorting to outrageous hyperbole and propaganda).

I thought I had a very tough skin when it came to people sharing opposing views but I am not used to the level of personal attacks I received on the Huffington Post. Here is a sampling:

—Pull your head out of your egotistical Jewish ass.

—Let’s make a movie…at least this time it will have sound to preserve your pompous Jewish pontification (or should I say rabbification?).

—Your wife has a better sense of what a woman wants a penis partner to look like. Unless you’re planning to raise a gay son.

—Would you think the same thing if all male babies had to have their ears cut off at birth? Let’s dress up and make a fucking ritual of it and have a party with covered dishes!

—This last bit of animal sacrifice needs to end no matter the sentimental charm it has over older Jews.

—While you’re at it, Danny, you should really think about having all your children’s fingernails removed. After all, they are unnecessary in the evolutionary sense.

—YOU are the reason there are self-hating Jews, asshole. Your son would have every reason to hate you for being a coward.

—I demand that you CUT YOUR SON’S PENIS YOURSELF. See if THAT brings you closer to God!

—Fascism comes in all forms and degrees…you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

—Is this “mark” kind of like that yellow star the Nazis had all Jews sew on their clothes during WW2? They tried tattoos, too. How did those work out?

—Kendall, don’t damage and risk your child’s life by allowing some idiot to chop off the most sexually pleasurable part of his penis. Chop off that idiot you married instead, and do it before you get pregnant. Find a human being for a father for your children and replace this monster.

—Being Jewish and circumcised is no excuse for the kind of abusive behavior Miller exhibits. Many Jews are humane, decent people. This bozo is a disgrace to the good name of Judaism.

—Circumcising infants is a Satanic blood ritual. That is the only possible explanation for the persistence of this heinous evil. Human beings are not this evil. Only Satan himself is. All children circumcised are severely injured for life.

All I can say is that I am blessed with my friendly readership. You seem to like me, despite my circumcised Jewish talking penis.

Yom Kippur 2008

I take Yom Kippur seriously. Well, somewhat. I’m not going to synagogue this year, but I will fast most of the day. Am I religious? Not really. But unlike the other Jewish holidays, which revolve around food and family, this one is serious and solemn, and that makes me a little scared and anxious.

I kinda like that. You can feel the AWE.

On Yom Kippur, it’s as if the entire world is on your shoulders. The way I see it, on Christmas, Santa Claus may not give you a good toy if you were a bad boy. On Yom Kippur, God might just stick you with a really crappy year for the same reason.

From Wikipedia:

Yom Kippur (Hebrew: יוֹם כִּפּוּר‎, IPA: [ˈjɔm kiˈpur]), also known in English as the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn and important of the Jewish holidays. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.

Yom Kippur is the tenth and final day of the Ten Days of Repentance which begin with Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a “book” on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Ten Days of Repentance, a Jew tries to amend his behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against his fellow man (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers himself absolved by God.

There has been debates FOREVER about the real meaning of this “book of life” and how God seals your verdict. Does God really decide who will live and who will die? What about free will? And during the service, why does every ask for repetenace for sins they didn’t even do – like murder and robbery? Are we responsible for everyone’s sins? And the biggest question of them all — why do bad things happen to good people?

Recently, I chatted with a blogger who is very into “the Secret.” She believes that we attract good things through positive thought. So, I asked her what the Secret said about bad things.

“What if you get hit by a bus?” I asked. “Are you attracting the bus to hit you?”

“In a way you are.”

“Why would you WANT to be hit by a bus?”

“Maybe there is some larger reason you don’t know about.”

I find that nonsense.

Last year, Kyran from “Notes to Self” wrote an interesting post about The Secret after she viewed the DVD. Even though she saw some merit in positive thinking, she came away with the same conclusion about using The Secret on a day to day basis:

What does The Secret have to say about all the bright and hope-filled children in the world who suffer?

Judaism is not The Secret, as much as Madonna might think so. The Secret is mostly about achieving personal success. Judasim is a covenant with God. But both have the same problem that all religions do –explaining the randomness of life, and all the bad stuff that happens in it.

That said, I am too afraid of ignoring Yom Kippur completely. Just in case.

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

The following song about Elijah the Prophet by the Moshav Band is probably more suitable for Passover than Yom Kippur, but even on this holiest of days, it is still my blog, and I can do what I want.

Neilochka’s Return: I Am a Blogging Rockstar

Today was the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av.  It isn’t a holiday that most American Jews celebrate, probably because it is the saddest holiday of the Jewish calendar, and it occurs in the middle of the summer when the sun is shining and the beaches are open.   Jews have never been good at scheduling.

It is a day of fasting, one of mourning for the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, as well as all the awful things that have befallen the Jewish people.  And there are a lot of them.  The Book of Lamentations is read in temple.   In Sephardic communities, it is customary to read the Book of Job.

At first, I forgot it was Tisha B’Av.  That is, until I took a walk to Main Street to get a bagel, and discovered that the kosher bagel store closed.  This section of Main Street has a sizeable Orthodox population.  I immediately noticed a group of Orthodox men, looking somber in their black coats, walking to temple.  They passed the public library.  In front of the library were laughing kids playing “tag.”  They were shouting and chasing after each other, the energy of childhood in the air.

“You’re it!  You’re it.” one kid screamed and laughed.

It was quite a contrast — the somber men in black hats on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar and the joyous, wild children playing their game.

Online, my virtual life occurs at breakneck speeds, much faster than the ones I notice on Main Street.  It is impossible for me to see contrasts that rush by on my monitor.  My brain cannot work that fast.  On Twitter, I follow “friends,” each reporting on their fast-paced lives in a chaotic mess of the sublime and the repetitive. 

Last week, a blogger “twittered” that his sister had just died.  A few responded with condolences, but within seconds, a new thread was growing on the subject of “Do You Think You Can Dance?”  In a nanosecond, we all switched gears, onto the new topic, and the death of this woman was knocked off the page, into the unseen digital archives.

Unlike the visual contrast of the mourning Orthodox Jews and the playing kids, both human beings expressing the flip sides of  daily life — sad and happy — there is little to grab onto in a virtual world.  There are just bits of information, equally important and equally irrelevant.

When I see the rate of data flow online, it occurs to me that one day, my final moments will be announced on Twitter, and it will last about ten seconds before the subject matter is changed.  That’s a depressing thought.  Am I so inconsequential, another minor subject equal in value to someone’s lunch or the latest category on Alltop?

Megan of the Velveteen Mind wrote an interesting post last week about “blogging rockstars.”  She suggests that this is a silly concept — we are all regular folk, writing in our underwear, from Dooce to the newbie.  I’d like to approach this subject in another way.  Rather than dragging the Dooces of the world to the level of the guy in his underwear eating Cheerios from the box, why not say everyone has potential rockstar talent just like Dooce?   I know, it sounds like bullshit, but isn’t that the point of the whole bloggers’ interview experiment?   If you end up being a blip on Twitter as your final moments scroll off the page — and it will happen that way — why not make believe that you are a rockstar while you are here? 

I am a rockstar.  I don’t need anyone to tell me that I am.  I write.  Perfect.  I wouldn’t be able to write a word if I didn’t think — deep in my heart — that I had something special to say.  Why bother writing then?  I could be jumping rope or watching porn!  So, instead, I write this blog, making believe that I am a blogging rockstar.   And if you tell me that you’re a rockstar, I will think of you as one, too.

Letter to Paris #2

Dear Tara,

As I sign of peace in a political world, I will not link to articles that insinuate that Islam is a religion of violence, because that is something I strongly detest when I see it written by conservatives.   How about you refrain from linking to articles that state that “the Jewish fundamentalist belief of being God’s chosen people has allowed Israel to believe it can do as it will?”

As I wrote in your comments:

“While I believe the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world bear much of the responsibility for the problems in the middle east — along with Israel — and I particularly blame Iran for arming Hezbollah to the teeth in this current conflict (they sent off a drone today that neared Tel Aviv), I would never say that Arab violence comes out of the religion of Islam.

So, I hope you will agree with me that the statement that the central Jewish concept of “the chosen people” means they can “do as they will” is completely horrendous, and a total misinterpretation of what it is about — moral duty, not superiority. The concept of the chosen people is completely bound to the idea of keeping the commandments that bring a people closer to God. For a journalist to use the “chosen people” line as an explanation for Israel’s entry into Lebanon smacks of the most abhorent anti-Semitism.

If Jews really believe that they were chosen as a ‘superior’ people who can do as they will, they would be the most stupid people that ever existed, especially after being driven from their homeland, forced to wander the world for centuries, made to live like second class citizens, tortured, and murdered by both Muslim and Christian. What luck to be so chosen!”

Heaven or Hell

heavenhell5.jpg
(artwork by Rob Stinogle)

I’m sitting in my local coffee shop and I see that they have some Halloween decorations up already, including a paper cut-out ghost.   

It makes me think of my father, who passed away a few weeks ago.

Not in a scary or eerie way.  If he were to become a ghost, he wouldn’t be a scary one.  He might be a nagging ghost, but not a scary one.   

Whatever.

The paper ghost makes me think about the spirit world and whether it really exists.

I should start out by saying that I don’t really believe in ghosts or spirits or even souls.  I have a pretty scientific outlook on life.  It’s very nice when people say to me that "your father is looking down on you."  I smile and appreciate their kind words.  But I don’t buy it.  To me, believing that is akin to teaching Creationism in school.

heavenhell.jpg

One thing I realize is that most of my images of heaven and hell are colored by Christian thought.  You know, Angels with Wings vs. Dante’s Inferno.  

I think Judaism cleverly plays it dumb by not offering a very clear picture of the afterlife.   Maybe that’s why it’s traditional to rush the body into burial:  so nobody asks the rabbi any tough questions.  
 
Are there any knowledgeable Jews out there who can paint a clear picture of the Jewish afterlife?  What is a Jewish heaven?  Is there a Jewish hell?  Or is the Jewish hell being stuck in heaven for eternity with all of your relatives?

The traditional heaven/hell split is completely unappealing to me.  In Hell, there is suffering and pain — so there must be some sort of sensory feeling.  So, why not some sensory feeling in heaven?   Angels just seem to fly back and forth like Jet Blue flights between JFK and Long Beach.  Without the body, there’s no food, dancing, or sex — all the good stuff.

heaven2.jpg

Who the hell wants to go to heaven?  It sounds more dull than a vacation in Albuquerque.

Sure, your soul is still there.  You can think and ponder great thoughts.   Oh great, it sounds just like being in fucking grad school again.  Who wants that?  And do you at least  get weekends off to go to some keg parties in Hell?  That’s probably where all the hot girls end up anyway.

hell2.jpg

OK, back to my father.  I guess I’m just like other Jews throughout history — avoiding the afterlife issue by talking about all sorts of other things.  How do you think Jews became such good lawyers?

Hi, Dad.  (that is, if they let you read blogs up there.  But wait a minute, you don’t know how to use a computer.  Mom always printed it out for you at work.   And I’m assuming they all have Macs in heaven, right?)  

C’mon, God.  Loosen up a bit.  Don’t make heaven such a drag.  Give the deceased some fun.  I know I’m going to be depressed when I go  — no more pizza, naked women, or reruns of "The Jeffersons." 

And those heavenly robes — I do not look good in white.

Man in the Mirror

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Every Friday night, a group of Jewish men meet in the apartment building I grew up in and greet the Sabbath.  Most of the men are older or find it difficult to travel to a temple.  Traditionally, you need ten men to form a “minyan,” the group that prays together.  In Judaism, praying in a group during Shabbat is considered more important than praying alone (sorry ladies, traditional Judaism doesn’t count women as part of the minyan). 

I’m not very religious and don’t go to temple very often, but I was honored to be asked to join the minyan for the night.  The leader of the group said it would be a good opportunity for me to say “Kaddish,” the traditional prayer said for the deceased.   I can read Hebrew and know the prayer, but I’ve never stood in front of a group of religious men and said Kaddish out loud in honor of my father.  It was an experience as powerful as my bar mitzvah.   The ancient text praising G-d really leapt off the page for me.  During the service, Kaddish is said three times.  During the first time, my voice was uncertain and croaky, so the leader said the prayer along with me.  But by the last reading, I found my confidence and read it in a strong voice.

When I returned to my apartment, I felt nervous energy coming from my mother and Sophia.  My mother was going through a pile of my father’s paperwork.    He was a real “paper saver” who kept bills and receipts from decades ago.   I showed my mother how to use the shredder I bought my father last year, something he never even plugged in.

Sophia was involved in another matter – our trip home.  When we learned that those so-called “bereavement fares” were a joke (and cost more than the regular fares), we used our American Airlines frequent flier miles to come to New York.    Earlier that day, we learned that if we wanted to, we could make a multi-day stopover anywhere in the continental U.S. on the way back.   Sophia said we could use a few days of rest after the last few weeks of stress and sorrow.  We asked my mother to come along wherever we went, but she wanted to go back to work.   I went through my list of bloggers, thinking whom to visit, but we decided on Albuquerque because I saw that they are having a world-famous International Balloon Festival next week.   We booked the flight, but then we realized the most of the hotels were already filled.  So, when I came back from services, Sophia was all frustrated from trying to find a hotel.   She asked for my help, but I told her I was exhausted.   The week’s tensions were finally hitting me.  Until now, we had all been too busy to feel tired.   From the minute we arrived in New York, it’s been visits to the hospital, arranging for the funeral, and sitting shiva.  I felt my body collapsing and went to my parents’ room and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up in the same bed.  Sophia was sleeping next to me.  My mother was asleep in the living room.   It was pretty early in the morning, but the New York City Sanitation trucks were already rolling outside.   I had a morning hard-on.   I moved against Sophia and she told me to get lost.  “We’re separated, remember?”  Besides, she was up half the night looking for hotels in Albuquerque and was upset that I woke her up.   I went to take a shower.

I turned on the water and stepped inside the shower stall.  It was nice to feel the water against my back.  I’d been so tense.  Still hard, I started playing with myself.   I looked down at my penis and laughed — I remembered being in the exact same spot doing the exact same thing when I was fifteen years old.   Maybe I was just too tired from the last two weeks, but for some reason, after a few minutes, I lost interest in what I was doing.  That would never have happened to me when I was fifteen.

I stepped out of the shower and dried myself off.    Through the closed door, I could hear that my mother was now up.    I could hear the grinding of the shredder ripping up my father’s receipts from 1995.  I could hear that Sophia was now awake also.  I could hear her watching the “Alias” episode that she had taped on my my mother’s ancient VCR.   Well, for a minute, at least.  Then I could hear her telling my mother off for switching channels and taping a Food Channel show and the cable menu instead.

With my cock still up, I couldn’t leave the bathroom… just yet.  I wiped the “fog” from the bathroom mirror and looked at myself standing there.    While we were sitting shiva, we had covered all the mirrors — as is traditional.  Now that the mourning period was over, was my father looking down at me now from heaven?   Do I even believe in that stuff?  And if he is, couldn’t the same be said for my Grandma and my late Aunt Ruthie?  Jeez, are all of my deceased relatives seeing me now with an erection?  How embarrassing. 

But It didn’t seem weird at all to think of my father as I looked at my penis.  After all, the male circumcision is what bonds the Jewish male to the Jewish people.   I remember when I was a little kid, I used to take a shower with my father.  I remember looking forward to the day when I could have hair on my chest and a man’s penis hanging there, not a boy’s penis.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that, as the only son, I’m now the “man of the family.”  But what does that mean?   My father was so much more of a “man” when he was my age.  He had a steady job, a steady marriage, and a son. 

“You have none of these.” I thought I heard my penis say to me.

“You’re right,” I said.   

"You know it’s Rosh Hashana in a few days," my penis continued.

"I do."

"The Jewish New Year is the ideal time to make changes in your life.   You can start to become the man you want to be."

My wants as a man have so far been pretty simple so far:  good Chinese food, the open thighs of a woman, and a subscription to HBO.   Maybe it was time to become as accomplished a man as my father.  To know what it actually means to be a man.

"You stood up and said Kaddish at the minyan.  That’s a good start." said my penis, being encouraging. 

"Thank you," I told my friend.

Sophia knocked on the door.

“Hurry up, Neilochka.  I need to use the bathroom.  And… who are you talking to anyway?”

Want to Join the Tribe?

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(Hanukah Lamp, Manfred Anson, 1986)

Jews are comfortable in America, maybe too comfortable.  With a large percentage of Jews intermarrying and a low Jewish birthrate, there’s been a drop from 4 percent to 2 percent of the general American population in the last fifty years. 

Is there a way to stop this demographic decline?

New York Times columnist William Safire has the answer.  In a speech in Jerusalem, he said American Jews should do to Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and Muslims what they’ve been trying to do to us Jews for thousands of years — convert them.

It’s not a bad idea.  I always thought Jews were too wimpy in promoting their own religion.  So, as a service to my fellow Jews, let me do my small part by trying to convert you, my non-Jewish reader:

Being Jewish is cool.  I’ve enjoyed it my entire life.  I went to Hebrew School.  I got bar mitzvahed.  I had a great Jewish wedding ceremony, complete with klezmer band.  I like temple… sometimes.  I don’t even miss not celebrating Christmas. There’s no law that says I can’t sing "The Little Drummer Boy" with my non-Jewish friends or even with Jewish friends.   The secret is out — Jews love those great Christmas songs.   That’s why Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond made those awful Christmas albums.  You Christians win hands down with Christmas over Hanukkah, but sorry, guys — Passover is better than Easter. 

Jews love food, and there is always a lot of food at a Jewish event.  Jewish woman are smart and funny.   Jews like education.   Jews don’t talk all the time about scary things like "original sin" and "Satan."   Jews have made it through a lot of bad times.  Temples aren’t usually as nifty-looking as cathedrals and churches, but rabbis are usually friendly guys and gals.  While there are many conservative Jews, most Jews don’t spend every moment of the day worrying about abortion and the evils of stem cell research.  One bad thing is that Jews argue a bit too much among themselves.  I even remember two Jewish talent agents  fighting over the same seat in a Beverly Hills synagogue — on Yom Kippur of all times. 

"I’m with CAA!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

The Ten Commandments — ours.   If you love reading, Judaism is for you.  There’s the Torah, the Talmud, the Mishnah —

Think about it, my Christian friends, do you really believe that Jesus was the son of God?  I mean, I respect your religion and all, but c’mon.  Let’s be rational

The only problem with this conversion attempt is that if I’m being rational, which I am, much of this Jewish stuff is as far-fetched as your religion.  In fact, it’s as far-fetched as every other religion on this planet.  

How am I going to convince you to be kosher if I’m not kosher?  How can I sell being Jewish if I’m not sure what it means myself?  Does William Safire really think that American Jews, a mostly secular bunch, are going to be effective spokespeople in converting others? 

The most successful branch of Judaism in converting others is the Orthodox.  After all, they are the most "religious" and confident in their beliefs.  I sincerely doubt that Mr. Safire was addressing Orthodox Jews when he suggested Jews should proselytize.   I think he was probably thinking of someone more like himself, a sophisticated, newly minted Jewish man or woman who could sit with him all morning in a cafe and talk about the latest Op-Ed page.  The Orthodox man is probably too busy working and praying, while the Orthodox woman is too busy taking care of her six children. 

I tried my best.   Next Year in Jerusalem.   If not, maybe we can at least share some bagels and lox while singing carols on Christmas.

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