The sticky issue of a beast with two backs

This is a really, really holy time of year, what with Passover and Easter and shit going on all of a sudden.

But as the son of an Irish-Swedish-American-Catholic mother and a Russian/Eastern European-American Jewish father, I have to say, this period of time always leaves me confused.

Do I high-five the Jews for getting their asses out of Egypt? Or do I high-five them for getting rid of that pain in the ass with his anti-clerical message? Or do I take a whole different tack, and high-five Jesus, at the risk of accidentally poking my finger through his stigmata?

Let’s face it. This whole Gentile/Jewish-Jewish/Christian identity divide is very confusing.

So much so that I still wonder if I did the right thing when I clapped during the sentencing scene in The Passion of the Christ. You wouldn’t believe the stares I got.

Boba and Me

Boba and me and the face that has earned such nicknames as ‘schnoz’ and ‘bagel nose.’

Easter should give Christianity the clear advantage in this race to the bottom for my religious holiday affections.

I was dubbed a Catholic when I was a child, and attended Catholic school until I was 13 and learned a valuable lesson. A half-Jew is never quite at home among the gentiles.

One year at Catholic Summer Camp, my cabin decided to lip sync to We Are the World for the talent contest. It was a lot of fun, and it kept us campers occupied while the counselors got stoned and felt each other up behind the commissary building. Frankly, it could have been a contest to see who could stuff the most dead leaves in their mouths before choking. As long as there was contest to show that Cabin Five was the best Cabin of all time, we would be in it to win it.

At casting time, the counselor-in-training had no doubt who would play Bob Dylan in our live-action performance of We are the World.

“It goes to the Jew,” he decreed.

This came to me as a relief, initially. I had fully expected them to give me the Cindi Lauper role, for reasons entirely unrelated to my Jewishness. But I had to complain.

“I’m nothing like Bob Dylan,” I said.

“Then it is settled,” the counselor-in-training said. “The whining, slump-shouldered, hollow-chested Christ-killer will lip synch to the Jew Bob Dylan.”

When I pointed out to the CIT that he was more accurately describing Woody Allen, he told me to shut up, because Woody Allen wasn’t one of the Jews in the original music video. Then a fellow-camper punched me in the stomach. “That’s for Hannah and Her Sisters not being as funny as Broadway Danny Rose,” he said.

Months later, in the school yard, the same counselor-in-training asked everyone who loved Jesus to put their hands up.

“Not you,” he said to me. “Jews don’t love Jesus.”

“Jews for Jesus love Jesus,” I retorted.

Then he punched me in the stomach. “That’s for all the subway trash fires started because of your stupid religious literature,” he said.

By that time, my family and I weren’t Catholic or Jewish or even Jewish for Jesus. We were born again Pentecostal types.

You would think that with all the hours I passed speaking in tongues, and sharing the testimony of how Jesus saved me from the debauchery and sin that had plagued me throughout my 13 year life, my Jesus-loving bona fides would have been indisputable. But they weren’t.

The fact is, my ties to Judaism are severely restricted. I can count them on two fingers because as a Jew, I am naturally gifted with numbers. The first tie is I am Jew by cultural and genetic inheritance And the second tie is I am Jew because I’ve been to Temple. Twice. I’ll never forget the first time because it was the first time I vomited on the Torah while the rabbi held it up for the male members to salute with a kiss.

I must make it easy for people to stereotype me as Jewish. Even a member of my own family made something about it when I visited at Christmas.

Me and grandma

Bubbe and Me. The Jew author (left) celebrates Christmas with his 99-year-old Irish-American Catholic maternal grandmother (to his left).

Although my grandmother is quite cogent for her age, and has been aware of my secret Jewish past at least since her 80s, she brought a whole new level of angst to my identity crisis.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“I love your comedy,” she said.

“Ha ha,” I said. “Because I’m just like Woody Allen, right?”

“Woody Allen? Ah, hell no,” Grandma said. “I was thinking Adam Sandler.”

And here I am months later, pondering my identity, with no clear resolution in sight. The Irish in me just wants a drink. The Jewish in me wants a bit of Matzoh made of gentile babies. And the Swedish in me is  standing like a big dolt, daydreaming about how great it would be to live on a dairy farm in Minnesota in the middle of an everlasting winter.

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