Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I'll take my religion straight up, with a twist

Commitment to Judaism runs very low in my father's side of the family--it is like a low-grade infection that sometimes causes an outbreak of religion, or Zionism, or both.

My dad believes in the Democratic Party, social justice, good SAT scores, and getting into Ivy League colleges. He once bitterly complained that everyone in his housing complex is a gentile and Republican. I don't know which he minds most. All his friends are atheist Jews like himself.

My older brother, who was raised by my mother, is religiously observant, as is his wife. They are observant in the way that people in Ohio of a certain age are--they try to keep a low profile and look like everybody else. No kippahs and payes in public, please.

They are, however, observant, sent their children to Jewish day schools, keep Kosher, don't answer the phone on Shabbat, etc. They also believe in good SATs but are fine with sending the kids to Ohio State. In fact, going to Ohio State is another tradition deeply honored by this branch. Their three children, however, are not religious at all. The eldest, Sam, is studying Arabic (at Ohio State, of course), and wants to go live in Jordan or Syria to perfect his grasp of that language. The other two, who are girls, have that valley girl thing down pat. My sister-in-law says: "I raised three goyim."

Brother #2, however, is not even slightly religious, nor was his first wife. It was therefore surprising when she asked him, on her deathbed, to make sure that their son had a bar mitzvah.

Wife number 2 is a really nice woman but not one to lose sleep over observance. She is enthusiastic about Judaism in a "Isn't Chanukah fun? Let's have a party!" kind of way. They also sent their children to Jewish day schools, as did all their hip, cool and groovy friends, all Jewish, all progressive as all get-out. They live in California, for God's sake. At wedding #2 (second brother, second wife) we sat with a man who said his aunt had known my stepmother in New York, where they were both members of the same Communist cell. Is that progressive, or what? They share the family commitment to good SAT scores and Ivy League colleges.

However, the son of this family seems to have contracted the Zionist bug. After high school graduation, he spent a year in Israel, and he is active in a Zionist organization (but it's the furthest left one there is, according to his stepmother).

My mother's side of the family have a stronger Jewish commitment. My cousin Bernie is deeply devout and conducts services at the local nursing home every Saturday. His three daughters all married Gentiles and are not raising their children as Jews, which I know he minds, although he never complains. His sister has a son who is very religious, lives in Israel, and has a large family.

Where am I going with this? Bless me if I know. I am certainly a Zionist, but I don't know whether this is from Jewish commitment or from being a rabid right-winger. I am actually kind of the oddball. I not only didn't go to an Ivy League college, I didn't even go to Ohio State, but to some forgettable college no one ever heard of. And I voted for George Bush.

Don't tell the rest of them. I could never live it down.


That Broad said...

Your secret is safe with us, and the rest of the internet of course. :)

dick stanley said...

Every family has at least one oddball.

airforcewife said...

This must be why I like reading you so much. I'm the family weirdo, too. I had to hide for a week and a half after the last election because I was afraid they would send me in for cult deprogramming for voting for a Republican.

Ours is also the only branch of the family that practices our birth religion (we have one convert to Ba'haism that practices).

And we homeschool. I think they use the terms "radical fundamentalists" to describe us.

miriam said...

Afw: You're lucky they leave you at large. I expect them to send the men with the butterfly nets for me any day now.

Anonymous said...

AFW: by any chance, is that practising convert your Russian MIL?
It wouldn't surprise me.