Seriously, when I was young, there was a family next door to me, the Hahns. I don't know who they were outside of just my neighbors, but they celebrated Jewish festivals quite highly. They had a HUGE back yard, and when they celebrated the high holy days, there would be a big crowd of people. Some of them were Rabbis. I had never met a Hasidic Rabbi in my life before these guys, but all I knew was that they were fun people who loved life, and thought kids were pretty cool. They wore black, and had curly things on the side of their head, which at first scared me a bit, but one of them let me touch them and thought I was so wonderful, being curious. Part of their joy was I was the only young kid there. I mean, there were teens there (the Hahn's kids), but they were older teens, and probably blew the whole thing off. The family gave me gelt, explained the dreidel to me, and told me a bit about Jewish history.
In my neighborhood, only about a third of the people I knew were of a pronounced faith. Most were "sorta Christian, I guess." But out of the third that said, "I am bred as..." were about half and half Catholic and Jewish. Now, not to rag on the Catholic kids, but many of the Catholic kids I knew were uptight and angry most of the time. Especially the boys. The Jewish kids were the coolest, though. No Jewish kid ever bullied me, for instance. I never knew a Jewish slut. Not to say bad Jewish kids don't exist, but it seemed if I was to map a "trend" that Jewish kids were pretty smart people who were more focused on the intellectual side. Some used Yiddish, and to this day, I still use a lot of Yiddish words that I think are common knowledge. Like I was watching TV on something with Whitney Houston, and I thought, "For a skiksa, she sure does kvetch. Typical meshugina for a pop star to go into the River Jordan, talking on her cell phone." (For a non-Jewish girl, she sure does complain. Typical craziness for.. all that)
There are a lot of Jewish people in fandom. I know this comes as no shock to fannish people, but I have met and known so many Jewish people, they're like family. Most are pretty modern Jews, but there are a few Orthodox people scattered about. My friend Lori, for instance, is a VERY Orthodox Jew, and all invitation to her family's house includes instructions for not bringing in food like pork, shellfish, and any dish where meat is mixed with cheese. My friend Bruce is pretty Orthodox, too, although not as strict except when it comes to his own personal diet. Even though he's not a rabbi, he could sure pass for one with all his knowledge of Jewish history, law, and just odd facts. I lived with him for a while, and learned how hard it is to eat food out when you have such strict laws. At a wedding a few years ago, he was disdained when the wedding hosts took measures with the caterers to have Kosher food for his Jewish friends, and they did ... but the caterers used the same tongs of everything, and when handing out pork cutlets, they let the juice drip on everything else. Bruce had to wait and eat at a restaurant later. My friend Albedo is also pretty Orthodox, and his parents are the coolest Jewish parents, ever.
Only when I got older did I realize that some people saw Jews as "weird." Even among the Catholics where I grew up, anti-Semitism was unheard of. I don't recall anyone ever saying, "He's Jewish, what a weirdo!" It seemed normal to me. Jewish kids celebrated openly. It seemed that Christmas at school was a mixture of "normal" Christmas with Jewish stuff mixed in. I always saw a menorah around the winter holidays. I recall thinking how cool that was, that the Jewish people had all that history and ritual. I went to three bar mitzvahs, and thanks to Brian and Lori, now one Bris! Temples always seemed so peaceful, like that a church was supposed to be. But it seems as an adult, I meet more people who think Jewish people are stereotypes. If there's one thing I have learned, it's that there is no Jewish stereotype that is true enough to be considered valid. I know many Jews who are no good with money (there aren't many rich fen). If the Jewish people control the media, who can explain Bible Belt rules that still dictate media decorum? And for the big nose/black hair? A girl I grew up with, Julie Pachter, was a redheaded, fair-skinned, green-eyed lass ... and as Jewish as they come. People would have pegged he Irish Catholic, but there she was, on the front page of a local Jewish newspaper, lighting a menorah. I know too many Jews to lump them into any one stereotype.
Sometimes I wonder, as a goya mensch, whether I romanticize it too much. The Jewish people I know are pretty peaceful, but I recall one guy who went "to the Holy Land" how different it was there. "These are not the 'Let's light candles and dance around the menorah' Jews here, but 'Hold my gun while I take a piss' Jews." I am sure many of my Jewish friends, reading this, are going, "Gowan! It's not so great. The food is terrible!" Yeah, but so is Swedish food, for the most part. Even the Swedes stopped eating it. "And the guilt! Such farkatka hkutzpah I put up with when I go home, already! And the Holocaust... hel-LO?" Okay, I don't know anyone who speaks "the Yid" anymore, but I know it may seem more glorious when you not in the thick of it.
Oh well. I'll just have to be "borrowed" by Albedo's parents for now...
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000230.html