My Jewish Roots

It’s currently Hanukkah (or Hannukah or Chanukah or חֲנֻכָּה) and time for all Gentiles to talk about how not-Jewish they are.

“You’re lucky. You have Christmas for eight days,” we say to our Jewish friends, taking the oldest and most complicated religion in the world and turning it into the winner of What’s In It For Me. (And when I say "we say to our Jewish friends,' I mean 'you.' And you know who you are.)

I’m pretty sure I’m not at all Jewish. According to my sister Reenie’s genealogy research on our family, we are distantly related to General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing, Amelia Earheart, and at least one badass Irishman who was exiled to Australia because he committed a capital crime. There are some good, gossipy stories about some of my ancestors, but none of them include gefilte fish or yarmulkes.

However, when I lived in Cleveland and worked in an area that was majority Jewish, I actually had to read a book to learn how to live and work there without making a complete idiot out of myself. Some nice PR guy took pity on the new Irish community newspaper editor and gave me a paperback copy of This is My God by Herman Wouk, which is like a Judaism for Dummies. I took it on vacation with me, got it wet with ocean water and it ballooned up like a corpse, but I turned every wet, drying and crispy page and finished it.

During that time, my son was in a Jewish home day care program, which they let us in, even though we were Catholic, which was super nice. My Jewish friends at work told me there were no better people to take care of your babies and toddlers than Jewish babysitters, because they will see to it that your child is educated, spoiled and clean. They were right, because Dianne, our babysitter, was hands-down better than our first emergency babysitter, Judy, whose house smelled like the fish tank that hadn’t been cleaned in more than a year.

As a result, our son ate kosher and learned to dig the Passover diet. Matzah this and matzah that - he ate it dipped in eggs and french-toasted, with spaghetti sauce for matzah pizza, with syrup for matzah pancakes, and with chocolate melted on it for dessert. And I swear Dianne made a fried baloney sandwich with matzah one time.

“Oy vey,” my son said one Saturday when his grandmother was visiting and he couldn’t get the battery out of his Batmobile. His Irish Catholic grandmother. She was not happy. “Ah, don’t get all verklempt,” I told her. We were in hip deep.

If my son was an honorary Jew, then that would make me an honorary Jewish Mother. That would explain why I have an affinity to the blue lights at Christmas and cards that say “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.” And I might be the only Catholic who doesn’t choose the stamp with the Virgin Mary on it. Mary and I are close, but my cards aren’t wishing anyone a Catholic conversion or a Christian experience. They really are wishing everyone a happy holiday - yes a holiday - however Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim or pagan they may be.

What, we should all let the Christians have all the fun? Please. And would it kill you to put on a sweater?

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