OK add being a “bad Jew” to my already confirmed “bad mommy” self description. Apparently, it really is possible to be a bad Jew. At least that’s the way the receptionist at the temple that I just got off the phone with made me feel. The High Holidays are approaching. These are the holidays that are the most religious and most “important” on the Jewish calendar. Many of you “non-Jews” might think that Chanukah is the biggest Jewish holiday since it coincides (close) to Christmas but honestly, I believe Chanukah only became a big deal to make us poor Jewish kids feel better during all of the hoopla of Christmas and allow us to get gifts too. The High Holidays include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which are the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. Unfortunately the New Year is not quite the champagne drinking, streamer-strewn occasion as 12/31 (at least in my family)… it’s more of a nice family dinner and day off from work. But, lucky me, Yom Kippur allows me to scream I’M SORRY for all the naughty things I’ve done all year and let me start with a clean slate. Oh, and I can’t eat for 24 hours or the I’M SORRY won’t be heard. It’s an excellent way to lose a quick pound or two if you can deal with the dizzies and pounding headache. Thankfully, Yom Kippur falls AFTER Rosh Hashanah so that I can booze it up for the New Year and make it a whooping good time without any repercussions because I can say I’M SORRY 10 days later.
So, back to why I’m a bad Jew. As faithful Christian people go to church on Sundays, faithful Jewish people are supposed to go to temple on Friday nights/Saturday mornings. Not sure which lame Jewish person made that decision to make the time to attend religious services the time that I like to be out to a nice dinner, having a glass of wine or at least curled under a blanket on the couch looking forward to the weekend ahead. It just doesn’t happen in my world and never has. In high school I was one of two Jewish kids in my class, many of the kids had never even met a Jewish person before me and I heard all of the anti-Semitic comments you can imagine pretty regularly. And sadly, I learned to laugh along with them. I’d even make the comments myself to fit in at times (“No, I won’t lend you a dollar. I mean I’m a Jew after all!” I recall saying). So not joining my friends on a Friday night as they skipped off to a house party or to the movies so that I could go to Temple… just wasn’t happening. And my parents weren’t religious enough to make it a priority either. Not that they weren’t proud to be Jewish but again, there weren’t many Jews in my town so it just wasn’t the thing to do for them either. But, the High Holidays… we always went to temple for the High Holidays. It was tradition. I would get a couple new cute outfits to wear, I’d see my one other Jewish friend, we’d sing the songs, listen to the sermons and be done until the next year.
I now live in a town with a larger Jewish contingent. I didn’t want my kids to feel “different”. I didn’t want them to have to explain why Santa doesn’t visit their house, why they don’t go to church, and why they are eating matzo at lunch. Even still, there are many more Christian kids in Hannah’s class so she still questions why we don’t have a Christmas tree and why she doesn’t get an Easter basket, but at least she KNOWS other Jewish kids and I’d like to continue to educate her and make sure she loves who she is and feels a part of the Jewish community. So, I called a local temple this morning to find out about attending for the High Holidays like I did when I was younger. Hannah’s at the age where I think she’ll enjoy the music and stories told so I thought it would be worth the money. Here was how the conversation went:
Me: Hi, I wanted to find out about attending the High Holiday services?
Her: Do you belong to the temple?
Me: No, not yet, but we’ll see how it goes for the holidays and then think of joining.
Her: Do you know how many people say that? Being Jewish is more than just attending temple twice a year, you know.
Me: Well, my kids are young and I’m not ready to join yet. It’s very expensive and I’d like to make sure we make the most of it.
Her: It shouldn’t be about the money. The money goes to the upkeep of the temple, the rabbi’s salary and the classes that we offer.
Me: Uh Huh. Am I able to come just for the holidays, or no?
Her: No, you need to join the temple. And it seems you aren’t ready to encourage your faith with your kids yet.
There you have it. Bad Jew. I’ve had people say some pretty off base things to me in my days regarding being Jewish but never have I felt so, I don’t know, angry/shameful/put off. I remember one of Hannah’s doctors asking Hannah last year what she was going to ask Santa Clause for for Christmas and her telling him that Santa doesn’t come to our house because we’re Jewish and him saying to me, “Oh right, you’ll cave on that soon enough”. Wha? “I’ll cave”? What does that even mean? Again, speechless. But to have a fellow Jew, make me feel this way was crazy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but do you have to join a church by paying thousands of dollars a year? I think it’s unbelievable that I have to shell out twice as much for joining a temple to celebrate my faith a couple times a year than I pay for my gym membership that I (could) use every day.
To say the least, this left a very bad taste in my mouth. I certainly will never join this temple that I dealt with this morning. Instead, I will celebrate with a delicious meal, tell some of our own stories, sing some of our own songs and say I’M SORRY in our own way. And I will then be a “good Jew” and a “good mom” at the same time.