Friday, July 08, 2011

The Jewish Question on Vacation

I have tried to inform the little Goofs that Jews are a very small minority of the population, but going to Jewish day school they don't really get it. On our recent trip to the beach this contained some potential for awkwardness.

GoofGirl, who is heading into 2nd grade, made friends with a little girl next door who was heading into kindergarten. She asked GoofGirl about school and what she learned there and GoofGirl began by showing her the alphabet - the Hebrew alphabet. The little girl, who only had a modest hold on the English alphabet couldn't make sense of the "scribble-scrabble."

Time and age go hand in hand, I firmly believe we have attention spans equal in seconds to the years we have lived. (I also believe that "just a minute" equals one minute for every year we have lived.) So, GoofGirl's buddy, being a typical five-year old, had completely forgotten all about Hebrew and my daughter's explanations in about five seconds. Still, this needed to be addressed.

Direct exposure to anti-Semitism has not been a big part of my life, thankfully. Far more frequently I have encountered curiosity and even admiration (although a little time with me, and any admiration for reputed Jewish genius quickly fades). I am not worried that our vacation will devolve into a made-for-TV movie.

Also, I am rarely in a situation where people don't know that I am Jewish. I look it and sound it (although I don't dress it.) On a trip to Mexico I met one of my future wife's uncles who asked her if I was Jewish. Mexico has a tiny Jewish community and it is unlikely he would have any interaction with them. But I was Jewish, because the Walter Cronkite of Mexico is Jewish and I looked enough like him that it was obvious...

My big worry is that our neighbors could be evangelicals or worse, they could be very curious. Sometimes the devout feel an obligation to share their joy. I understand this, but I am pretty happy with my beliefs and am not in the market for a new set. The curious pose an even greater danger. I frequently meet people for whom Judaism is a fascinating and exotic thing that they wish to learn more about. Understandable and, when I can, I have done my best to inform. But I'm on vacation and don't particularly want to run a comparative religions seminar.

So, we sit the children down and explain to them that one does not just talk about their religion first thing when you meet someone new. Also, many of the people in condo complex where we were staying may be from towns where there aren't any Jews. That doesn't mean they don't like Jews, but they may not know much about them and will have lots of questions. If asked, be honest, there is nothing to hide, but for most people religion is a personal matter and doesn't need to be discussed.

The kids got it, especially when we made it clear that they weren't in trouble.

GoofBoy went off and caught crabs (that line doesn't read well, he is only 10.) GoofBoy went crabbing with the neighbors, but most of this was for sport so that people caught the crabs and released them. Also, lots of people just don't eat crabs so GoofBoy's catching them for fun was understandable. GoofBoy and a pair of step-brothers chased each other around with toy guns. The complex dumpster made a terrific hideout, but condo management declared it off limits.

GoofGirl could not help but loudly express that we don't eat crabs or bacon when discussions of food came up. One of the brothers wanted to know why and GoofGirl - entrapped like the crabs - hedged, "We just don't."

"Are you vegetarian?"


"So why don't you eat bacon?"

I was close by so I came along and told him that we were Jewish, the problem was off GoofGirl's shoulders. The boy replied, "I'm Catholic, and that's the best."


"We can eat bacon and we celebrate birthdays!"

"I can see that being pretty important," I answered noncommittally.

"Sure, cause I used to be a Witness. They don't do birthdays. But my grandma still sends me money on birthday anyway."

Some crabs had come up from the depths and the boy went off to check on them. GoofGirl looked at me and said, "What kind of religion doesn't have birthdays. That's ridiculous!"

"You can think that sweetheart. But you need to learn to keep it to yourself."


Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

Oh yes, the comparative religion seminar! (She said brightly) at least you can avoid it as long as you're not having lunch together. I have to decide what to tell people when they ask what I do for a living. Although it can be helpful to pass the time on long plane or train trips....
(when I've brought a book, I usually say, "writer" or "teacher" or sometimes, "pirate" which is at least respectable.)

Father Goof said...

Rabbi-pirate sounds like a dream career!