It's a Jew Thing

What's it like growing up an observant Jew in a modern non-Jewish world? Read on...

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Prom

I have been thinking a lot about what to write in this post. I have decided to leave an explanation of the upcoming holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) until next week's post, so this week I am just going to recap some random memories and feelings that I had growing up... also included is the “prom story” which I know so many of you have been waiting for.

To start with, I have told you all before that I felt left out of things because of my family’s observance. The “minor” things were things like not being able to buy school lunch because it wasn’t Kosher, especially on “Pepperoni Pizza Friday” in elementary school and on D’Angelos sub days in junior high and high school. And never being able to go to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal with a toy. Those things I could deal with... it was the feeling of being left out that was worse.

Growing up I had to go to Hebrew School at what felt like all the worst times. It was two afternoons a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays and then Mondays and Wednesdays when I was older) and every Saturday night (in high school it was a little easier because it was just Monday nights). Because of this I pretty much had to leave right after school to go, so I couldn’t stay after school on those days for activities. Also, I used to play softball at night in the city league. It was pretty much the only sport there was when I was in elementary school that didn’t meet right after school when I had Hebrew School and which didn’t require me to be there on Saturdays (when my family didn’t drive and when I had to be at temple for Hebrew School and services). I wasn’t much good, but I really liked being involved with something outside of school that my friends were on.... but then that ended. I really remember it as one of the most upsetting experiences of my childhood, and the first time I ever felt upset about being Jewish. Looking back, it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it was pretty traumatizing. I must have been in like the 5th or 6th grade and I had a softball game. The game’s started at 5:30 but I had Hebrew School until 5:30 and then I needed to get dressed and have a quick dinner. This wasn’t an uncommon story. To my parents, it was inexcusable to leave Hebrew School early for something like this, even though my friends always did for games and dance practice and the like. So, I finally got to the game about 5:45, with my little sandwich for dinner, and the coach benched me. He told me that I was always late and it wasn’t fair for me to get right in the game when everyone else was there on time (which was really like 5:00 to “warm up”). I cried. I cried a lot. Then I screamed at him. And I left, and I never played softball again. Pretty upsetting experience, huh? There are so many more like it, so many more times when I felt left out. So many times when I asked my parents why I couldn’t do things that my friends at school could do. There were even many times that I didn’t understand why my Jewish friends could do things that I couldn’t (it was because they weren’t as observant).

Over the years I missed many things. Some harder to miss than others... birthday parties (including the “coolest party of the year” in 7th grade which was a limo ride to the Hard Rock Café in Boston on a Saturday afternoon), school activities (like I could never be in the drama club because the shows were on Friday nights), and I still to this day have never been to one of my high school football games because they all are on Fridays nights or Saturday afternoons. (As I’ve said before, there are some good things that I got because I was Jewish that are coming in future posts, so don’t get discouraged!)

There were a lot of Friday night’s left sitting at home, and that was really something hard for me as a teenager. I felt that it made me an outcast in school and especially in high school. People just stopped inviting me places because most of the time I couldn’t go. Then suddenly, for some reason that I still don’t know, junior year of high school half the people that had always thought I was “weird” started being my friend. It was like suddenly, overnight everyone matured and realized that I was still a great person and friend even though I couldn’t go out with them on Friday night. I think of it as my “peak” of popularity and it really was. I had never been so happy or had so many friends in my life.

Then it was time to start planning the prom, which I was on the committee for and one of my best friends was the head of. That’s when it started to fall apart. See, the junior prom is ALWAYS at the exact same place on a Friday night. Months and months in advance my dad wrote me a letter about my observance and I went to the principal’s office to ask if there was any way to make the prom on a Saturday night this year and tell him how important it was to me to go. He explained (which I was an idiot because I had no idea at the time about this sort of thing) that the hall had already been booked for a year. I thought it was over, no junior prom for me... I’d learned to live with disappointment. Then the rumors started... and my “dream year” slipped away a little bit. How it started I have no idea, but for the record my dad never had any thought or mention of suing the Brockton School Department for discrimination against Jewish people... he never even called the principal and yelled at him (as a smaller rumor also claimed). That’s right, I was known around school as the girl whose dad was trying to cancel the prom and ruin their junior year, again because I was Jewish and my beliefs were different. By the time the prom got closer, the rumors dead away and the story has a happy ending. I got permission to stay at the hotel attached to the prom location, which was off limits to students, under the condition that my mom stay there with me. So that was a compromise I was willing to make – I went to the prom and had an amazing time, more than I could have ever hoped for. Then afterwards, I told all my friends to have fun and walked to my hotel room where my mom was waiting. Not ideal but ok (I still got to go out after the senior prom, because that was on a Wednesday night), I still got to go to the prom and I really appreciated my mom for agreeing to stay in that hotel with me because she knew how important the prom was to me.

Last note- hotel checkout was at 1pm and since we couldn’t ride in the car on Saturday until after sundown, my mom and I were stuck sitting in the lobby until then. Just so happens that the hotel conference room was having auditions that afternoon for Unsolved Mysteries. Let’s just say we met some interesting characters that afternoon. Thanks for reading this super long post, more next week.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Just a note that if you comment on my blog please review the comment section later because I have been replying to the comments there. THANKS!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I am so glad that so many people have begun replying to my blog and I am really happy to answer any questions anyone has. I have pretty much grown up my whole life with people asking questions. I really appreciate it honestly because it shows me that people want to be knowledgeable and care about things that are different from what they are used to. Since it’s one of the most asked questions I think people have about Judaism, I am going to try to explain Kashrut (keeping Kosher) as much as I can. All of the things that tell how and why to keep Kosher were all told to the Jewish people when we got the Torah back in the olden days (i.e. in the dessert thousands and thousands of years ago). To begin with, people who keep Kosher only eat Kosher meat. When it comes to animals like beef and chicken, the meat is considered Kosher because it is killed in a certain way (injected in a vain so the animal dies with no pain and no bloodshed), all blood is drained from the animal, and it is watched over by a special Rabbi (it’s literally this guys’ job to supervise the killing and preparation of animals all day). Food that is Kosher (especially meat) is marked with a Kosher symbol, which you might have noticed before. There are a lot of them- like a U with a 0 around it, or a K in a triangle or circle. So that means that I can’t really go into the grocery store deli and get meat because that meat wouldn’t be Kosher. At home my family gets our meat from a Kosher butcher a few towns away; here I can’t really find that much meat so I don’t eat it that often. So, at a normal restaurant there isn’t Kosher meat (it’s more expensive and it is really hard to keep everything Kosher), so I can’t go out to dinner and have meat. My family (although not all families that keep Kosher) will go out to eat at a non-Kosher restaurant and eat non-meat products, but we won't bring them home into our house.

Additionally, there are certain meats which you can just never eat because the bible says that animals with split hooves are “unclean” as are animal that are scavenges. That’s right folks, that means that pork, bacon, or other pig products; as well as no shellfish like shrimp, lobster, or crabs. Yes, sometimes I wish I could have them and I have always been kind of curious about what lobster tastes like (especially living near the Cape with so many seafood restaurants around). People who keep Kosher also do not mix meat (including chicken) and milk products (meaning no cheeseburger, no chicken with a glass of milk, and no steak with ice cream for dessert). This is the confusing part- if eat meat you must wait before then having a milk product (some people wait 2 hours, some 3, some 4) BUT you don’t have to wait to eat meat after eating dairy. The reason for this practice as a whole is because in the olden days, in the dessert, people didn’t have much water so they boiled their animals in milk, and it was considered the worst sin in the world to boil a kid (a baby cow) in its mother’s milk... and that’s where we get this practice from. Picture my parents’ house now- we have meat dishes, dairy dishes, meat china, dairy china, and 3 sets of dishes for Passover (which I’ll explain at another time). Get’s expensive, huh? At least at your wedding you can pick a lot to register for! At my own house in Delaware I can’t really keep Kosher as much as at home because my roommates are obviously eating non-Kosher foods but I keep it as much as I can. I have two sets of dishes and pots/pans and I use paper plates a lot.

I guess that’s pretty much it. To recap: no meat with milk, buy food that’s marked Kosher, no pig products or shellfish, only eat Kosher meat. Yup you’re a pro. It’s pretty confusing I think and I may have skimmed over some stuff because it’s like second nature to me, so let me know if you have any questions about it all.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's hard to even know where to start talking about my life as an observant Jew because there are so many different aspects, rules, and ideas. I'll try to start with the basics...Judaism as a religion has many different divisions and ways of practicing, which comes down to how observant you are in your practices (it's important to note that observance and religiousness are not the same thing because you can be very religious and G-d can be very important to you even if you aren't observant). The three main levels of observance are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism, and the lines aren't very defined. Reform is the least observant and many people who consider themselves Reform do not keep Kosher, go to services all the time, or observe all the holidays and traditions. Orthodoxy is the opposite extreme in which people keep strict Kosher, observe all holidays to the largest extent possible, and incorporate Jewish law into every aspect of their lives. For example, the practice of being "Shomar Shabbat" (which some Conservative people are as well) means that on Shabbat and religious holidays one doesn't work at all. This includes not using electricity, riding in a car, writing, lighting a candle, or using money (all of these things have different explanations, some of which I don't know and some of which are just really long to explain). This probably sounds really weird to non-Jews and even to some Jews, but it's an important part of many people's lives. Between these two concepts falls Conservative Judaism, which is my practice, and which covers a large blurred area.

Growing up, my family was observant. Growing up we went to services almost every Shabbat and on every holiday (including staying out of school to go to services on holidays), kept Kosher, and observed many Jewish laws. Additionally, my father became a Cantor (a clergy member in our synagogue) when I was 10 years old and my grandfather has been a Cantor my whole life. My family is not Shomar Shabbat but we did not do many things that were considered “work.” Shabbat is from sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday night (the Jewish calendar days go from sundown to sundown). So on these days EVERY WEEKEND (as well as during Jewish Holidays), my family doesn’t ride in a car (start a car, sit in a car, be a passenger in a car, take the bus, etc. I say this because often people ask if my friends couldn’t just pick me up and drive), use money, light a match, or do some kinds of work like laundry. Also, my parents won’t do any kind of work for their jobs on Shabbat.

Try imagining never being able to go to a Friday night football game in high school, to the mall with your friends on a Saturday afternoon, or even to your friend’s birthday party when you are 9 years old. To make things even harder, there were hardly any other Jewish kids in my city and most of the kids from my synagogue were from surrounding towns, went to other schools, and came from families that didn’t have practices as observant as my family does. Like I said, the lines of Conservative Judaism are very much blurred, so they could consider themselves conservative but do all the things I wished I could do on a Saturday afternoon. Growing up this was really hard for me to understand. This is what I grew up with. As I’ll tell in later posts, I don’t want it to sound like I had an awful childhood. My religion is a very important part of my life and has helped to shape my life in so many positive ways. It’s just a fact that part of the way that my life has been shaped is as a result of my feeling like I missed out on so many things when I was younger.

I think that’s enough take in for one post. I’ll write again soon to continue to explain everything. Please feel free to leave questions in the comment section to help tell me what else I should be talking about on this blog.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

So the blog title needs some work but it was the best title my roommates and I could come up with ("Kosher, what what" was the close second). I am going to use this space to write about my experiences growing up as an observant Jew, especially in a city where there weren't any other Jews. I get asked questions all the time about what Jewish people believe and practice and what I think, so my friend suggested this would be a good way to get it all out there - answer some of my most asked questions and share some experiences.

My entire life I have lived in a small city in Massachusetts (with the exception of the last three years spent in college in Delaware). My high school pretty much had every kind of person, from every country and background but there were hardly any Jewish people there. What’s more, I was literally the only person who was “observant” in the practice of Judaism. For example my family keeps Kosher, doesn’t ride in a car in Shabbat, and goes to services on more than just the High Holidays – including all the other holidays which I stayed out of school for every year. I’ll explain what all of these things mean in later posts but to sum it up, as far as high school goes, among 4,250 diverse high school kids, I was weird. I couldn’t buy school lunch or go to the mall on Saturday afternoon – who’d think those were such things to miss but they were things that I could never do for the first 18 years of my life. And things that I had to make up my own mind about continuing to practice when I came to college.
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