How to be Jewish
Don’t think about being Jewish. Ignore it at all costs. This will prove impossible, but try anyway. You’re not trying hard enough.
Listen to your mother invite you to the AIPAC conference this year, as she does every year. Explain, again, your stance on Israeli politics. Get into this fight, again. On her birthday, make her present “Saying One Nice Thing About Israel.” She will appreciate this way more than last year’s O, Brother Where Art Thou DVD, which she still has not watched.
Still, you should keep up with Israel-Palestine. Not because you’re interested in it, mind you. You’d rather talk about legalizing pot//MTV’s Skins/anything else. But once people find out you’re Jewish, they’re going to want to know what you think about this one subject, and if you’re like, “Um...,” they’re just going to start spouting off about it and you’ll look really dumb if you can’t say anything. Sometimes these people will be your friends, late at night, when everyone’s drunk and revealing secrets. This is your big secret. And oh yeah, and everyone is going to assume you’re rich, so have fun with that.
Re-read that Peter Beinart essay in the New York Review of Books ten times over and remind yourself that you’re not alone. Skip the part about how he loves to be Orthodox.
Hide your Orthodox background from everyone until you talk to a girl at a party, where you desperately hope it will make you “interesting.” Tell her about the dress code at your old yeshiva and how what she is wearing right now would have gotten her suspended. Say that you left Orthodoxy because you couldn’t stand the sexism.
Get really mad about anti-Semitism and the fact that the Jewish-American narrative is determined by Christians and/or Capitalists for two weeks in college and stop identifying yourself as white, in solidarity with oppressed people throughout the world. Then feel guilty about it and switch back.
Get drunk and Facebook all the kids you used to know from USY and NCSY . They’re still friends with each other. If they have joined the Israeli Army, or make their status on Friday “Gettin’ ready for Shabbat!!” or have made Judaism a vital part of their lives, de-friend them. Feel that this is a significant accomplishment.
Tell co-workers that it’s okay, they can ask, you understand they’ve never met a Jew before. Get used to hearing about how beautiful your culture is and how we’re all children under the same God. Remember what your rabbis told you about Christians: how they’ll stop at nothing to convert you. Get scared. Don’t tell them you’re an atheist.
At parties, when asked to decide between Phillip Roth and Saul Bellow, laugh and say Pynchon. Secretly prefer Roth. Feel that this is a significant accomplishment.
When home for Shabbat- and your parents will always schedule your visits around Shabbat- demand to lead after-meal prayers. Feel that this will prove to them that you are still Jewish enough. When writing this essay, write ‘benching’ first, realize that very few people will know what that is, so switch it over to “after-meal prayers”.
Tell your father that the progressive, social-justice based young persons’ minyan sounds very nice. Agree with him that it would be a fine place to meet a girl. Do not go under any circumstance.
Always forget about Halloween until the day before. Explain that this is because you weren’t allowed to celebrate it as a kid and never thought about it. Everyone you explain this to will be in absolute shock, horrified that you missed out on the Best Thing Ever. (Remember when you told them about never having shrimp or cheeseburgers? Yeah, like that.) You won’t understand what the big deal is, but start to feel bad anyway because it’s Another Thing You’ve Missed Out On. Miss Orthodox Purim, but remind yourself that you can’t just take that and not take all the other shit it comes with.
Lie to all girls and say you’re a vegetarian. Think very hard about breaking kosher. Order a basket of wings at a bar, don’t touch them, pay and leave. Give a generous tip.
Get called self-hating by your parents and realize they might be right.
Try going to a Reform service once, then stop because hearing prayers in English is way too weird. Also you don’t believe in God, remember?
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”