I’m A Jew, Goddammit

Woody Allen
Woody Allen

Here’s what’s standing between me and happiness. Every week or so I get an e-mail from my mother, a forwarded e-mail with a link to a Jewish website, aish.com, and a special shoddily-written story about the Holocaust. Like about Zvi Griner and his successful escape from Birkenau under a Polish pseudonym. Or Ari Zilber, a converted Catholic, a “hidden Jew,” who has some ridiculous epiphany one day and realizes it’s time to go back to eating matza and maror. Ari, “zealous in his adopted faith,” lives in an apartment “whose doorpost bears a mezuzah.”

My mother cannot type, so I get these e-mails with tiny one-dimensional prefaces on top: “thought youd find this interestig” or “Hi love.  This si very inspiring!” (sic). My mother is Jewish, even unto her innermost parts…she has books on things like Kabbalah (it involves auras) on our coffee table. Next to clocks shaped like Jewish stars. We eat kugel feasts. When I was little I wore a yarmulke with my dad at dinner. We put the yarmulkes on top of the television when we were done chomping on our challah. I am fine with this kind of religiosity, firmly ensconced within weeklong visits to our little stone house in the suburbs. One week and then I can wash my hands of the cat dander and margarine. That’s fine. But when these things invade my inbox — my Gmail inbox, the most progressive and impeccably designed of all inboxes — I get angry. Cognitive dissonance. I don’t know what to do with these e-mails, drenched in adverbs and passive voice. They fester in my inbox like my mother’s brisket in my little belly 10 years ago. We have a weird relationship, me and these stilted fragments of Arial text. I try to rationalize — “I really have to work on this essay, so I can’t read Ira Goldner-Greenberg’s tearjerking yarn about long-lost love under the smokestacks of Dachau.” I wonder — did my mom read this stuff, or is she forwarding from her friend Myra with the red-orange perm? Is the foundation of her post-grad edification? Once, she forwarded me something about Holocaust denial in public schools in London — some ridiculous invective about the Holocaust being banned from public school curricula in the U.K. I sent her a link to factcheck.org and told her to get her shit straight. Don’t believe what you read, mom. Believe me. Believe me, not them. I don’t want to lose you. Mom.

In 2013, I shouldn’t feel ashamed to be Jewish, but I do, especially when that part of me announces itself in a thick Yiddish accent on my Mac. I’m a Jew in hiding in New York City, one of the Jewiest places in America, and I know it shouldn’t be this way. But especially around Xmas, I want to walk down the street in my red-green tartan scarf, smiling up at the huge snowflakes made of thousands of tiny lights up and down Fifth Avenue, and when friends ask are you going home for Christmas I say yes but don’t elaborate because the fact is I am not going home or anywhere for Christmas because no one in my family does anything on Christmas except go out to Chinese restaurants and watch Lifetime movies while eating leftover latkes from Hannukah, which is such a poser of a holiday.

But if I put those Jewy e-mails from my mother in the cybertrashcan, am I putting her in the cybertrashcan?  I don’t want to erase her, I just want to erase what she believes, right? Right?!? Dear Lord: I can’t curate my mom like I curate my Gmail inbox. I can’t make her like Girls and no matter what we do there will always be those moments in our relationship when it feels like a blind date and we wonder who pays at the end of a nice brunch in the city, and I offer but know that I probably shouldn’t pay because aren’t I in debt? I can’t make her not ask me to come home for Rosh Hashanah, begging on the phone that “shouldn’t I come home and wear ties and go to temple where I’ll see the people I knew in Hebrew school who are now in law school or working in PR or a bunch of other depressing things”? All I can do is keep refreshing my incoming mail, keeping up with the long text messages, and fielding the constant reminders that no matter where I go I’ll always get an e-mail that begins with something like “matzo madness” and reminds me where I came from.

There’s something about e-mail, I think, that makes people like me dwell on shit. If something’s there, it’s there. Always. On your phone, up your butt. And if you insist on a clean Gmail inbox, with ampersand-laced labels and primary colors announcing your organizational prowess, then an antiquated beast of an e-mail from aish.com about the Holocaust can wreck your whole world. Damn. TC mark

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