On being faux-Jewish

I am not Jewish but Husband is, as are his 3 kids. Before I met Husband, I hadn’t had any exposure to that culture. I find it fascinating how similar and different it is from the big C – Christianity. By finding out about being a Jew, I’ve also seen how many knowledge gaps I’ve got of my own religion/culture.

Part of my Jewish education has signing up for email newsletters from http://www.Chabad.org. I’ve been learning about all of the holidays and the history behind them. In turn, Husband is learning about Christian traditions (not that he hasn’t been surrounded by this culture since he was a boy) and the reasons why we celebrate. I find this cultural exchange fascinating. I’m learning, more and more, that the Jewish culture assumes its members exhibit certain behaviours. Sometimes I am confused about interactions I witness or take part in, with Jewish people, and Husband helps me figure out the subtext. I’m blissfully unaware most of the time. This ignorance is refreshing for Husband; I’ve got no assumptions or expectations. I pretend, successfully, that his Jewish acquaintances aren’t guarded around me, expecting me to discriminate against them. Their defensiveness and hesitation surprises me. But once we/they get over that hurdle, it’s clear sailing. It’s getting to that point that’s difficult.

What surprises me most about Jewish culture is how insular it can be. When we visited FAO Schwartz in NYC, we discovered not everyone knows about that store. Anglicized people who we know do, but none of the kosher-keeping, yarmulke-wearing people knew what we were talking about. I would never dream of thinking I’m not allowed to travel wherever I please (ok I’m not going to the middle east any time soon but I could if I wanted). The uber-Jewish people I know have this reticence, and rarely leave the confines of their small community, even within their own city. To them, the world is dangerous and mean, and not worth visiting or learning about.

We don’t keep a kosher house and most of the holidays go by without any pomp and circumstance. But there are a few days (called High Holidays) that we do observe: Rosh Hashana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Hashanah) and Yom Kippur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Kippur).

My biggest revelations about Jewish culture:

  • Married women wear scarves or wigs when in public and in their own home if anyone besides the immediate family is present. (Why a wig though? That’s hair!)
  • Women and Men don’t shake hands or swim together or touch each other in anyway, so as not to mix their essences. (I don’t know yet why their essences shouldn’t co-mingle.)
  • Husbands and Wives don’t do any PDA. That sort of affection is reserved for private times.
  • Holiday decorations don’t exist on a grand scale. (Enterprising Jews are missing out on a good opportunity)
  • Jews like their meat. (Or at least, the Jews I know do! I think Jews invented the chicken.)
  • Jews are sensitive about their noses, and many get rhinoplasty when they finish high school or so. (I love Husband’s perfect 45 degree angle schnoz.)
  • Jews all look a little bit alike, especially when they wear glasses.
  • Being a Jew is like being in a secret club. All of the Jews I know are very private about their religion and culture. And when I figure out someone new is Jewish (Neil Diamond – I don’t know how I missed that one either), I feel the same as when I’ve found a puzzle piece that fits.
  • Jewish men are similar to Christian men in that their wives end up in charge of holidays – shopping, food, and dinners.
  • Being a dedicate Jew keeps you busy. There are weekly Shabbas dinners and a break from ‘work,’ keeping kosher means you don’t eat in restaurants ever (or nearly never), and Saturday temple services take half the day and are a must.

My employer grants me 2 religious holidays per year that I don’t need to count against my vacation/personal/sick days. That support is just one of the many perks that keep me in my current job.