I am Jewish

I happened upon this video via Facebook. A rabbi, former BBYO friends, and a few relatives had shared it. Without having read the commentary, and not having had the time to sit and watch it, I wrote it off as just another Jewish-themed parody, not worth my immediate attention.

I was wrong.

So, as I sit here at my parent’s house watching Bye Bye Love because nothing else is on TV, I decided to give this little video — one that I was advised to start watching after the first minute — my attention.

I suppose my immediate reaction and instinct is to thank Andrew Lustig. His words, his vocal cadence, his energy — his video summed up my thoughts and reflection on being a Jew, but also on being Jewish in America.

Guilt, shame, pride — all things Jewish people have felt. Being confused by Yiddish conversation — not that you’d understand the dialogue if it were in Hebrew, either — and the varying tunes we attach to Adon Olam — I think it sounds best to the Happy Days theme song — these are all things I associate with being Jewish.

I’m not here to explain my thoughts on Kashrut, or my views on Middle East peace. But I identified most with this video when Lustig said, “I’m a Jew, not an Israeli; a religion, not a country.” That’s not to say I’m not passionate about Israel or Israeli culture.

I believe that peace is possible – across our religion and its sects, and across Israel.

I feel fortunate to have almost always lived in a community with a thriving Jewish presence. I feel a connection to Avram’s Bubbe on the popular YouTube series “Feed Me Bubbe” because she reminds me of my late grandmother, Cyrille Cooper. I go out of my way to shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, because it reminds me of having no choice but to do so in Hebrew school. I don’t eat meat, but if I did, I wouldn’t mix it with milk. It’s just not Kosher.

While things change everyday, my Jewish identity is my constant. I’m Jewish today, I was Jewish yesterday, and I’ll still be Jewish tomorrow.

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Family Ties

Shortly after I returned from my Thanksgiving holiday in Detroit, I jetted off yet again — this time, to [not-so] sunny Southern Florida.

While most of my relatives are rooted in Detroit, handfuls from my grandparents’ generation established adult lives outside of the Michigan mitten in Florida and in New York.

My maternal grandmother’s sister, my Auntie Molly, moved to Florida fifty-five years ago, and while geographically removed from the majority of the family, the anecdotes that she shared during my weekend trip proved that she has managed to stay very much in the loop.

I write about my family often; I’m quite fond of them.

My entire trip down to Florida was lovely — even the hour-long schlep we made from Jupiter to Fort Lauderdale at 4 a.m. to return our rental car — but my favorite thing was spending several hours with my Great Aunt and my mom, talking about her upbringing, and learning of her past as a writer.

I’m in the process of reading A Prayer for the Departed by my cousin Bill Broder.

Between Bill, his wife Gloria, and one other cousin in publishing, I thought I had interacted with all of the writers of their generation.

I was wrong.

My Aunt Molly pulled out a metallic silver binder full of clippings from a column called, “Molly’s Moments.”

Not sure of what to expect, I read through, one by one, and quickly became drawn to her tongue-and-cheek writing style.

In a post not far off in the future, I’ll share “Molly’s Moments” with you, in hopes that you’ll find them equally as entertaining.

Another quick note: I’m often a literary hard-sell, and began reading Bill’s book (mentioned above) out of familial curiosity. That said, I’ve had a hard time putting it down. Bill writes a very warm collection of stories from his youth — stories that take a look at the dynamics of a Jewish American family living in Detroit, Michigan. But the themes in his book extend beyond geography and religion. I highly recommend it as a curious mind, and not as a cousin. 

 

Real Extended Family of Parsippany, NJ

I have family everywhere. Sometimes, when I view wireless provider coverage maps, I wonder what a color-coded map of my extended family throughout the United States might look like.

When I made the decision to move to New York, there was a small sliver of comfort in the fact that my cousins in New York were a short train, bus, or taxi ride across the 59th Street Bridge.

In addition to my maternal extended in New York (mostly concentrated to the Upper East Side), I am fortunate enough to have  a bit of ultra extended (ie: my sister’s in-laws) family a little further west in New Jersey.

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Memory

I started this post at 11:54 p.m. — 6 minutes before the day officially ends and becomes March 10, a day that means nothing to me. Today, though, March 9, would have been my Bubby Cyrille’s 79th birthday. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of her. And, for kicks, tonight’s episode of The Colbert Report was hysterical, and laced with Jewish humor that my Bubby would have appreciated.

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Protocol

The Kirsch family is all about order, protocol, and numbers. My dad’s parents have three sons and ten grandchildren. Because the sons and daughters-in-law don’t typically get along (something that they still, after years of drama, find ways to rhetorically gloss over), most family celebrations are separate. As a result, the real thing that seems to make occasions special for my Kirsch grandparents is the protocol phone call.

Last Tuesday was my Bubby Zita’s 78th birthday. Before I could squeeze in my birthday greeting (minutes from being belated), my grandmother informed me, in her predictable nature, that I was the final of her ten grandchildren to call and wish her a happy birthday.

For some, this treatment would breed resentment. For me, however, I delight in their predictable, competitive nature. I’ve stopped caring what order I call in, because either way, I know they’ll use it (the fact that they heard from all of their grandkids) to brag to their friends, and I’ll go on, guilt-free, until their anniversary in February, or my grandfather’s birthday in March.

Inside Secrets of a Jewish Mother [partial book review]

I have a unique family. I have so many relatives within a one square-mile area that we had a float in our city’s Fourth of July parade called Dozens of Cousins. Some of my favorite memories involve weekly Friday night dinners at my Great Auntie Phyllis’ house, where she successfully piles 30+ people, week after week, stuffing them full of all things good and Jewish — from matzo ball soup to brisket. Surprisingly in-time for dinner, my Great Uncle comes home from the hospital — head-to-toe in surgical scrubs — to talk bones with some aching relation. He has an orthopedic practice with his three sons and one daughter-in-law. We sit, we eat, and we schmooze. This weekly gathering is nothing compared to Rosh Hashanah dinners, or Thanksgiving. Every dinner ends with my Great Aunt and her dear friend Mary-Joe hand-counting how many people came and how it differed from weeks and years in the past. This year’s holiday was different. Still lots of food and family, but my grandmother’s absence (she passed away last Thanksgiving) was a noticeable and uncomfortable void.

After my Bubby Cyrille’s death, Jewish holidays became difficult to celebrate, and I was dreading moving to New York to spend my first Rosh Hashanah away from home. I had an apartment, a job, and a reasonable amount of good friends from work. I even had family. My New York family is great, and incredibly hospitable, but no dynamic can possibly replace that of my Detroit roots.

On Rosh Hashanah, I was invited to dine with the delightful Wexler family. I had done some work with Lisa and her radio show in the past, and in a quick e-mail exchange, I had mentioned not having anywhere to go for the holiday. Like any good (and typical) Jewish mother, she insisted that I join her family. I hesitated responding at first, because while we had welcomed many a wandering friend into our home and my Auntie Phyllis’ over the years, I never thought I’d be in that position of need.

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