This bout with unemployment has led to a surprisingly productive couple of days. I haven’t been writing very well, or applying to jobs, or doing things that are productive, but under an alternate definition of productive that just means “make things,” I’ve been mildly productive. And mildly is still surprising.
I built a shelf. It is partially held together by a piece of rope and a bent nail. It is awesome.
I made a piece of art in my room. By art, I mean I took my menorah and nailed it to the wall. Then I took this awkward bulb of plastic that I had laying around and nailed that over the menorah. It now looks like I’m making a statement about my Judaism. Somehow I’m trapped? But I can still see the relics? Light shines in? But not too much light? About 8 days of light?
Because of its placement across the room but still within my “incredibly visible” area, this piece of “art” has made me think about my relationship to my Jewishness.
Within these parenthesis is my entire set of thoughts on how I relate to my Judaism: ( )
I am ethnically a chosen person, and based on name and neurosis people know that about me. I was not barmitzvahed or circumcised or gone to temple except for other people’s barmitzvahs. I was raised without religion by a woman raised without religion and a man raised very Jewish, so Jewish is the closest I have to religion. But that is as relevant as saying I was raised in America and therefore I feel most in touch with American slavery. I am as close to religion as I am to slavery. Jewishness has formed what people say about me and has formed how people act around me and has formed how comfortable people are around me, and yet I am in now way Jewish. I am as Jewish as I am German. I am as Jewish as I am from Yonkers. I am Jewish as I am a basketball player.
Despite the fact that I have in no way identified with Judaism at any point in my life, and despite the fact that I haven’t aligned myself with Jews any more than any semitic Woody Allen fan, people’s perceptions of Judaism and me have changed because of each other.
One of the things I hate most in comedy is when people rely on Jewish words to get laughs. Saying Hanukkah is not funny. Discussing the fact that you ate Latkes is not exciting. In episode 2 of the best show of all time David Wain is eating dinner with a family that has been identified as Jewish. He begins by saying something to the effect of “This is some great Rugalach. These latkes are to die for. I guess what I’m trying to say, Mrs. Feldman is that this is the best Jew food I’ve ever had.” I think this line gets to the heart of my feelings about Judaism. Saying that you like cereal isn’t a funny thing to say, and therefore saying that you like Kugel shouldn’t be funny either. People have made it funny though by laughing inappropriately at it. Nobody laughs when you say “Burrito.” Nobody laughs when you say “Fettuccine Alfredo.” We should all learn how to make cottage cheese blintzes because they are delicious, not because it is funny to say you can make “cottage cheese blintzes.”
I am barely more Jewish than my mom – who is from Sweden, but if people keep referring to me as Jewish I have to refer to myself that way too, and it’s hard for me to turn down the laughter I get just by saying my last name is “Greenberg” – probably because I’m Jewish.