What Does It Mean To Be Jewish

Recently a curious friend asked me what does it mean to be Jewish?

My answer, being Jewish means that I reserve the right to be funny whenever I want to be, that humor is the way by which we process pain, that life is about the truth you embrace and the underdogs you champion, that an egg cream is better than a Coke,eggcream that irony is more interesting than certainty, that as long as one is oppressed none are free, that it is my right to say blueberry bagels are an aberration, assorted_bagelsthat there are people who think they know what a Jew is even though I don’t, that my parents, grandparents, and probably great grandparents were Jewish even though they were not religious, that Fiddler on the Roof is more meaningful to me than Oklahoma…chagall

It’s a hard question and I might think about it some more. I wasn’t raised to be religious but I was raised to think about things and care about art.

Bob Dylan was asked years ago what he meant by “The answer is blowing in the wind.” He said, “The answer is blowing in the wind.”

I am only one person. There are about thirteen million other Jews so I suppose you will have to ask them what it means. My daughter had a Jesuit priest professor who asked her about her religion. She said “My mother is a Catholic and my father is a laxed (she meant lapsed) Jew.” When I heard that I was amused. I told her I am not a laxed or lapsed anything, that unlike Catholics we don’t have a central authority proscribing what we have to do to be a Jew. I am as much a Jew as any orthodox Hasid but what makes me a Jew are the things I wrote above.

Mr. Hitler, hitlerwhen he was busy eradicating us, defined you as a Jew if your mother was a Jew. It was drop your pants, check for circumcision, then off to the ovens. He didn’t allow any self-identification. So, where does that leave this?

Yes, my Semitic ancestry is part of my Judaism, so though my claim is blood bound, racial purity is always suspect- the world has always had short fences. fencejumper And perhaps someone who faithfully adheres to the Talmudic decrees (600-700 of them) might sincerely believe they are the real Jew and I am not because I pick and choose. But I don’t spend too much time working on that debate.


In religious matters my my brain defers to my heart, the more honest of the two centers of human existence.  As for blueberry bagels, you’ll have to get that bit in person when I can be funny about it.

lennybruceBelow is Lenny Bruce’s comedy bit on “Jewish and Goyish.” It is a big part of how I grasp my Jewishness.  I used to carry it in my wallet alongside poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “I Am Waiting” which I’m including a link to as well because it is my favorite poem, ever!    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171598 even if it has nothing to do with being Jewish.
Here it is: Jewish and Goyish, by Lenny Bruce

Dig: I’m Jewish. Count Basie’s Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor’s goyish. B’nai B’rith is goyish; Hadassah, Jewish.
If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re going to be goyish even if you’re Jewish.

Kool-Aid is goyish. Evaporated milk is goyish even if the Jews invented it. Chocolate is Jewish and fudge is goyish. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime Jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.

All Drake’s Cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes, goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish, macaroons are very Jewish.

Negroes are all Jews. Italians are all Jews. Irishmen who have rejected their religion are Jews. Mouths are very Jewish. And bosoms. Baton-twirling is very goyish.

Underwear is definitely goyish. Balls are goyish. Titties are Jewish.

Celebrate is a goyish word. Observe is a Jewish word. Mr. and Mrs. Walsh are celebrating Christmas with Major Thomas Moreland, USAF (ret.), while Mr. and Mrs. Bromberg observed Hanukkah with Goldie and Arthur Schindler from Kiamesha, New York.


Secrets and Lies

Liars” Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”

Sir Walter Scott. Scott was a Scottish novelist and poet. He was also a historian and biographer. He lived from 1771-1832.

During the Clinton presidency I renounced my identity as a Democrat. I am not a Republican either. My personal politics are irrelevant. The reason I made the gesture was that it had become clear to me that if you join either side of a partisan conflict you generally give up the ability to point an accusing finger at your own sides hypocrisies and corruptions. Partisanship is a great enemy of honesty. It was difficult to see President Clinton mesmerizing his team into believing he was doing good things when it was clear that he was not addressing things I cared about. I really wanted Clinton to stop “feeling my pain” and “get me some” health care. At the time I was writing a column for a local newspaper and it just was part of my thinking that honesty and truth were not the domain of any one side and I was not going to silence myself and abide lies by people claimed to represent my views and who assumed they could kiss up to me and get my vote just for the asking.

Which brings me to President Obama, whose words I often like and whose Presidential persona is often very comforting. It’s just his policies that drive me crazy. He says he wants to end wars and then agrees to send arms to Syrian Rebels and he lies about chemical weapons (Hello W) and characterizes death totals in that civil war to justify the foolishness. He wants to give arms to fundamentalist Islamists opposing Assad in Syria who will install a heinous Taliban like regime vastly more restrictive than anything Assad ever has done if they get power. Here we go again. Not to mention he kills people with drone aircraft, wants to hike the cost of student loans, and pretends there isn’t a vast system of domestic surveillance of American Citizens. You see if I was a Democrat, I’d have to shut up and trust that he’s got good reasons for all he;s doing, just like all those annoying Republicans believed about George W’s ongoing disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sorry Charlie, but just like his vilified predecessor, he is treading carelessly upon the very Constitution he swore to uphold. It just gets to be too damn much.

I don’t dislike Obama for the reasons most of his Republican critics do. I dislike him because I don’t like to be mislead. If you believe a surveillance system is necessary come before the American people and state your case. Honor our creed of by the people, for the people, and more importantly, with the consent of the people. But that’s not what our president’s do, not what Dubya, Bill, George the Elder, the Gipper, Jimmy, Gerald, Tricky Dicky, LBJ, JFK, Ike and now Obama do. They all lie to us because they think we are too stupid to understand what is in our own interest. They all lie to protect us.

And that is just a crock!

I had a friend who was a little nuts. she published a little rag newspaper called The Salmon Wrapper, and she said to me that all Presidents are clones of each other. I told her I thought that was a clever way to express how they all become similar. She corrected me. She said “No, I mean they are biological clones of each other on the cellular level. For real.”

Maybe she was right.

Humble Beekeepers: Erica and Ronnie.

Erica and RonnieErica and Ronnie are two young beekeepers that we met in Creswell. Two months ago they placed twelve hives on our property and since then the steady hum of bees has enriched our lives. On colder days we watch the sun make its way to the hives and when the temperature is right, out come the bees. As the day heats up, the bees form wave like clouds as they enter and exit the hives. The life of the bees has brought us a cadence and a compelling interest.

Life is better with bees, even better with Erica and Ronnie who work their craft with dedication, persistence, and a measure of tranquility. Their company name is Erica and Ronnie’s Humble Bee Honey.

Surely the Zen guidance to chop wood and haul water might accommodate one more thing, beekeeping. Few things in life are so intricately and intimately connected with the living environment. A good beekeeper is tuned into the weather, looks closely at the beauty and behavior of plants, must know when a skunk is harassing the bees in the middle of the night, all the while remaining in a calm state of meditation lest they rile the otherwise docile bees. A good beekeeper is woven into the natural world

Years ago when I learned to juggle, my accomplished teacher said, “You can never be unhappy when you juggle.” He said that joy keeps the balls in the air. I believe the same is true of beekeeping, especially when I watch Erica and Ronnie. Their calm becomes our calm, their bees fill our land with a gentle hum and their knowledge and steady energy moves us to a better place.

And of course, there is honey!