It being the holidays, I decided to ask one of our more entertaining commenters some questions about religious identity.
Q) Mooser, it’s Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa and as an important feature on the comment board, I thought it was a good time to interview you about religious and political identity questions.
A) Phil, I understand perfectly, you can’t let just anybody comment. I’m proud to be the first to answer this questionnaire, an important feature of the comment board. And I look forward to all commentors doing so as a prerequisite to commenting. Or maybe it’s a perquisite of commenting, although I’m not sure I would know either one of those if I saw ‘em.
Q) My wife wants to know about Hanukkah. What’s special about it, how can she feel good about lighting the menorah, and what’s the difference between Hanukkah and Christmas beside the number of presents? What do you think of the belief she heard a lot when she was young, that Hanukkah was a parody of Christmas?
A) Unfortunately, there is some validity to the second view, but I am sure that when Cynthia hears the facts, her first question will answer itself. Hanukkah is indeed a holiday which has been transmuted and become attached to another religion, but it is a holiday she can celebrate with a full heart, or even fuller’s earth. Now, even a cursory perusal of the available source material (several ancient editions of the Bummertown Sun we unearthed from the cellar to paper train the new puppy) reveals that Hanukkah was originally an important celebration of Muslim apiculture, the amazing story of the Mecca-bees and the candles made from their wax; candles which kept the light of Muslim scholarship burning brightly during the Dark Ages when nobody in Europe could find a lighter “But, why, whence, and how come,” you ask brightly, “this incredible transmutation into a Jewish holiday, and the “maccabees?” The answer is obvious, of course; in the USA, if you substituted an “e” sound for a short “a” sound, people would look at you funny and make fun of your accent. I mean, who says “het” for “hat” or “epple” for apple any more these days? I hope this answer drawn from my hysterical record assuages Mrs. Weiss’s apprehensions. After all has she got a better one? Well, has she?
Q) Is the holiday an important one in your household? Do you have a Christmas tree? Do you love Hanukkah?
A) You know, each year is different, as things change, as people get older. We didn’t have a tree this year, although we certainly have in the past and although I do have the Menorah we used when I was a child, this year we didn’t light it. This year it was more about Mom’s (my MIL) Christmas as she is recently widowed, and as always, the Christmas Eve gathering at my BIL’s house. Sort of an “outie” Christmas rather than an “innie” Christmas, I brought my Nord organ (the best Hanukkah-Christmas present, ever!) and my sister-in-law has a decent piano, and plays bass so I was fine. I have a flair for Christmas tunes. Unfortunately, a dark shadow, cast by unfaithfulness, lies and deceit, engendered by long suppressed (and if you ask me, pretty darn wanton) desire is endarkening my brightest Christmas lights. Phil, it started with a horrible scene: my wife trembling with anger, tears streaking her Christmas mascara, and threatening to short-circuit the multi-colored lights in her hair. (She works for an electrical supply firm, and was on her way to the office Christmas party. At any rate, she was pretty well lit-up.) She struck out at me, no holds barred. “Twenty-two years” she raged, “and you’ve given me nothing, no one! Well, I’ve had it with you, I’m going to see a man who can give me what I want, a man who can breed!” She walked out, her head held high. A couple of hours later she came home with a pedigreed chocolate Lab puppy. It is sitting on my lap as I type. Cruel woman, she brought that poor little dog into a house with three adult cats! Sunday morning I played organ (along with guitar, drums and a good pianist) for the Christmas service at a small local Baptist church, a Gospel church. I played for the choir and a soloist. I did my best, and I think I helped.
Q) Elliott Abrams wrote in his book Faith or Fear (1997) that Jewishness was replacing Judaism as a basis for Jewish identity in the U.S. and this was causing intermarriage and disrespect for the covenant that all Jews have with God. How are you doing on the Jewishness/Judaism index? How do you feel about Abrams’s assertion that Jews are “by birth bound to 613 commandments”?
A) Elliott Abrams said that? Really he would, wouldn’t he? Well the next time you see him, Phil, “you can tell him from me that he is an ass”.
Q) What about Jewish continuity? What if because of my decision to intermarry, and so many other Jews’ similar choice, the Jews assimilate into the U.S. and basically melt away except for the orthodox like Abrams? Would that be a tragedy? I would note that my wife (and her siblings and cousins) doesn’t observe any of her Christian rituals really. Is our American generation creating some new religious understanding?
A) Normally, I would give your questions the consideration and measured response they deserve; I would explain that I married a person, a woman, not her religion, but as I sat here pondering, the stench of the entire plot is reaching my nostrils. Let me ask you something, Phil, you ever heard of a Jew from Labrador? Have you? But have you ever heard of a Jewish dog from Labrador? And this dog has a much longer and more accurate genealogy than I do! I’ve sniffed out my wife’s nefarious plans. This dog is going to grow up and look down its nose at me! No wonder its eyes are so wrinkled and funny looking! You know this dog Phil; this is the dog they have in the Ralph Lauren ads pushing their country schmattas in the NYT’s Magazine! This is a dog whose Kennel Club wouldn’t accept me as a member. I bet that whole pedigree thing is how she’ll cozy up to the cats too. I already know their opinion, I overheard them talking about me one day: “Him? Mr. Fresh-off-the-boat? When his people were trying to make bricks out of straw, we were worshipped as Gods!” Now they’ll all turn on me; an unbearable menagerie of feline, canine and Moosine condescension. This is a noxious, stinking attempt, pungent and…Oh crap, look at that! What a mess. I’ll get back to this later, Phil, I gotta go clean up after that stupid dog. So this is what comes of intermarriage! I wonder if a Jewish girl would have been taken in by all those pedigrees, filigrees and verdigris….
Q) The AJC used to ask how many of your friends are Jewish, to gauge strength of Jewish identity. So of your ten closest friends, how many are Jewish?
A) I used to have friends, but now that my house has become an evil smelling mangy menagerie inflaming everybody’s allergies, people avoid me. All religions will avoid me equally, no doubt. Oh, who am I kidding, people started avoiding me when I took up the organ again.
Q) Do you think of yourself as religious?
A) Yes. I also think of myself as handsome and charming.
Q) Do you actually believe any of the religious stories you were taught as a kid, from the binding of Isaac to the slaying of the first-born to the Persian slaughter following Haman’s perfidy at Purim to the parting of the Red Sea?
A) Oh come on Phil, of course the seas part for Jews. That’s why Johnny Weissmuller was so good. Everybody knows that.
Q) Is there any biblical text that you read that provides meaning to your life, or guidance in troubled times?
A) Wasn’t there a woman in the Old Testament who was eaten by dogs? Perhaps that scripture story would be of some comfort now.
Q) What will the Moosers eat at Hanukkah? What will they eat and drink at Christmas?
A) This year we’ll eat whatever anybody puts in front of us. That means Norwegian tortillas called “lefsa” and the obligatory “lutefisk” at my brother-in-law’s house since he’s convinced his wife is Norwegian. A lot more convinced, I might add, than she is, but that’s the way it goes with intermarriage. And at the rate Her Highness the Princess of Labrador is eating, there won’t be anything left by New Years. I don’t drink, but I should probably start.
Q) Were you ever in the closet about your views of Israel?
A) When I was young, I had a child’s understanding of Zionism, but it still held no particular charm for me. I thought Judaism fitted into America pretty darn good and I would take my chances with that. If Israel left me alone I was perfectly willing to leave Israel alone. And as I have mentioned more than once, my perception of Zionism always included guys in shorts and sandals doing the most cringe-inducing folk dances. I didn’t know what I was going to do in life, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be that, as long as I had the breath to resist. As I got older, and understood more clearly what it took to accomplish and try to perpetuate a colonial project like that, I was alarmed and shocked. And I still shudder at the folk dancing.
Q) Readers want to know what you do in real life.
A) I just told you! I guess it was just that interesting, huh? Never mind, I’m used to it. Well, Phil, there it is, all I can do is submit it to The Moderators and hope I make the grade. I trust any other commenter who answers your questionnaire will hold themselves to the same standard of veracity and single-mindedness.