(Continued from here.)
We were strictly kosher for Passover, one of the few things my parents ever agreed on. Most of our friends and neighbors belonged, as did we, to the local Orthodox synagogue*, but our community version of Judaism veered somewhat from the party line. Everyone observed kashrut, but with one set of dishes. Kids and men went to shul on Saturday mornings, and then my friends and I rode bikes or shopped for the rest of the afternoon. And that was it for Shabbat; even the kosher butcher stayed open on Saturdays. I didn't know a single person who had Friday night dinners with their families, or even lit candles. No one talked about God or Israel, although if you asked, we believed in and were passionate about both. We were also certain that our modern, adaptive observance was the one and only right way, and held in secret disdain those who belonged to Conservative or Reform shuls, or didn't flick a light switch on Saturdays. Our parents and grandparents survived wars and the Depression and knew that you couldn't ever stop being Jewish, but you could stop being free. If freedom meant working on Saturday to pay the bills, so be it. You were still in America, your kids were happy, and that counted more than religion.
My mother decided to take a break from cleaning during the spring of my ninth and tenth years, and we spent Passover at Brown's Hotel, second-tier crown jewel (after Grossinger's) of the Borscht Belt. Long past its heyday and fraying visibly, like most of its its clientele, Brown's still boasted a dining room that sat thousands, and very little for a kid to do. (I can't imagine what my parents did, either, since my father didn't play golf, nor my mother canasta. I think they spent eight hours a day reading newspapers and dozing off by the pool.) I hung out in the gift shop, which had a rack of paperbacks in the corner where I devoured The Andromeda Strain to feed my nascent science fiction habit. I also developed a crush on David, the cantor's son, also ten, impossibly cute with big eyes and long, dark hair like a prince of Egypt. He liked me too, amazingly, and we went on two dates with the blessings of my parents, who thought the whole thing was adorable and were probably beginning to plan the royal wedding. The first date was at the teen clubhouse, where I drank a club soda and pretended I was 13. The second, the day before I went home, was at that most traditional of romantic spots, the cesspool. Far beyond the bungalows, at the edge of a big green field, we stood next to round, smelly tanks and David took my hand and gave me my first kiss ever, a little peck on the cheek. (I'll refrain from further detail about how my subsequent romantic life tended to end up at same location.)
* Google tells me that the synagogue was raided twice in the 90s for hosting illegal, Mob-backed gambling, an interesting way to pay the mortgage when membership dues run low because the average age of congregants is 90.
Oh, the Brown's Hotel- I know of that because that's where Jerry Lewis got his start!
Hee hee- that's a nice memory of your first kiss!
Yes, it was "the official hotel of Jerry Lewis"!--they told us he sometimes showed up unannounced and we kept waiting for it to happen, but he never did, alas.
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