Monday, December 17, 2007

581. Equal opportunity, part 1

I met C. on my first day of kindergarten, and we remained best friends through sixth grade. From first grade on she went to St. Mary's and I stayed at P.S. 24, but we still got together at least once a week for ballet class, riding our bikes to Kissena Park so we could carve our names on the side of a tree or, on one memorable occasion (and to the great wrath of our parents), create a magic potion by mixing together all the cleaning supplies in her basement. We were very different--she wore frilly dresses, I liked "Star Trek"--but we bonded just the same. I was especially proud to know C. because my mother's best friend since childhood was also Catholic, and I wanted to be just like my mother. There were few Jews where she grew up and she spoke often of my Aunt Lil's courage, which made no sense: why would anyone be afraid of my mother? They had Jesus and we didn't, big deal. We went to Aunt Lil's every Thanksgiving and stayed late to help decorate the Christmas tree. C. drank milk with her bologna sandwiches, but her mother made sure to serve me ginger ale instead. I slept over her house on the many occasions my parents had to go to funerals.

C. and I lost touch in junior high for reasons having nothing to do with religion (she became cool and boy-crazy, I remained a geek). But by then I had learned I wasn't supposed to walk into churches whenever I felt like it, as I did for C.'s first Communion, and that the only real kind of Jew was Orthodox. And the only religion that counted was Judaism. I also understood that my mother did not subscribe to these theories, but my father, whose politics began and ended with the question "Is it good for the Jews?", did. We cultivated a don't ask, don't tell kind of relationship (possible because I only saw him every other weekend), never acknowledging that I agreed with my mother, nor that my choir performed at St. Luke's. I think he suspected, but chose to believe otherwise.

Yes, I felt guilty for misleading my dad, as well as for wishing, deep down, that he was right. The very model of modern open-mindedness, I secretly hoped we indeed were the best. But I watched Israel hating and fighting, saw the contradictions and hypocrisy around faith in my community and family, and eventually declared all religious people to be nuts, which was easier than trying to sort out my feelings. In a strange way, I guess I returned to the equal-opportunity interfaith convictions of my childhood.

(Continued here.)

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