My father grew up in a fairly orthodox Jewish household; meaning sometimes his family kept kosher and his story definitely took place in New Jersey or New York. My mother was raised in a fairly observant Catholic household; meaning hats and gloves were worn every Sunday, and her observance ended promptly upon her eighteenth birthday. Obviously, when these two got down to deciding what spiritual guidelines they wanted to provide to their children, they went with You Have To Decide For Yourself When You’re Older-ism (but come on, we really mean atheism.)
We did attend synagogue regularly and I was part of the youth group and Hebrew classes, but it was more of a cultural endeavor than a religious one. My mom tells me we started going to correct some questionable religious schooling I had received in preschool. (I’m pretty sure my parents just didn’t want to get left off the secret Jewish mailing list. They hold a pretty nifty raffle every quarter.) In either case, we started attending. It was a lovely reform synagogue, so small it had to take out a loaner rabbi from a city one hundred and fifty miles away. I found services deathly boring, and I can’t remember a word of Hebrew, but I got out of it a sense of belonging.
I never fit in well at school; and not just because of the irregularly shaped doors. My peers found me to be strange and obnoxious and voiced that opinion as loudly and often as possible. The synagogue itself wasn’t always a comfort zone. I butted heads with some of the Sunday school kids on occasion; mostly over weird nineties kid toys like those digital pet key chains. If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, you are the better for it, trust me.
My respite was in Judaism itself. It was in the community. It was in the history. It was knowing that no matter how lonely I felt at school, or in my backwards little town, there were five thousand years’ worth of Jewish people who had to claim me. Fourteen million people in the here and now, and millions upon millions of people reaching into the past who just had to put up with me because I am the Six Foot Jew.