Losing My ReligionJoel Stein
Last year, we sent Laszlo to a Jewish preschool. He learned how to count by looking at pictures of loaves of challah. He sang a songs about how “there’s a dinosaur/ knocking on my door/ and he wants to have Shabbat with me.” When we lit Hannukah candles at home, he broke out into a perfect rendition of the prayer. He celebrated a different Jewish holiday three to four times a day.
Often, at other kid’s parties, he’d mistakenly sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew. Several times, I walked into his classroom and would see the kids sitting around hearing some bible story. I felt pretty dumb for shielding Laszlo from movies and TV shows with violence after I found out that he already knows the Passover story.
As an atheist, I was pretty conflicted about all this religion. Especially since it was all context-free. He had no idea that there were other religions, that not every child is having Shabbat with dinosaurs.
Which is why I was prompted to casually ask Laszlo, over dinner, if he’s Jewish.
“I’m not Jewish!” he yelled. “I’m happy!”
I tried to clear up false syllogism he created by naming happy Jews. This took me a long time. Eventually, I came up with Albert Einstein and Adam Sandler.
A few weeks later, I tried again.
“Laszlo, are you Jewish?”
“I’m not Jewish!”
“Is mommy Jewish?”
“No, mommy is not Jewish.”
“Am I Jewish.”
“You are Jewish.”
“Why isn’t Mommy Jewish?”
“Mommy doesn’t work all the time.”
All of this is true. But I don’t know how he knows this. Other than by looking at her.
Every so often, I check in with Laszlo and ask if he’s Jewish. He answers the question so definitively, so incredulously that I’m convinced he’s practicing in case the Nazis return and knock on our door. He yells “I’m not Jewish!” in a way that implies, “How did you get such faulty intelligence? It must be because of that Jewy Jew guy I live with hiding upstairs.”
I’m fine with him not self-identifying as Jewish. That will likely change by the time he’s five or six and gets to know his extended family better. There’s no way he’s going to hear Aunt Reva talk about her menopause and still think he’s a WASP.
But even if he decides he isn’t Jewish, I’m fine with that. I don’t need my child to be the same as me. I can already tell that he looks nothing like me and has totally different talents (art) and interests (other people’s feelings). Which is great. I didn’t want to replicate. I wanted to help someone grow up into the best person he can be. And if that person eats a lot of popovers and hunts birds and never talks about money, I’m fine with that. At least I’ll save on the bar mitzvah.
Laszlo would never make a joke like that. Maybe he’s not Jewish.
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