I was recently doing a show with some friends of mine. I’m what I like to refer to as a “recovering actor”. I’ve been semi retired for about 7 years now, but I fall off the wagon once or twice a year when I’m conned into reliving my youth on stage. That usually entails me thinking wistfully of how flexible I used to be while I down 4 advil with my coffee. This particular show had a lot of down time. That usually makes for good conversations in the dressing room. As it was a “Holiday Show” that we were dancing in, the subject of religion came up. Being the only Jew in the room, I kept making jokes about how “we” always get the shaft in holiday shows. That was when my friends kindly pointed out that I wasn’t even a “real” jew, which was true. I married into it when I was 30 after running screaming from the Catholic church when I was in my teens. Then the conversation went like this: Dancer #1: “Your not even a real jew!” Dancer #2: “Yeah, your like Jewish light….like vegetarian jew!” Dancer #3: “Yeah! Your like Tofu! Your a Tofu Jew!” Which, I have to admit, is a brilliant name! I think I’m going to have shirts made. But it got me thinking, how Jewish am I?
When I met my husband I was 30 and I was, for lack of a better term, spiritual. I didn’t pray, or belong to any religious group. When I explain it to my kids now, I actually use “the force” as an example. The God of Star Wars if you will. I was fairly scarred from my Catholic upbringing, but I did like the foundation it gave me. It gave me a sort of spring board to come up with my own ideas. It taught me all about the bible and the do’s and don’ts of religion. Most of it, I completely disagreed with, but I at least had a starting place. So when I was getting married, I decided I’d take on the religion my husband was as long as he wasn’t a fanatic. I told him from the get go, that I’d be as good a Jew as I was a Catholic, which was pretty bad. I was a Christmas and Easter Christian, and now I’m a Passover and High Holiday Jew. But, and this is a big But, we raise our kids Jewish.
Let ‘s be honest here. My kids have rarely seen the inside of a Synagogue. It’s all about the traditions in our house. Being a convert, I know far more about the religion than my husband, as I actually had to study it recently. So we do all the right prayers and celebrate the bigger holidays. I always mean to build a sukkah but somehow it always slips my mind. All in all, I do and OK job for a Tofu Jew. I wasn’t raised with it, so maybe my hearts not totally in it, but I give a pretty good gung ho try. I also get the feeling that no ones really expecting too much out of me because of my lack of heritage.
The things that have happened to the Jewish people over the years, the bonding and commiserating over what their people have lived through, those are things I couldn’t possibly understand. There have been many times over the years that I’ve felt like an observer, a waitress in a country club. Someone who over hears things, but isn’t qualified to have an opinion. I’ve felt very much like a Tofu Jew. Everyone was more than happy to welcome me into the club but at the same time I felt there was a line I shouldn’t cross. That they weren’t really my people. I could talk the talk and dance the Hora, but in the end, my Jewishness was shallow. I didn’t lose anyone in the Holocaust. I’d never suffered prejudice for what I believed. Honestly, I agreed with them and I didn’t really mind. I didn’t see myself as a real Jew either. I come from Texas, Bible belt country. My family, while very good natured, has been known to throw out a good Jew joke. I’ve even heard the terms, “Jewing them down”, and “they sure are good businessmen” and I let it slide, because I know they don’t mean anything by it, and, well, I’m not a real Jew anyway, right?
But hang on, I’m raising my kids Jewish. My sons’ know the prayers on Shabbat. They love to open the door for Elijah. They ask why more people don’t have mezuzahs on they’re doors. They will never know anything but being Jewish. They look at me and see a Jewish mommy. What if someone says something antisemitic to my kids? Will someone hate my children for something they had no say in?? And BAM, just like that, I’m Jewish! I mean honest to God Jewish. There is no Tofu Jew in the house right now, because we’re talking about my kids, and how they’re perceived. And no, I didn’t loose anyone in the Holocaust and yes, for all I know I’m related to Jesus himself, (or more likely Mary Magdalene) but none of that matters because I’m raising little beautiful Jews. It really has nothing to do with me. Maybe I’m not a real Jew, but my boys are, which makes all the difference in the world. Now antisemitism means something to me. The Holocaust means something to me.They are my people because they are my sons. I’ve gone about it backwards, but I’ve arrived at the same place. I don’t care who does or doesn’t want me in the club. I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m Tofu. This piece of Tofu is here to stay, somewhere between the Brisket and the Latkes. I think this year I’ll add Tofu to my Seder plate!
And I’m still going to have shirts made.