Aug 6 2014
I am 5 years old. I am learning to spell my last name. N as in Nancy. A. U. M as in Mary. B U R G. No, that’s B U R G. I decide that when I grow up, I am going to change my last name to Whitney, like my best friend Elizabeth who lives next door. I’m not sure why her name seems so much better than mine, but it does.
I am 8 years old. I start learning about the Holocaust in school. My egocentric child’s mind becomes hyper-focused on figuring out whether or not I would have survived. I know that my father’s family were all German Jews (I wouldn’t come close to the truth of my mother’s family for years), but I have the blue eyes, light skin, and straight blonde hair that was the Aryan ideal. I tell myself that my looks would have saved me.
I am 14 years old. I am going to Spain for the summer on a student trip. I find my fellow travelers in the international terminal of Kennedy airport. I introduce myself; they respond with confused looks. “Naumburg? You’re Carla Naumburg? That’s funny. You don’t look Jewish.” Apparently they had been studying the roster for the trip, trying to decide who was Jewish and who wasn’t. I didn’t know how to respond. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 24 2014
The kids are alright.
Meet Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman, a pair of 12-year-old BFFs from Chicago who have decided to forgo the modern bar mitzvah party, often ostentatious affairs featuring celebrity performers like Christina Aguilera (rock on, Sam Horowitz), in favor of helping other kids their age. In a partnership with their temple, Anshe Emet Synagogue, and the nearby Bright Star Church, the 7th graders will design and physically build a playground to serve the Bronzeville community on the South Side of Chicago, which is plagued by high crime and has few safe places for children to play.
The kids of Anshe Emmet and Bright Star Church have teamed up in the past for several events and projects. In fact, it was when Marc and Ariana visited the church to watch Barack Obama’s second inauguration that they noticed the area lacked a decent play area. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 24 2014
Recently I wrote an article for Kveller titled “Are Jews Too Concerned With Seeking Out Other Jews?” In that piece, I discussed my tendency to feel an instant connection with a “member of the Tribe” whether it’s on the sidelines of our kids’ soccer games, in a professional context, or anywhere, really.
While many readers strongly related, in a positive way, to this warm and even mystical element of the Jewish community, a side issue of exclusion came out of the discussion as well. Several readers–Jews and non-Jews alike–commented that they found the Jewish community cliquey and unwelcoming. The conversation eventually meandered to the difficulty of making new friends as an adult, regardless of religion.
I was once a newcomer in Minneapolis–a stranger in a strange land, if you will–and it took years for me to feel comfortable here with my fellow Jews and non-Jews, too. Read the rest of this entry →
May 20 2014
I have three kids. With three very different personalities. My 10-year-old boy is my most “challenging” one.
“Typical middle child,” the self-proclaimed experts crow. No. Sorry. He was like that from the moment he was born. (I will grant that God knew he would one day end up the middle child and so designed accordingly, but, trust me, he came hard-wired that way.) I could tell the difference at the bris. My first son cried because he was in pain. My second one cried because he was angry.
He’s mellowed a bit since that eighth day. But, still, nothing comes easy with this one. Everything has the potential to turn into a philosophical, environmental and theological argument at the drop of a hat. Read the rest of this entry →
Sometimes I worry that I talk about Judaism too much. As much as I use the words Jew, Jewish, or Judaism, I’m saying them in my head even more. It’s become a tic of sorts, a knee-jerk reaction to the random information that comes at me all day long. What’s more, I have this habit of looking for fellow Jews in situations where a person’s religion or heritage is irrelevant. I worry that it’s gone too far.
A friend tells me her sister met a great guy. Is he Jewish? I think, but don’t ask. My book club (where I’m always aware of being one of two Jews) will discuss a novel that takes place in New Zealand in the 1950s, and I wonder if there were any Jews in New Zealand at that point in history. My son gets placed on a soccer team in our suburb of few Jews and I automatically scan the list looking for a possible Goldberg or Cohen.
I did not grow up this way. To tell you the truth, I knew few non-Jews in the very Jewish North Shore Chicago suburb where I spent my childhood. Sure, my parents and grandparents did the typical ethnic pride maneuver of taking personal credit when a Jewish person won an Oscar or a Nobel Prize. They felt the requisite shame, too, when a Jew made the news for doing anything illegal. But on account of being surrounded by Jews most of the time, I don’t remember my family or anyone else actively looking for others like them. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 24 2014
I recently made a new friend at my son’s preschool. We just moved to a new town and I was excited and anxious to meet new people, find our groove, and get into a new routine. In the first days of our acquaintance, my friend–who was also new to the area–e-mailed me to say that she was excited to find someone with the same worldview and the same sense of Jewishness.
My heart sank as I read her lines. Here it was again: that feeling of being an impostor, a wannabe, a fake. I wanted to immediately clear the air between us, but how to explain my complicated relationship with my own Jewishness?
When we first moved here and I was looking for a preschool for my son, I was relieved to find a Jewish nursery school just down the street from our apartment. When we visited I immediately felt comfortable and I knew that beyond finding a school, I have found a community for my little family. I am not sure what made me believe that, but it was the one certain thing I clung to amidst all the uncertainties of moving. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 5 2014
I recently wrote about my local kosher market’s announcement that it was closing after 74 years in business and how devastating the news was to so many people in our community. I regretted not shopping there more often and wished I had a chance to do things differently. But how often do we get second chances in life?
With immense pride in my community and gratitude to our leaders for coming together, we all have that second chance in the Greater Hartford area. Our beloved Crown Market has been saved, and I for one will be shopping there all the time. I will not make the same mistake twice. I hope everyone who was affected by this story takes to heart that our local businesses truly need our continuous and community-wide support.
In the many Jewish communities I have lived in over the years, I have never seen people put aside their differences and work together as decisively as this. Our Jewish community acted swiftly and cohesively to rescue one of our most prized institutions, but it could so easily have ended differently. The Crown Market was at the brink of closing, and in other communities around the world, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are not enough to put their institutions back together again. Don’t wait until your community’s institutions are on life support before mobilizing to save them! Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 19 2014
My community’s beloved Crown Market–serving the Greater Hartford community for 74 years with kosher products, butcher, deli-style prepared foods, and catering–announced this morning it was closing its doors. The Jewish community here is reeling. Increased competition in the area is cited as the cause but the horrifying truth is I am the cause.
We are all the cause.
I chose to shop at the new neighborhood Wal-Mart because we wanted to save money. What I realize now, much too late, is that if I had shopped at Crown and paid a little bit more, I would have been supporting this important part of the Jewish community that we cherish and love. And now, with a heavy heart, I admit I was wrong. I apologize. I know that isn’t enough. I wish it were. I wish I could promise to shop there for now on. I wish I could get 500 families to pledge to do the same. I wish I had known they were in trouble so I could have done something, anything. Read the rest of this entry →