Jan 3 2014
In the overlapping part of the Venn diagram of my childhood–growing up Jewish in a small village, obsessed with musical theater, and without many television channels–lies Fiddler on the Roof. We owned it on two VHS tapes, although sometimes we just watched the first one, turning it off at the end of the happy part of the wedding and skipping the “demonstration” at the end. (We took a similar tactic with The Sound of Music, which made it a show about up-cycling curtains rather than escaping the Nazi occupation.)
I first saw a live production of Fiddler when I was about 11 years old, at a beautifully ramshackle community theater just north of my town. I remember Tevye’s thick Maine accent (HOSS and CAHT) and the over-the-top gleeful macabre humor of the dream sequence. I acted in it the summer before I left for college in a more polished production at Interlochen Arts Camp. I played Shprintze and Grandmother Tzeitl, and was hoisted high in the air over another actor’s head to “fly” in maternal rage. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 16 2013
“Even though your husband isn’t Jewish, let’s screen you for Tay-Sachs,” my Amazonian midwife told me at my 8-week maternity visit. She, like me, and despite the nearly two-foot difference in our heights, is of Ashkenazi extraction. It made sense–why not err on the side of caution?
I wasn’t able to get a 12-week appointment with my midwife that lived with my work schedule, so I saw an obstetrician at the same practice.
“Tay-Sachs?” he muttered back to me as I tried not to fall asleep on the table. “Do we do that?”
Oh, the joys of being Jewish in small town Maine.
“You might be the first Tay-Sachs draw we’ve ever done!” he exclaimed. “I don’t even know how to add it to your lab order!” Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 12 2013
I was raised by my secular, humanist Jewish family in the woods of central Maine. We were surrounded by lakes and maples, heard loons at night and occasionally, a moose and her calf wandered into our backyard, much to the consternation of our golden retriever. There were no sidewalks in our town, no traffic lights. My sisters and I played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the backyard until dark. It was isolated and idyllic.
That same isolation became disruptive once we entered the small public elementary school in the next town. We were raised to be proud and outspoken about our heritage, to speak up when teachers talked about Hanukkah in the context of “Christmas Around the World,” to bring in our brass menorahs and wooden dreidels and explain our customs to our classmates.
You may already know how this story goes. Sixth grade boys drew swastikas on their notebooks and showed them to me. “Do you know what this means?” they asked, feigning innocence. My sister’s classroom teacher referred to Judaism as a branch of Christianity, and her classmates called her a “stupid Jew” when she corrected her. A small blonde girl in my class kicked me as I walked up the stairs to the bus, hissing “Jew” in my ear as I fell. In middle school, well-meaning friends urged me to become a Jew for Jesus, to avoid my inevitable damnation. Our bus route took us past hand-painted signs nailed to a grove of trees that read “Jews = Sinners” and “Sinners Damned to Hell.” Read the rest of this entry →