Friday, March 26, 2010

For the rest

Over the years, I have been asked several times if I am Jewish. I just laugh, and say no, that I am a French-Cherokee heathen, and point to my cheekbones that practically rest in my eyes. Yet the question pervades, no matter where I go, different people cock their head, raise an eyebrow and say, sometimes hopefully, "Are you Jewish?"
Finally, recently, I asked one of these people why they thought that. Mostly the askers are Jewish.
"Well, I think it's something about your voice. And the way you talk with your hands and your matter-of-factness with your children. It seems like you have a Jewish mother, for certain."
Huh? My mother is a shadowy Brittanic woman with the biggest hair on God's green earth. We started calling her TBH (Texas Big Hair) years ago. It actually poofs out beyond her shoulders.
But Jewish?
Well, given that the criteria that was described to me was limited, I brushed it off, until one Sunday, when my older brother came to the house and started talking about all his ailments, mostly related to Lyme disease.
"Ma, look at my calves, they're huge, I have so much fluid in my legs," he says.
"You should go to the doctor, I'm telling you. No more screwing around with this. You'd go if you had cancer, right."
"Yeah. Actually, I think I might. Feel this bump on my hand," he holds it out for me to feel, and there is indeed a hard, pea-sized lump between his fingers.
"Ma, he isn't joking, there's a huge bump. Do you have arthritis, do you think?"
My mother puts on her gigantic reading glasses and gestures with her hand, "C'mere, let me see this thing. You're too young to have arthritis."
He obediently goes to her, his hand held out as if it were full of marshmallows, shaking a little.
"Huh, that's not normal, Joshua. My God, it's not even moving! Huh. You really should go to the doctor, I'm not kidding, that could be something cancerous, or a cyst or something."
She sips her coffee, investigating the lump that has stolen most of the afternoon. She is cross-eyed behind her giant glasses, tsking and shaking her head at my brother's neglect of his lump.
That's when it hits me. Right there. My mother's eyes squinted, my brother's ailments, my father reading the newspaper quietly on the couch. Soup simmering on the stove, the several thousand latkes my mother made for us. The matzo balls my children love, the emotional silence, the loud hands and dramatic voices, all of it.

I do have a Jewish mother. And she has a Jewish mother (you should meet my grandmother, oh my god). How could I not have noticed? Can one be a Jew and not know it? Can one be anything and not know it?

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