Being Jewish

Most days I forget that I would have been put in the gas chamber. I rarely tell anyone that by Jewish Law, I am, Jewish. I never understood how the Jewish part got to lay claim to me because of my Mother, even though I always celebrated Christmas with my Dad’s family. Daniel Polk, first name Jewish, surname Christian. At Temple Rodef Shalom I studied Moses and the Maccabees. I labored there reading an ancient alphabet with my moussed hair slicked back, trying to look like Don Johnson. Hardly anyone from my intermediate school went to that temple. I never fit, in a word, I thought they (the Jews), were nerds. I liked sports not the computer games they spoke about, their noses and animated faces more Ashkenazi than mine. Yet, I still learned about the holocaust through the patience of Ziva Zysman who survived the camps, endured my halting Hebrew, trained me to stand and be a bar mitzvahed man. Like many quasi-half breed reform Jews, I quit going to synagogue after my bar mitzvah, took the money and ran. But later I journeyed to Israel, researched my mother’s family from Iasi, Romania, Odessa, the pogroms, went through periods of reading Isaac Bashevis Singer, kept flirting with my inner Jew. Judaism would sometimes flirt back, they are married now, have kids with real Jewish men, but we dated then and I pretended that religion could mean something. Years later I took my biggest leap, taught at a Jewish high school where some of the students wore kippahs everyday. My first year a parent asks me, What’s it like for you to be surrounded by all these Jews? After that, I put my Bar Mitzvah certificate up over my desk like it was some kind of diploma, like I actually belonged, like somehow the paper made me kosher. I didn’t, I’m not. Last December I met a rabbi in Mexico while on vacation, told him my lifelong dilemma. Daniel, you either feel it within or you don’t. I don’t feel it, but I don’t not feel it either, caught between tradition, definition, and my own philosophic spirit. Most days I just breathe, some days I pray. To what God? I’m not sure.