For The Last Time: It's Not My Fault That My Dad Is Ruining The World


Yet again, this week I had to hear someone tell me my dad was ruining Judaism. Look, I’m sorry!

I get it, I do. It’s distressing for some people to learn that others are marrying out of the faith. And I guess to see the tangible proof of that treachery before you, when all you want is to bring people into the fold, is upsetting. But seriously: yelling at me about it isn’t going to change anything.

For once, when you approached me on the street, young Orthodox man, to ask me if I was Jewish, I thought I’d be honest. “My dad is,” I said, and then I immediately regretted it because the “and your mother is not” was not a question but an accusation. And what was I going to say?

You’d think I’d know better. After the whole “your father is the reason for the decline of his people” unpleasantness that time two years ago outside the mobile Sukkot hut on Riverdale Avenue. Or the old woman who said, “with your name it’s a shame” at that funeral. Talk about shooting the messenger. Not to mention visiting the sins of the father.

Because these are not the times, I always feel, to enter into debates on the finer points of religious tolerance, or spirited defenses of my parents’ mostly-happy 30-year-union, or even the irrationality of blaming someone for the circumstances of her birth. These are times for backing away slowly while the person rants and never, ever mentioning the term “half-Jewish” which is also (in these circumstances) inflammatory, and not debating the question of being “culturally Jewish.” These are times for running away from the sort of thing that one’s insulated from in progressive schools and enclaves where half your schoolmates practice some approximation of your own family’s creme-eggs-and-Matzoh religion.

I started volunteering with a new elderly friend this past week, too, not long after the Unpleasantness of my father ruining the faith. A woman with a great interest in history, news and classical music, I also knew her to be an observant Jew. And when she asked me if I was religious and I told her the truth about my family, I did hold my breath for a moment. But, “good for them,” she said. “Now you get to figure it out on your own.”

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