I’m Not Much Of A Jew, But I Am Jew-ish

I’m Not Much Of A Jew, But I Am Jew-ish

Confessions of a Rosenblum.

I'm not a very religious Jew, but my last name is Rosenblum, so people give me the benefit of the doubt. In reality, I don’t do most of the things that Jews are supposed to do: go to Synagogue, keep Kosher, rest on the Sabbath. Instead, I just sit around all day fulfilling Jewish stereotypes. It doesn’t make for a very good college essay about cultural identity: Judaism is important to me because I have dark curly hair, I'm awkward, I can't play sports, and I outperform other Caucasian groups academically. When I word it as such, it seems like a pretty awful way to connect with my cultural heritage. Perhaps it is. I’m not going to defend my complicated relationship with Judaism, but I will try to explain how it came to be.

Strictly speaking, I’m Jewish because my mother is Jewish, and boy is she. Her religious affiliation on Facebook is listed as “Jewish mother,” as it’s a point of pride for her. I’m very glad I have a Jewish mother, though, because if I didn’t, how else would I know when I’m hungry? It’s not like my body has any sort of mechanism for determining this on its own. Or if it does, it’s always wrong. I’ll be sitting at the dinner table and my mother will say, “Julian, did you get enough to eat?” to which I’ll respond, “Yes, Mom, I’m full.” Then she’ll say “No, you’re too skinny. Go have another g’fh’hkh.”[1] And so I'll have another g’fh’hkh.

Other than that, my Jewish education growing up consisted of twenty-minute Passover Seders, receiving toy trucks for Hanukkah, and most importantly, attending public school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I knew I was a Jew the same way I knew that I was white or that I was American: it was told to me one day and I didn’t think twice about it. Most of my friends were Jewish too, or at least half-Jewish, which I assumed meant they only had to wear half a sweater when it was 70 degrees out.

What I didn’t know growing up in New York City is that Judaism is actually a very small religion. I distinctly remember the first time I saw a pie chart with the religions of the world and their sizes. There had to have been a mistake. There was no way that Judaism comprised only .2 percent of the world’s population — there were three Abraham Goldsteins in my kindergarten class and that sure as hell couldn’t have been all of them. And it wasn’t. There were a few more, but they must have all lived within a five-block radius of me for the numbers to work out. Apparently, I was a minority of sorts outside of New York. Judaism was actually something kind of special. Who knew? I put the fact in my back pocket and continued with my life as normal, watching "Seinfeld" on Yom Kippur [2] with a Shellfish Bacon Cheeseburger [3] and a side of irony.

When I got to a certain age, my parents sat me down and brought up the fact that Jewish boys such as myself typically have Bar Mitzvahs when they turn thirteen. They said they wouldn’t force me, but if I wanted one, I needed to decide soon so I could start making up for the Jewish education they had neglected to give me. I knew what a Bar Mitzvah was and I knew that all my friends were about to have them. To clarify, a Bar Mitzvah is a ceremony where a Jewish boy becomes a man and demonstrates the fruits of his cultural and biblical study by reading from the Torah. However, I do maintain that whoever came up with this idea hadn’t met very many thirteen-year-old Jewish boys, because the term “man” really doesn’t come to mind.

As an eleven-year-old, the prospect of becoming a man the Jewish way seemed like a lot of work. I would need to learn to read Hebrew and study stories about God. My relationship to God had always been a peculiar one. I knew that Jews believed in God and that my family and I were Jewish, but there were some issues with transitivity. My parents had never given me any indication that they actually believed in a traditional notion of God. God had less of an involvement in my Jewish experience than bagels and lox, so how was I supposed to talk about Him seriously in front of a bunch of people, let alone in a different language? But there was no escaping Judaism for me. It was not an option. Walking around Manhattan with that hair, that nose, and those bagels would cause people to assume that I knew a thing or two about God, and so I decided it was about time that I learned.

On the one hand, having a Bar Mitzvah and learning a bit of Jewish history made me realize how lucky I am that I can be a Jew so casually. Most Jews in most places for most of time were subjugated and had to fight to preserve their identity through the strict principles that I can mock so openly. They used faith in God to get through difficult times the likes of which I’ve never come close to experiencing. They had to fight back against the stereotypes that I can playfully embrace since I know they won’t pose real obstacles in my life.

On the other hand, I also kind of did it for the money, which I think is a pretty Jewish reason. I don't think my parents had any qualms about that. And we had the service in an Italian restaurant.

[1] Not a real Hebrew word. Pronounced with a large quantity of phlegm.

[2] Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday where one typically fasts for the purpose of atonement.

[3] A Shellfish Bacon Cheeseburger is a fictitious food item that breaks at least three rules about what Jews are supposed to eat.

Cover Image Credit: midtownlunch.com

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Are You Living Your Life Captive Or Captivated?

Every single day we wake up faced with new decisions.

As humans, we are subjected to hurtful things just as often as peaceful things.

We have all experienced the peace brought about by a clean slate—a fresh start but in the same way, we have all experienced pain as a result of bad experiences.

I have struggled in my life quite significantly and it wasn’t until recently that I came to some pivotal realizations.

I lived in prison. I was shackled. I was bound. I was a captive. My mind was the prison and my thoughts were the prison guard. I wasn’t living in the present. Rather I was stuck in the muck of my past and it was dreadful.

At first, I was the obedient prisoner. I did what I was told. I listened to the prison guard or the thoughts that told me I would never be free; the thoughts that told me that no matter how hard I tried I would never experience freedom or the joy that came with it.

It was dark and it was draining not only emotionally but also physically.

I started to rebel but I was rebelling against the truth. I rebelled against the idea that there was any light at all. So instead of looking up, I turned my back and started running deeper into the darkness.

For years I ran back toward this darkness immersing myself further in a depression. This depression told me that I wasn’t worthy and that I should just give up because no one would care anyway.

I know this is a reality that many people face but if you only get one piece of what I’m trying to say may it be this:

People do care and you are more worthy than you can even begin to understand. I know this is a hard reality to accept but know you aren’t alone and you never will be.

I have begun to realize that life doesn’t have to be this way, there is a way out of the prison--- there is a way to defeat the prison guard and open the door to a freedom that was always waiting for you.

It’s an answer you may not want to hear but the only way out of the prison is through recognizing the lies that the prison guard whispers as such and in retaliation throwing a punch backed by the truth.

The only way to open this door to freedom and a fulfilling life is through the love and the truth which is given abundantly by God. The only way to make the giant, depression fall is to surrender and accept help from the one that can defeat it. God.

It’s not easy to do. It’s a journey but it begins by making a choice every day to say “yes, Lord,” “I can’t do this on my own Lord.”

You can wake up every morning and choose to live your life as a captive to the lies or be captivated by God’s grace.

Become humbly victorious my friends. Praise God for His great work!

Cover Image Credit: Ben White

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Heaven Isn’t Real, And Other Contemplations About God

God is a woman, for sure.

Somedays, it’s hard to look around at all the endless piles of garbage called my life and say, “Yes, God is real.” But there are some instances that can’t be overlooked; when faced with so many close calls, one must say there is a God, and she is great.

I’m speaking of all the times I’ve faced death and lived, metaphorically and literally -- every time I did something stupid on the highway and I didn’t get in a wreck -- every time I got bullied and someone stood up for me (or better yet, I stood up for myself). Yes, I’m remembering the time I had to be admitted to a mental hospital because of suicidal thoughts. I pulled through. I conquered that. I’d like to thank God, who is a strong, bossy woman, who told me, “Honey, you’re not going to die. Today isn’t your day. You have plenty of time to piss people off and fuck around with your life and make people happy. Today isn’t your day.”

Here’s what I want to say. You will conquer it, whatever ‘it’ is. You wanna know why? Because God or god or Allah or Zeus or whatever deity you believe in is inside of you -- because there is love in you. There is something that is surreal, that is ineffable, that is intangible, and that is what God is.

I was at the American Museum of Natural History in New York a few weeks ago. My brother wanted to see the Hayden Planetarium. There are two shows I remember seeing. One was about the Big Bang theory. This BBC article on the Big Bang theory describes how the universe was formed:

Around 13.8 billion years ago, all the matter in the Universe emerged from a single, minute point, or singularity, in a violent burst. This expanded at an astonishingly high rate and temperature, doubling in size every 10-34 seconds, creating space as it rapidly inflated. Within a tiny fraction of a second gravity and all the other forces were formed. Energy changed into particles of matter and antimatter, which largely destroyed each other. But luckily for us, some matter survived. Protons and neutrons started to form within the first second; within minutes these protons and neutrons could fuse and form hydrogen and helium nuclei. After 300,000 years, nuclei could finally capture electrons to form atoms, filling the Universe with clouds of hydrogen and helium gas. Within this were tiny ripples of matter that were stretched to enormous sizes during inflation, and in turn, these became the seeds for the galaxies and galactic clusters we see today.

Depending on your views, you may see this as rubbish, but science doesn’t oppose God and vice versa. Who’s to say God isn’t the ‘singularity’ from which the universe emerged? Who is to say God isn’t the creator of the galaxies and the planets and the solar system?

The sad fact is that someday humanity as we know it will die out. It could be that resources will become scarce because of overpopulation, famine, war. It might be that the sun becomes hot enough that it starts boiling the ocean and our planet becomes unlivable. (I’m not making this up. This will actually happen in 1-2 billion years). We could be wiped out by a giant asteroid, like the premise of Ben Winters’ brilliant novel "The Last Policeman." I don’t know.

There is no good way for the world to end, and while I was envisioning this inevitable ending at the Hayden Planetarium, I was thinking, “If there is God, she will keep us living. She would not let us perish, her supposed greatest creations?” I’m sorry, I’m a drama queen. In that planetarium, I got this big sense of dread. More than that, I was Alice going down the rabbit hole. I thought, “There must be a heaven. It can’t end like this.”

But it can. Now, I am going to say something controversial: I don’t believe there is a heaven or hell. Look around you. This is the most beautiful it will ever get. There is a song that goes, “Heaven is a place on Earth.” That is to say, heaven is right here, and I believe that.

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” said Stephen Hawking. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

It’s true that people are afraid of the dark. When people think of death, they think of tragedy, of suffering, of the unknown. I think of a black hole that sucks and sucks all your energy out and all your matter disintegrates. Where does that matter go? Where do I go? Those are perfectly good questions. I know what happens to our bodies. We slowly dissolve into the world, peacefully, calmly, without life’s mess. We become food for plants, then become those plants, then become food for other beings, maybe even humans. It’s okay to be this way.

But, you say, “What happens to our minds, our soul?”

They don’t go to heaven, hell or any traditional afterlife. Religion is not for the dead, but maybe, they become part of our galaxy. Maybe, like Tristran and Yvaine in "Stardust," our souls shoot up into space and become stars. I think that’s a more fitting ending.

And if you don’t believe me, that’s fine. We are all entitled to our beliefs but do not use heaven as an excuse to not live your life to the fullest. Every minute counts. Let your cup overflow. Snatch up all forms of happiness and do not fear death. Be the best you can be. Not because God is watching, but because you owe it to yourself. God is good, strong and wondrous, and so you must be.

JK Rowling said:

“Do not pity the dead, Harry, pity the living, and most of all, those who live without love.”
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Listen to JK.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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