First and foremost, some SSS&C housekeeping…
I fear that I inadvertently belie myself in this space by so frequently referencing my Jewish heritage. For some reason, my stream of bloggish consciousness harps on the fact of it inordinately moreso than does my reality.
Funny, how that works.
Yes, I hail from a mad cool, gargantuan Jewish family. Yes, I attended a private Jewish day school and became a Bat Mitzvah at (a few days shy of) thirteen. Yes, I can read, write and (to an extent) speak Hebrew. Yes, I joked about being a Wandering New York Jew the week I was homeless last summer.
However, to be clear: I identify as culturally, not spiritually, Jewish.
I do not practice religion, nor have I – other than when paying respect to my family – since I was old enough to think critically. I’m a Woody Allen-style Jew; Alvy Singer in so many ways, right down to the non-kashrut-related abhorrence of shellfish. (Kashrut is the generic noun form of kosher.)
But unlike Woody/Alvy and my guru Christopher Hitchens, I’m decidedly not an atheist Jew. For me, the certainty inherent in both atheism and theism is equally problematic. Metaphysically-speaking, I’m agnostic. In the realm of the corporeal (where I prefer to dwell), I’m a humanist.
I learned the term “humanist” when Fadda – with just a hint of progressive Baby Boomer pride amidst his heartbreak and, indeed, rage at my secularism – told a young but philosophical me that I was one when I first asserted discomfort with Jewish exceptionalism. (I didn’t phrase the discomfort quite so eloquently at the time.)
Higher Power or otherwise, I cannot brook the concept of a “Chosen People.” It offends me on behalf of mankind at large. People are people. Prick them, they bleed. That said, the Jews are my people.
Do not fuck with my people.
Good. Now my house is in order. On with the show!
I’m not just the eldest of six children. I’m the eldest of seventeen grandchildren on my father’s side, every one of whom has become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. (Same goes for the two older cousins on the Canadian side.) I may be the lone family heretic, but I’ve never missed a family simcha (religious celebration). I’ve been there to support every single brother, sister and cousin the day he or she was called to the Torah as a Jewish adult.
I am proud of this accomplishment.
My Bat Mitzvah was Labor Day weekend 1992. Two weeks ago, I flew from NYC to St. Petersburg, Florida for the seventeenth and final such simcha of my generation. My Bat Mitzvah was an unhappy experience that’s largely been relegated to a blur of tears and personal regret in my mind’s hard drive. (Don’t ask.) But the seventeenth and final such simcha of my generation shall be filed under “Fond Memories.” ‘Twas a lovely send-off for a dynastic era.
Mom has long referred to my youngest sibling and me as her “bookends.” Here we are, sharing an ugly sweater vest at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2000:
Stacy & Leslie “Lou” LeVine
And if Lou and I are Mom’s bookends, the Bat Mitzvah girl and I are Baba’s.
I stopped by the ancient and awesome St. Petersburg City Theatre in between the Bat Mitzvah service and party to pick up a check from one of my freelance editing clients, Gidget Cross. Gidget is a local legend. For decades the most high-profile youth theatre director/producer in the Tampa Bay area, she has an enormous but rough draft catalogue of already-produced original dramatic/musical works for children.
I, myself, never worked with Gidget as a kid. But I knew her well by reputation. And today, I’m editing that enormous catalogue of children’s theatre and prepping a 2014 workshop in NYC livin’ for her Tampa Bay millennials.
A workshop in steering Scylla and Charybdis, as it were.
It gets cooler.
“When does HELLO, DOLLY! come into it?” you ask.
I recall very little about my own Bat Mitzvah, but I remember vividly the full experience of that week. Because, in the home-stretch of age twelve, I’d been cast as the seventeen-year-old “Ermengarde” in a local adult production of Hello, Dolly!, and I was excused from dress rehearsal so I could go become a woman.
I was very proud of this accomplishment.
(The adult casting, not the supposed becoming of one.)
My heart and soul were in the theatre Labor Day weekend 1992, not in the synagogue. And I’m still of the same mind twenty-one years later. I was excited to revisit that theatre (and get paid), but I’d long forgotten that my name is actually inscribed upon its hallowed walls. Fortunately, Lou came along for the errand. She remembered – though she was a mere 14 months at my Bat Mitzvah and, alas, not invited – and pointed it out to me:
Fun, full-circle, bookendishness!!!
See? I’m not all doom and gloom.
Pursuant to not being Eeyore, I’ll share a rare tale of personal triumph two weeks from now, with Musing #25: Magic Words…And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.
Until then, “Damn the torpedoes, put on your Sunday clothes!”