I am among those people who call ourselves “lapsed Jews”. You ‘real Jews’ know us just fine. You might dabble in being one of us, just to get a taste of what it’s like, but there’s something inside you that keeps you from fully giving yourself over to the Dark Side.
We’re the ones who eat bacon and shrimp with happy abandon. We don’t keep kosher (although we love us a kosher hot dog), we only set foot inside of a temple when someone dies, we never fast, and we refuse to live without unleavened carbs. Ever.
While you’re stuck in Shabbat Services on your Friday nights and Saturday mornings, we’re getting our heathen on. We ride elevators after dark on Fridays! We flip our own light switches, bitches! We watch TV all damn day if we want. While eating seafood drenched in cheese and pork fat. And we would never, ever, have sex through a tiny hole in a sheet. You can’t even get spanked that way. BORING. In fact, most of us are partnered up with non-Jews, or at least other Bad Jews. The sex is WAY hotter when you feel just a little guilty, you know.
We are only Jewish when we feel like being Jewish. You know, whenever there’s rampant Anti-Semitism, or it’s a holiday with really good food. See, that’s how they get us: those huge meals, all that comfort on a plate. It’s perfectly easy to tolerate a Passover Seder when you know there’s going to be potato kugel at some point (there’s also usually some sort of family confrontation fueled by Manichewitz). We become extra Jewish during the college years, mainly because we never get to eat anything decent and the holidays mean we get to feed like pigs at a trough. (See? I can’t even make a kosher animal reference. Bad Jew!)
We Bad Jews aren’t born this way; we evolve over years of interminable Hebrew lessons, boring services, preachy rabbis, obnoxious aunts pinching our cheeks, and whining. We develop our own special sort of neuroses: maybe we should feel guilty, because we don’t feel guilty? But then we just kind of shrug it off and take another bite of a really delicious bacon cheeseburger while reading Foreskin’s Lament instead of the Old Testament.
Perhaps I didn’t have the best of role models when growing up in 1970s and 80s New Jersey. Although we were surrounded by Jews on all sides, being Jewish felt not like a religion, but like a social group. Meaning: loud, yelly, and sweary, and we also all went to the same temple. At least, it was like that on my street. Being Jewish wasn’t about being pious, it was about what you wore to services. And the services were really just a lead-up to the Oneg Shabbat, where we could chat while stuffing ourselves with pastries. Hey, I’ll sit through almost anything if it means Chocolate Honey-Glazed Dunkin Munchkins when it’s over. I’m not made of stone, people.
Every year for Passover, my mother would cook all day in preparation of what my father jokingly called “The Dublin Family Blitz Seder”. We sat in the dining room, and my father would flip through his Haggadah and pick out what he called “the best parts.” Basically, we’d read the story of Passover, go through the Seder plate, run down the list of Plagues (always the best part of the Haggadah), read the Four Questions, and then skip to what the Haggadah called “The Festive Meal”. My mother would try to get my father to take some of it seriously (“Michael!” she’d hiss at his inappropriateness at least three times per Seder), but it usually fell apart somewhere around the Second Question. My mother would give up and start serving the Festive Meal, which is all we wanted in the first place. My mom can cook, yo.
The last Seder I attended was some years ago, at the home of a very observant friend. Like, she had two sets of dishes, even! Despite the fact that all of our kids were too young and squirmy to sit at the table for more than eight seconds at a time, Sheila (NOT her real name) insisted they all sit as we read through the story of Passover. As in, the entire Haggadah. No skipping. I’d had no idea what I was in for; otherwise, I would have feigned illness and ordered a pizza with the kids at home.
By the time we’d reached The Festive Meal, I wasn’t feeling anything remotely like festivity. Chasing small half-goyishe kids around someone else’s house while she’s seriously trying to conduct a religious ceremony is exhausting. I actually felt like I’d been walking the desert for 40 years by the time I got some food in me. We stuffed ourselves, which is of course the best part, and then I offered to help with the dishes, thereby expediting our exit.
“Oh, we’ll do those later,” Sheila replied. “We still have the second half to do.”
“Second half of what?” I asked. I honestly had no idea what she meant.
She looked at me like I was mentally ill. “The second half of the service,” she said, incredulously.
I had never done the second half in my life, not even during the years I went to Hebrew School. We NEVER went to the Seder at Temple, because we knew we’d be there for five hours. The Blitzing Dublins and their short attention spans like to get in, get fed, and get out.
It was nearly nine pm at that point, and my kids were falling asleep. I had to work the next day (“You don’t take off for Passover?” Sheila had sniffed. Yeah, we no longer hang out) and desperately wanted to go home. I blamed our hasty exit on the kids, who were at Defcon 4 of the Meltdown Stage. The look on her face as we left said it all:
Well, sorry, folks. I don’t hate on you for believing in an invisible being in the sky (whoopsie, there I go, imparting my own agenda there), so please don’t hate on me for not believing it, mmkay? I’m proud of my heritage and would never deny it. It rocks that our tribe continues to exist and thrive and whatnot, but I personally don’t have the need to sit in a building and speak a language I don’t understand to feel better about the world around me.
This Bad Jew feels a little bit better now that I’ve been able to come clean. I joke about being Jewish a lot, but it’s also a huge part of my self-identity. I wouldn’t be who I am without my Jewish background, and it’s informed my humor and many other traits over the course of my life.
It’s also now given me a wicked craving for matzoh ball soup and a BLT. Some things never change.