When I was eight I asked my neighbor Gary if his family had their Easter egg hunt in the backyard, as I’d heard was popular, or inside the house like ours did. “I’m Jewish, Billy,” he replied.
“So Jews don’t celebrate Easter.”
I could not understand what Jewish people could possibly have against chocolate bunnies and hunting for eggs, but religion was pretty mysterious to me in those days. Nine years later, on our second date, I asked my wife-to-be, whom I was certain – certain – was Greek, how her Christmas went.
“I’m Jewish, Bill.”
I had by then learned, very vaguely, about the Son of God issue, not to mention the Holocaust, but my family also had a membership to the Providence JCC (which, come to find out, meant Jewish Community Center) where we would swim every summer, so I remained largely unschooled about the very important difference. When I moved in with Jen seven years after that first date, I explained to her what my professors in Freshman Western Civilization had taught me about the differing theologies – aside from the Son of God thing, which even my un-bat mitzvahed wife was up on.
“So that’s the difference?” she asked.
When we were getting married a friend suggested we contact a very progressive (female!) rabbi to perform the service. When I told her I wasn’t Jewish she explained that she wouldn’t be able to help me.
I wanted to tell her about not just the JCC but also the Jewish Home for the Aged where I had worked as a dishwasher one summer. One of my jobs was to wheel the food to the dining rooms in large, heated serving carts. How happy those residents were when they saw me arriving with their meals, though I always felt a little odd seeing the tiny old woman who nodded with childlike delight and asked, “Dinner? Dinner?”
Still, I was glad I got to be the one tell her that dinner had in fact arrived. When she clapped after I told her the good news, it was unclear to me if she knew where she was, if she could remember much about the life that had brought her here, or if she remembered anything at all about the very important difference.
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