11 Shvat 5779 / Thursday, January 17, 2019 | Torah Reading: Beshalah
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Not Second Best    

Not Second Best

We saw the great time that our non-Jewish neighbors were having. Our "religion" – secular style with no emuna – just didn't seem to have anything fun to offer…


I was about five years old when I decided that being Jewish was second best. Until then, I hadn't seen a Christmas tree. Enthralled by the glitter of the sparkly balls and frosted ornaments, the tinsel woven into the branches, I couldn't believe that Christian people got to have trees like that inside their house!


What I liked even more was the little nativity scene underneath, like an exotic play-mobile exhibit underneath the tree.


How could a simple brass menorah compare to that?


When Easter came, the gentile kids got chocolate marshmallow bunnies and ran around all morning searching for colored eggs they had dyed the night before, so that their parents could hide them. We Jewish kids sat at the table for hours reading from a boring Haggada and eating matza. If you were basically secular, which religion would you choose?


After we moved to Scaggsville, even deeper in the heart of Maryland, being a Jew became not just lame but actually unpleasant. Obviously we didn't attend any of the local churches, which immediately estranged us from the community. The fact that my father drove into Washington D.C. every morning for work made us even more different. All the other Dads worked locally.


During the Christmas season when the school choir practiced the carols, I stayed behind in the classroom with a girl who was Seventh Day Adventist. Our teacher told us in a snippy tone that we should go to a different school if we didn't want to participate and made it clear to me that she did not take kindly to Jews. I was the only Jewish student there.


My brother in high school got roughed up regularly but hid it from my father. Being a girl, I just had to put up with taunts like “Hey, where's your horns?” or “You killed our savior!”


On Friday nights we drove to a bank, where services were held in the basement. Afterwards the Rabbi's wife made kiddush, we ate some cookies and drove home. That was Shabbos.


The gentiles had Sabbath on Sunday. After church, they would have big family get-togethers with lavish lunches on roomy porches and play tether ball or miniature golf.


How could my religion ever compete with the richness that seemed to be Christianity? I was lonely on Sundays so when I was in sixth grade I accepted an invitation to go with my friend to church. I didn't tell my parents, I knew that my father would get very angry and say something scary in Yiddish.


I followed LuAnne into the big wooden building that was dark and cool inside. I felt very nervous; I knew I shouldn't be there. I kept my head down, my eyes riveted on the gray stone floor. When I finally looked up I saw a huge marble statue of you-know-who nailed to a you-know-what. He gazed down on me with a mournful expression. He wasn't happy to see me. “This is an idol!” I thought in horror, “I am not allowed to look!”


I turned and barged out the door, mortified that I had committed such a sin.


I went home, my secret inside of me, a secret I kept for years.


Two years later we moved back to Silver Spring. I still wasn't enjoying being Jewish but I had stopped caring about religion anyway. It was the sixties and differences were played down for the sake of pretending we were all the same. It was the age of Aquarius and all the hippies were giving peace a chance. And a second chance. They're still waiting and I wish them well.


In the meantime, I am busy living a Jewish life in the Holy Land.

And there is nothing second best about it although it came as a surprise to me. The Judaism I grew up with didn't include the fun parts, the passion or the notion of a personal God.


As I watch my kids and my grandkids delight in dressing for Purim, camp out in a Sukka they helped build or hunt for the Afikoman, I am so grateful that they have what I didn't even know existed. And that for them, there is nothing more thrilling than being a Jew.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel. You can set up an appointment with her by contacting staff@breslev.co.il

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