There are probably a million ways to be half-assed in life, and parenting seems to be an opportunity for me to explore most of them.
My semi-annual attempt to expose Ezra to his roots - roots I barely access myself - started last night with the first night of Hanukkah. Basically it means we dust off my grandmother's menorah, fumble through a half-understood Hebrew prayer, light a candle and give Ez a small present. This year it will be a series of eight Hot Wheels. I imagine we are all vaguely befuddled at this exercise, divorced as it is from any larger context in our lives. And yet, here I am, compelled to do it anyway.
My brother and I shuttled weekly between our parents' houses when we were growing up. Among other things this meant that the Episcopalians had custody of us every other Sunday morning. Alternate Sundays we ate bacon with our Jewish dad and listened to the Grateful Dead. Small wonder that I turned into a pagan/Buddh-ish/atheist.
Mom's week. Dad's week.
Here I am, still wondering what it means to claim identity and why it feels important anyway.
Here is what I know about Judaism: Family. Laws. Other. My paternal line is Jewish in a typical American way that involves bad news in eastern Europe, long journeys, short memories. Also, Brooklyn, boot straps, assimilation, intermarriage. It did not, in my experience, involve much in the way of temple, formal holidays, or practice. No matter. They are Jews because, as my father once told me, it's what they Are.
Judaism is a religion of laws, deeply imprinted with a sense of Other-ness (enforced from both within and without, over and over). The laws on this are clear: there is no half-half. You either Are or you Are Not. You are borne of a Jewish womb or you are not. Never mind Ukraine. Never mind Brooklyn. Never mind the occasional Passover or that one cousin's ostentatious Bar Mitzvah. Never mind the paternal line.
We lit the first candle last night. Ezra opened the '86 Monte Carlo, delighted.
I never had a menorah growing up. My entire experience of Hanukkah consisted of an annual check from my great-aunt Hannah. My brother asked me yesterday Why on Earth? and I have no good answer except Ezra is getting pretty far removed from the family's last Jewish womb and even though we Are Not, I want him to somehow know that this is related to him. As is Gin Rummy, and curly hair, and the old sepia portrait of the Russian soldier in the big furry hat.
Is pretending to practice Hanukkah a good way to do that? Hell, I don't know. Last night it brought up the familiar combination of feeling both ridiculous and half-assed that seems to accompany any of my tip-toed excursions toward this identity. But Ezra liked it, and he was golden in the light of my Grandma's menorah.
The book of Jewish children's stories I had as a child included the one where King Solomon was wise enough to know that no real mother would split the baby. No half-half. No half-ass.
I was never that sure of anything, my whole life. Must have been nice.