“Do you want wine, beer, or scotch?”
“Scotch,” I immediately answered. Nearly before Gordon could even finish the word.
I entered the living room—my caramel wife, cinnamon daughter, and grey-eyed blonde-haired mother-in-law following behind me—to the scene of three little tykes scampering around the on the floor while their parents, Matthue and Itta, and Gordon’s wife and brother Rachel and Seth were lounging on several seating surfaces ranging from couch to folding chair, heartily engaged in the labor of polishing off a bottle of Glenmorangie 10 standing beside a plate of organic pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.
No, this wasn’t game night or a weirdly classy Super Bowl party. This was Rosh Hashanah. (After services, naturally).
We weren’t exactly a ragtag group, either.
On paper we were a high-end magazine sales manager, an editor, a social media director, two published authors, a restaurant owner, an adjunct professor, and a clinical psychologist. And a magician. Who’d performed for Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs’ kids.
We were two declared but laidback Lubavitchers, a post-Chabadnik, three ex-Conservative now Orthodoxers, one Shomer “I’m not Orthodox” Mitzvot, and one Reform-but-respectful.
I shot the breeze on one side of the room talking with two like-minded guys about the pros and cons of not having a definitively “set” go-to Rabbi, while on the other my wife coordinated setting up a study buddy to learn about the ins and outs of tzniut (Jewish modesty) which eventually ballooned to involve most of the room as we decried the fact that most of Orthodoxy seems to miss the point that tzniut for women doesn’t mean looking like a bunch of bruised potatoes in an old burlap sack. That “dressing in an attractive manner” and “dressing in an attracting manner” were two disparate issues. As the two authors in the group, Matthue and I discussed editing strategies and genre crossing. And at some point, somebody started talking about Batman.
We’re part of that “new millennial Judaism” that seems to be the rage for everyone nowadays.
Y’know the one that screams about how much of millennial Judaism is unaffiliated, the one that’s relegated to the kooky, socially unusual fringes of society, the one often portrayed as the realm of the “enlightened” newly ex-Orthodox or the nearly secular who’ve defiantly adopted or reclaimed some specific traditional aspects of observance.
Except our little group? We’re none of those. We’re just normal people intelligent enough to think outside of the boxes. All of the boxes. And there’s more of us than you might think.
All my life I’ve shied away from counter-culture Judaisms, because while the people in them often shared certain “the system is broken” viewpoints of mine, there was one large distinguishing factor: they were weird.
Not that there’s anything wrong with “weird” (a subjective term, admittedly) or expressing creativity or individuality in any of a variety of ways which one may see fit. Not everybody fits into the various cookie cutter molds of society. But that doesn’t mean hanging out with people you’re not compatible with just because of a shared interest.
Because if I’m the only Black guy in a room full of socially-maladjusted people where the only other thing “fringe-like” about me is my skin color…then that’s slightly problematic. Because I’m not amongst a group of my social peers at that point. I’m cosigning that my skin is as much of a handicap as their Asperger’s, because quite frankly, even if this group didn’t hold the “radical” ideas that we have in common, they’d still be on the fringe because their level of social grace leaves much to be desired.
And honestly? It hinders any major mainstream Jewish change from being made.
If a guy wearing pants he made from his own dreadlocks is telling you that’s it’s wrong to discriminate because of [fill-in-the-blank], do you really think the mainstream is going to listen? Or will they patronizingly roll their eyes in that kind of “Of course that kind of person would think that” way. Now try the same scenario with a clinical psychologist. Or a professor. Then they kinda have to sit up and pay attention. Or at least they should.
And that perception, the one of a forward-thinking, creatively flexible Judaism being a place where only the stranger-than-fiction resides, scares people away from ever exploring their own feelings or thoughts in and on Judaism, for fear of being one of the “weirdos”.
The point is there’s “new fresh Judaisms” everywhere. Just as socially conscious, just as intelligent, just as racially inclusive and diverse as the “fringers”, and just as capable of being as religious and observant as the mainstream it rails against.
Go out and find them. Go out and join them. Don’t believe the hype that only “outcasts” get to point out injustices or the uselessness of the labels of Judaism.
Make it your new year’s resolution for 5775
And try adding scotch and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to your Rosh Hashanah routine. You’ll be glad you did
Especially for the scotch.
MaNishtana is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, author of “Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe”, and the Executive Director of The Shivtei Jeshurun Society (www.SJSociety.org). He blogs at http://www.manishtana.net. He drinks anywhere.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.