(painting, Occulus by Joan Cox)
I was born Jewish and raised Catholic… which is a lot of guilt. And different guilt. Catholic Guilt: Everything you enjoy is a sin. Jewish Guilt: Everything you enjoy will hurt your mother.
Actually, I was born Jewish, went to Catholic boarding school, baptized Lutheran and confirmed Episcopal. One summer I was a Methodist. That was all by the age of 15.
For my first six years, all I knew about was Jewish. We wore Jewish Stars, lit candles and said chhh AND we got eight presents for Hanukkah, Chanukkah. Then I found out some people were not Jewish. Some were Shiksas. I learned that when my widowed Dad married one. We stopped going to Hebrew school, stopped lighting candles and got a Christmas tree. My relatives were not happy –so we stopped –seeing my relatives.
When I was eleven, the Shiksa was tired of kids so I was dropped at the front door of a convent. Sister John Michael, the first nun I’d ever seen, introduces me to my new class. “This is Barbara and she’s Jewish.” I am welcomed with a warm GASP I have no idea my people killed their savior. Then Kathy Fleck, the other “Non-Catholic” identifies herself but points out she’s not Jewish… she’s Protestant. Whatever that is.
Here’s how Catholic looked to an eleven year old Jewish kid: The next morning we MARCH… over to the church. The other girls have little white doilies on their heads. As we’re going into the Church, I am accosted by a panicky nun who bobby pins a piece of Kleenex to my head.
Then there’s the “stand –sit- kneel” routine that is triggered by a repeat and answer sing-along led by a man in a pink satin dress. Kathy Fleck calls him Father. My Jewish Dad does not wear dresses… but apparently her dad does.
The song leader starts doing some hokus-pokus over a wine glass and everyone lines up in the front of the church. They kneel, stick out their tongues and get a Necco Wafer. When I get in line, another “nun panic” happens. They do not want me getting that Necco wafer. Later, I learn that the wafer is actually the body of the guy my people killed. I guess they didn’t want us to eat him too.
Again everyone lines up— I guess for seconds…. so I stay kneeling. But the nun who pinned my Kleenex pushes me into the line. Yippee, I get a wafer now. WRONG. The Father guy in the dress is walking along the railing muttering something about Dominos and putting his black thumb print on everyone’s forehead. It’s Ash Wednesday. Apparently Jews qualify for ashes.
I spent four years in Catholic Boarding School, and I learned all the rules… especially the one that said I couldn’t go to Heaven ‘cause I wasn’t baptized. Shit, I couldn’t even go to Purgatory and work my way out. Straight to Hell, unless I could work the “Limbo loophole.” Not the dance. Limbo is where all the babies go who would have been baptized if they had only known. I bought all of this.
The Catholic kids went to confession to clear away their sins. The nuns made me go to confession, but I wasn’t allowed to confess because I had “Original sin”. It blocks forgiveness. I was supposed say “I’m a non-Catholic and I’ve come for your blessing.” But once the priest found out I was Jewish, no more confession. I was taking up too much of Father’s time. I may not have been Catholic, but I felt Catholic guilt from that one… wasting a priest’s time. Or maybe it was Jewish Guilt.
When I started High School, my dad divorced the Shiksa and married the daughter of a Lutheran Minister. She was going to have a baby, and we would be a family. I moved home. No more convent.
My dad and his wife fought about the new baby being baptized. My dad lost. So they baptized all of us Lutheran. I think they got a group discount. I was happy. Finally I was getting rid of that Original Sin and I could start working on the Heaven thing with a fighting chance. Not only was the Original Sin gone, so was all the other sin on my soul… fifteen years worth. No Guilt. Thank you Jesus. I had a clean slate. That fact kept me a virgin all through High School. I wanted that slate to stay clean.
Lutherans had better songs, like Amazing Grace and Onward Christian Soldiers. No Necco wafers… bummer… pieces of matza. Isn’t that Jewish?
Just as I was getting that the Body of Christ was Matza, my stepmother moved up socially and made us all Episcopal. Episcopal was like Catholic in English with a married Reverend instead of a single Father who also wore a dress. And they used bread and dipped it in wine… no wafers, no matza.
So what Am I now? Well, I married a Jew, and I feel Jewish. It’s an ethnic thing. After all, if Hitler comes back, having been baptized would never save me. But I do believe in Jesus. I can’t unring that bell.
I want to belong. I’ve tried a bunch of Christian Churches but never found the “right fit.” Some of them say things that are anti-Semitic, or anti gay or they tell me who to vote for. And yes, I tried Jews for Jesus. Toooo— Jewish for me. . Mostly I go to Church for the music. Sounds sort of like buying Playboy for the Articles, huh?
I just celebrate everything that honors a Creator. You can name it God or Jesus or Allah or Buddah or I Am or He or She, I don’t care. My religious background has never been confusing to me. They’re all so similar. I can find God in any of God’s houses. When Easter and Passover are the same week, we have an Easter/Passover Seder. Our ceremony honors the common ground.
My daughter was raised to know she’s a Jew, exposed to church, and even attended an Episcopal school. She threw in some Eastern and Pagan beliefs to create her religion, which is different from mine. But like mine, it has no specific name.
She’s never been baptized. I feel Jewish AND Catholic guilt for that one. What kind of Mother doesn’t erase her kid’s Original Sin? But really… baptism should be her decision to make, not mine.
Religion can be such a great thing to uplift people, help them get through the uncertainty. It’s so weird to me that people care which one you are. There is room in Heaven for everyone. Water doesn’t get you in. Neither does your choice for president.
I wear this Star of David with a cross inside. I thought it embraced everything, but I discovered it just pisses everyone off. People want to know what you are.
A Jewish cousin tells me I am not a Jew, even though my parents were Jewish and Israel would let me in, no questions asked. He refuses to come inside our house during December because we have a tree. My father-in-law told me that he didn’t want to leave his money to my husband because I might get my hands it and contribute to the Nazis. What?? I’m a Jew.
I guess I’m not accepted because I mixed things up. I’m not a purebred. To Christians I’m a Jew; to Jews, I’m a traitor.
But my Dad started the whole thing. And here’s his Karma. He died an Atheist, was buried in an Episcopal Churchyard, has a memorial stone in a Jewish cemetery and a plaque in a Catholic Church.
So what have I learned from all this? That God, in the end, has an amazing, awesome, incredible… sense… of humor. And I know one thing for sure: my God is big enough to include everyone.
Barb North, is a mediator, conflict coach and negotiator. She has also designed and delivered more than 2,500 trainings in such areas as Conflict Resolution, Mediation, Communications Skills, Acting, Couples Communication, Improvisational Theater, Speaker’s Skills and Stand-Up Comedy. She has written and produced corporate training films, led seminars, retreats and facilitated group discussions. A keynote speaker and guest on such television shows as NBC’s The Other Half, Adelphia Cable’s Conflict Line, Barb is particularly skilled at working one-on-one with parties in conflict.