Monday, December 6, 2010

letters I daydream about sending

Dear Abba,

I wish I could say mazal tov on your recent acquisition of a sefer torah, but I wouldn't want to give the appearance of condoning your decision, especially when that decision further increases the social distance between us. I've learned from you that it's more important to express my disapproval of your religious decisions than it is to feel happy that someone in my family is happy.

I do love that you've decided to include the name of an Apikores on your Torah scroll. Also glad to see from your photos of the Torah dedication (that you felt the need to send me) that you're still friends with that sexist douchebag S, whose constant put downs directed at me as a teenager (based on my gender) definitely contributed to my complete disgust with your religion and the members of it. The irony is delightful on so many levels. I also like that comment about this being a "family heirloom"- you might as well say it's a gift for E, since we all know that 2/3rds of your children are not religious and will not raise their children in your religious tradition. Well, at least you found some good use for the money you would have spent on my wedding if I had married a Jew.

No Love,
Abandoning Eden

P.S. Please stop sending me dvar torahs, I could not care less how a book of mythology written 3000 years ago can be interpreted to apply to contemporary issues. In fact, I can do without the pictures of religious ceremonies too- I don't send you pictures of my Christmas tree, and I would appreciate the same courtesy from you.

This is probably why I haven't been writing back to my dad's emails in the past few months.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I'm the rabbi's rebel daughter...for reals

When I was around 10 my dad started a gemarah shiur on Shabbas afternoons in our house as preparation for my bat mitzvah. A gemarah shiur is a group of people who get together to "learn" (basically read and talk about) a book of the talmud, and usually read it slowly, in this case a few pages a week, meeting for about 1-2 hours a week. After the shiur was over the guys would all walk over to the shul for shabbas mincha (afternoon prayers). At first it was me, my dad, my brother, and 2 orthodox jewish guys my dad's age who lived on our block. A few of their various kids (all boys) eventually joined the group, as did some other local guys, and my other brother.

The first couple of years we learned Gemarah Brachot (the first book of the Talmud), and my Bat Mitzvah was a siyum (religious celebration for finishing something) for completing that book. I attended the shiur for several years, until I was around 17 or 18 and one of my dad's jackass sexist friends basically drove me out of the group by calling me "princess" and making dismissive comments whenever I opened my mouth. I was the only woman in the group at that time, and as far as I know I am still the only woman member who was ever in that group.

About a decade ago my dad decided he wanted to be a rabbi. Not a pulpit rabbi (at first?) but he wanted to get a rabbi degree. So he took a bunch of online rabbi correspondence courses, went to israel to take some final exams, and he was made a rabbi by some big rabbi in Israel. This was around 6 or 7 years ago.

I think it was partially an ego thing, he's the kind of guy who likes buying fancy cars and gadgets (i-phones, motorcycles, kyacks) to show his status. I think this is fairly common among people who grew up working class/poor and came into money later in life, and my dad certainly fits that profile- his dad was a taxi driver and mechanic and his mom worked in a sweat shop, and he put himself through college and grad school by driving his dad's cab at night. Now he is a small business owner and makes a pretty decent living running a private practice.

The rabbi degree seemed to me like something similar, he wanted to be able to call himself rabbi and get the respect that came with that degree. He loves going around giving dvar torahs (short sermons on the torah) to people and having them listen to him as if he is saying something wise. And who can blame him? I mean, heck, I'm a professor, and I can say that having people listen to me both in class and in my office when they come asking for school/career advice is very rewarding- I like to think I give good advice, and that I'm helping people, and having my advice taken seriously and feeling as if I have helped people improve their future life chances, even if it's in a small way, is probably the best part of my job. Even if I feel as if the advice he gives is hokey and may not be in people's best interests and relies too much on a book from thousands of years ago, it's essentially the same type of thing.

But I think as me and my brother became less religious and more open about our lack-of-religiosity, and as I eventually went and married someone not jewish, this rabbi thing became something more for my dad. With his own children rejecting his religion, he started clinging to it even more tightly. In recent years, the shiur has grown. And instead of walking over to the area's shul after the shiur, he has Mincha in the basement. With him as Rabbi.

And today my (non-religious) brother texted me to say "parents in full jew mode...yay for having to pretend I'm religious for the sake of guests!!" Apparently my dad bought a sefer torah. A freakin sefer torah. Bought. These things cost like 20k+ (another status symbol?). And apparently it has my name on it. It say my dad's name and says "l'zechut yeledim" (For the merit of his children)and then my name and my two brother's names. Not B's name of course, ha. So a freakin sefer torah is dedicated to my merit. Great. (it's also dedicated to the memory of my grandfather).

So now my dad's basement has a Torah. It's a Shul. My brother joked about the tax write offs, which I've no doubt my dad is taking full advantage of. And I'm the rabbi's daughter, who nobody knows is married to someone not Jewish. Oh they know I have a PhD. And they know I'm a professor. They know all about my professional success. They probably know my parents and I don't get along too well, since I never visit. But they have no idea I'm married, no idea my husband isn't jewish, no idea he even exists. I'm the rabbi's secret rebel daughter. I'm the skeleton in my dad's closet. Ha!