Around the world, resurgent nationalism in defense of indigenous culture has refocused too many on the authenticity of their character: “The Real Americans”, “The Real Jews”, “The Real ____________”.
Whatever the McCoy sought, one might discover a few overlaps.
What answer may there be to so shallow a perception– more than that: a defense! — of legacy in identity?
I spent forty years in the American Wildness before venturing into the synagogue where I live and joining it.
I recall one afternoon lazing on the mall of the Maryland campus when a “Succoth Mobile” stopped not far from where I was enjoying my hour in the sun and a representative came up to me and asked, “Are you Jewish?”
I wasn’t middle eastern.
My American eastern woodlands were nothing like, what, the hills of Judea?
Here for harvest, we celebrate Thanksgiving.
However, I also recall spending hours one afternoon in some lonely part of an upper floor of McKeldin Library (UMCP) looking over the photography of the Holocaust.
I don’t recall the motive, only the moment.
I took my Bar Mitzvah in 1968 reading off a plastic card. The morning may have been a ceremony for two, and, on my side, certainly for the adults. I really hadn’t much to do with it at all.
Forty years later, after walking out of that mill, I walked into a real synagogue where American children spoke Hebrew with fluency at their ceremonies. The “Conservative-to-Reform” Friday night greeting of the Sabbath took place in both English and Hebrew, and the building remains regal and old. There were other European and Hebrew and Israeli features as well as the unmistakable imprint of generations going back 125 years.
In hyperactive America, that’s an old synagogue.
So, one might say, I got to reconnect with family, my spiritual family (although I have spent time with the Unitarians and the Ethical Society as well over the years). I have been also ten years with my synagogue. I am one of those who, perhaps, visit for a time, but I am Jewish, and that knowledge is as fundamental to my sense of identity as my name, Schmuel. You may call me “an American of Jewish descent” but that in no way would make me less Jewish than thou.