Blogging While Jewish: A Rosh Hashanah Reverie

Blogging While Jewish: A Rosh Hashanah Reverie

This is my first Rosh Hashanah blogging as a Jew.

It’s not that I avoided the topic of Judaism when I blogged about dogs; I discussed it on several occasions.  I was even considering having a Bark Mitzvah for my dog, Frankie, when he turned 13 earlier this year, but he objected to the yarmulke and having to learn the long arf-torah and I respected that.  Generally, however, my Jewishness and Frankie’s —  he is extremely circumcised, I should mention — were not central to the discussion there.

Not Frankie, but a reasonable — and more cooperative — facsimile.

It’s different on this blog. It doesn’t matter whether I’m religious or whether my family was. Jewishness became the central issue of their life in Vienna — as it did for Sigmund Freud, avowed atheist. Other people are going to define you, no matter how you define yourself, whether you like it or not. Occasionally it works out to your benefit — for example, when people think you’re more sophisticated than you actually are because you grew up in New York City.

More often than not it doesn’t.

Disorganized Religion

My parents weren’t especially observant, though they followed the outlines of the faith: no mixing milk and meat, no pork or shellfish in the house. We lit candles for Hanukkah and ate matzoh on Passover — except for my father, who ate it other times of the year but, during the holidays, claimed it gave him diarrhea. (Dr. Freud?)

Looking back, I don’t think either my mother or father found any joy or comfort in the rituals, though they probably tried to observe them for the sake of their two children and because it’s what they knew growing up.

After my father died, my mother became more vocal about her loss of faith, assuming she had faith to begin with. She didn’t think the Holocaust could have happened if there was a God. By the time she made these assertions, I had nothing to offer in rebuttal.

As an adolescent, I’d been very interested in Judaism. I had been sent to a Yeshivah junior high school because the neighborhood of the public school I was slated to attend had deteriorated. We studied Talmud, which I loved for its spirited parsing of rules and laws. I wanted to go on to read the Kabbalah, the central text of Jewish mysticism; that sounded like the really good stuff. I gathered it would require many years of studying the torah as preparation but I was willing.   Then I learned that girls were not permitted to study Kabbalah — Madonna notwithstanding — no matter how much prep time they put in. That didn’t seem fair.

I like being able to say that I had a feminist loss of faith, though it probably would have happened for another reason eventually — such as not wanting to spend several years studying the torah. Instead I went to graduate school, where I spent several years studying non-Jewish texts.

But although I’m not keen on any organized religions, including the one I grew up with, there’s no question that I’m culturally Jewish. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what’s traditional at this time of the Jewish calendar, looking back meditatively.

A friendly rebellion

I’ve alluded to the fact that I grew up not knowing anything about other relatives who were alive, except the ones who were overseas. I also grew up with parents who didn’t have any friends, though my sister remembers one couple, the Naumanns; the name is familiar to me but I don’t recall ever seeing my parents socialize with them or anyone else.

My form of rebellion, I think, was to become social with a vengeance. I don’t mean popular in the mean girl sense, or that I didn’t spend lots of time reading. But I also reveled in the company of others.

My early friends were almost all Jewish, because that’s who lived in my immediate Brooklyn neighborhood. I was friendly with some Italian kids in my grade school class, but mostly hung out with girls who were within walking distance. (This brings back a memory of shouting up from the sidewalk to get them to come downstairs from their apartments — literally calling for them. We lived on busy streets. Wouldn’t it have been too noisy to hear?)

Until I went to high school, I didn’t know there was another Christian religion besides Catholicism. Seriously. Protestants were not in the picture… and fuggedabout Protestantism’s different denominations.

This is what I mean about a New York City upbringing being no guarantee of sophistication, no matter what others think.

So you were expecting maybe a slum?

I had a fairly mixed group of friends in Madison High School and Brooklyn College, though primarily Jews and Catholics (I was still in Brooklyn after all). It wasn’t until graduate school at NYU in Manhattan that I had a close friend who was Protestant, and not until I went to San Diego to do dissertation research that almost all my friends were gentile.

Over the years, including those spent in London and now in Tucson, I made several friends who were Jewish. But by virtue of the demographics and my aforementioned avoidance of organized religion, more were not.

My new extended family

As I wrote in I See Live People, the research for this blog led to the discovery of a world full of Kornmehl family members I didn’t know I had. It’s very exciting; I hope I’ll get to know many of them better. One has already contributed a post to this blog, which has made her an immediate friend.

Does that mean there is no place here for non-Jews?

Of course not. This blog wouldn’t exist without them. My friend John was the one who googled “Freud’s butcher” and discovered the connection with the Freud Museum that spurred me to write Freud’s Butcher. Lydia found my cousin’s book on the Kornmehl family that led to us all knowing each other; she also helped me with genealogical research. By coincidence, a student of Lydia’s at NYU worked on a film called Auf Wiedersehen: ‘Til We Meet Again about Jews in Vienna during World War II.  Through the filmmaker, Linda Mills, I’ve been corresponding with Lothar Hölbling, the non-Jewish archivist who helped process the vast reserve of Jewish files discovered in Vienna and detailed in the film. He has been immensely helpful to me. I’ll write more about the film and about Lothar soon.

And I’ve never discussed religion with my wonderful web designer, Laura E. Kelly, but I’m thinking Kelly is not so much a Jewish name.

Freud and meat, the other topics I’m covering, are nondenominational.

My Jewish friends and family members understand certain things about me that no one else can; they’re essential things, but they’re not everything. My dog-loving friends get why I can no longer travel as much as I used to — something Jews who don’t have pets would consider meshuggenah. Other friends know the writer me, the foodie me, my single-without-children side…. And some understand many of my personae (hi Clare!)

We contain multitudes.

So happy new year and thank you to all who have enriched my life, Jewish, non-Jewish, real and virtual, those I know through my dog blog and social media but have never met.  I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons even more.

23 Responses to Blogging While Jewish: A Rosh Hashanah Reverie

  1. Kevin Myers says:

    Really enjoying the new blog Edie. I continue to look forward to your writing.
    Kevin Myers recently posted..My Dogs are Showing my AgeMy Profile

  2. Vicki Cook says:

    Happy New Year Edie – from one of your non-Jewish, dog-bloggy, social media friends! Life truly is a journey, and it will be interesting to see where yours leads next.
    Vicki Cook recently posted..Weiner Dog Races Please Crowd at PA OktoberfestMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thank you so much, Vicki. As you know by my drop-ins to your blog, I’m far from out of the world of creatures; I’m just expanding into other worlds too.

  3. Jill says:

    Well done, Edie. I am glad that you have highlighted the multifaceted lives of the Kornmehl family, religious and non-religious. We are enjoying being part of the blog!

  4. Happy New Year, Edie! Though you’re not traveling as much as you used to, this blog seems to be taking you on another kind of trip. I hope the next year brings you much happiness and joy as you explore this new territory.
    Amy@GoPetFriendly recently posted..Friday Pet Photo ChallengeMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks for your good wishes, Amy! You’re right about the journey; I’m sure it’ll be a fascinating trip (if not always joyful).

  5. Sharon says:

    Shana Tovah to you and Frankie…..dear friend…
    Remembering the good times growing up together in Flatbush!
    Love ya, sharon

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Sha! Of course I was thinking of you when I was talking about friends within walking distance. So many memories of those days, including going to the movies at Loews — pronounced Low-EES — on Flatbush Avenue. Love and hugs backatcha!

  6. Shana Tovah from your doubting Protestant friend. Can’t study the Kaballah? Well, there goes my fall-back position of converting to Judaism. 🙂
    Heard a really nice feature on public radio about holding a piece of the challah dough and meditating for a moment in the midst of busy-ness. Sounded like such a good idea. Wonder if it works with pie dough?
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Look! There I am!My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Hmmm… I guess Protestants don’t have any mystical texts, do they? Well, you have enough to read for A Traveler’s Library, so maybe it’s for the best.

      I didn’t hear the segment on the challah dough and meditating; it’s a nice idea. I think any uncooked carb will do…

      Thanks for the holiday wishes!

  7. Karyn Zoldan says:

    I was talking to a friend this a.m. saying something about Rosh Hashanah and said I was a lapsed Jew. He said he was more lapsed than me and didn’t even know he was Jewish until in his early teens he carved a swastika on his headboard. He liked the design and did not know if its implications. At that point, he was told that some of his relatives died because of their beliefs. He said his parents never practiced. Hence, neither did he although there was always a Menorah in the house but never used. I think that’s probably more common than we think.
    Karyn Zoldan recently posted..Tucson: Dog Wash Fundraiser – Sept 16My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      You’re right, Karyn, it is quite common. I have a friend who grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia (as it was then) and didn’t know she was Jewish until someone called her a dirty kike (or the Czech equivalent). But, sadly, it doesn’t matter if you practice the religion or not (and whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, or Christian). If someone wants to define you by your background, they’re going to do it. So I figure you might as well embrace the culture, if not the religious beliefs.

      Happy New Year!

  8. L’Shanah Tovah to you and Mr. Frankie! I’m so glad I met you and Frankie through dog blogging otherwise I most likely would not have found you here, and that would have been most unfortunate.
    Deborah Flick recently posted..Interview with Alexandra HorowitzMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Same to you and Sadie and Ira! You never know; our paths might have crossed in another way. Like-minded people tend to find each other. But we sure did have great conversations on the blog — and even in person!

  9. It’s true: I don’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah (nor Easter for that matter) but I DO enjoy an entertaining voice when I come across it. Through your interesting and funny storytelling you’re transcending religious, geographical, and generational backgrounds.
    Laura E. Kelly recently posted..The power of “Vuja De”My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Much appreciated, Laura. I can’t tell you how many people say they love how my blog looks and ask if I did it myself (ha!). I know it gives them an incentive to hang around and read.

  10. Sorry I’m a little late, but Happy New Year to you & Mr. Frankie!
    Karen Friesecke recently posted..Dog A Day Project – Best Happy Meal Toy EVER!My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Karen — it’s never too late for New Year’s wishes, especially since we have this extended holiday season. Mr. Frankie thanks you too!

  11. Sarah says:

    I grew up in Marin County, California – and I also thought the only Christian religion was Catholicism. In fact, I thought all people were either Jewish or Catholic, and would ask people which one they were as if those were the only options. Then I moved to rural Oregon and had my horizons expanded – which is funny, since most people think of rural areas as where you go to have your mind … closed? I love this article, and though I didn’t follow your other writing (found this via a friend liking you on Facebook!) I will be following it now!
    Sarah recently posted..DIY Rainbow PartyMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Isn’t it funny how provincial it’s possible to be growing up in sophisticated places like Marin County — and Brooklyn! Thanks so much for your nice words and for stopping by. Welcome!

  12. […] another subject requires looking at occasions from a different perspective. In September, I wrote Blogging While Jewish: A Rosh Hashanah Reverie, exploring how it feels to focus on my heritage. Now I’m encountering my first Thanksgiving […]

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