Wednesday, September 2, 2015

See You In September

It's been a while since I planted a happy snappy singing worm in your ear, so let's start this month off the right way:

See you in September
See you when the summer's through
Here we are (bye, baby, goodbye)
Saying goodbye at the station (bye, baby, goodbye)
Summer vacation (bye, baby bye, baby)
Is taking you away (bye, baby, goodbye)
Have a good time but remember
There is danger in the summer moon above
Will I see you in September
Or lose you to a summer love
(counting the days 'til I'll be with you)
(counting the hours and the minutes, too)

If you must know, September is one of my favorite months.  For one thing, I always started school in September, and I loved going back to school.  September, and more specifically the week after Labor Day, is when I started three (and possibly more) of the jobs I worked as an adult, including my time at Robert Hall, American Hull Insurance Syndicate, Alexander & Alexander, Part Deux, and the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Big days for me, as I loved starting new jobs.  

The Jewish High Holy Days almost always fall out in September, and this year is no different: Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish Year 5776, begins at sundown September 13, and Yom Kippur at sundown on September 22.  I really like our High Holy Days; this is, after all, the beginning of our New Year, with all that implies - God's judgment of each of us; teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity) to avert the severe decree; traditional foods like apples and challah dipped in honey to symbolize our hope for a sweet year, and salty foods like herring to get us to drink a lot of fluids after the Yom Kippur fast. 

This year Sukkot (Feast of Booths) also falls out in September, and this brings to mind my favorite story from The Year I Taught Hebrew School.  You have to understand that I had never gone to Hebrew school, and could not read Hebrew, having to rely on transliterations to pray, which I did not do all that much. Ethnically and culturally I was Brooklyn Jewish to my bone marrow, but almost completely non-observant.  Having undertaken the rather daunting task of raising a Jewish child, I had to become more than someone who could only recite the blessings over the Sabbath candles and challah because I had learned them at Jewish summer camps. So a number of years ago, I made the decision to make a decision about me and my religion, and I self-studied extensively. I also learned basic Hebrew from our Rabbi.  I determined that for the most part, I was philosophically aligned with Reform Judaism, and it was at our first Reform congregation that I did my teaching stint, working with the younger children regarding Jewish history, holidays, and the same basic Hebrew I'd learned not all that long ago.

Best sukkah EVER!!

Anyway, this is a Sukkot Story, and as it happened I was teaching the kids about this holiday, including the tradition of inviting honored ancestors into the sukkah, the temporary booth or hut constructed as yet another symbol of the holiday.  I had already taught them about the Jewish Patriarchs.  I asked them who might be invited into the sukkah, and then depending on their answers, my plan was to go over all the possibilities.  Well, the kids were pretty engaged, raising their hands and calling out names like Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

I guess I should have mentioned that fully half the children in my class came from "mixed" families - one parent Jewish, the other not.  Most of those children had Jewish mothers, which, according to Jewish Law meant they were Jewish even if their father happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Oy, I'm telling this story and I realize I am about to get into Sensitive Topics.  Don't kill me because I'm honest, okay? A very few of those children had gentile mothers, and Jewish fathers, and herein lies the problem.

In the world in which I was raised, maternity was a matter of certainty while paternity was a matter of speculation. A child was Jewish if the mother was Jewish, because that is the only thing you could be sure of.  I realize science has brought us to a whole new way of thinking, but I'm going to ignore that philosophical discussion, at least for now.  In my world and in my family, Jew married Jew (except my late Uncle Marty; his mother, who was my grandmother-who-raised-me, never got over this) and that made things ever-so-easy.  As I got older, it was obvious that intermarriage numbers were rising dramatically, but still Jewish Law prevailed and told us who was who and who was a Jew. 

Let me interject that I continue to be a Reform Jew, and what I have always especially liked about the Reform movement is its open door policy of inclusion.  The first woman cantor, the first woman rabbi, the first acceptance and welcome of intermarried families and gay families, all championed by the Reform.

However, remembering that I am a child of the fifties, in my world the stay-at-home mother was primarily responsible for imbuing their children with religion.  For reasons that I shall leave as an exercise for the student, I still believe that is the best way to go. The Reform organizations had a different idea:

In 1983 the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted the Resolution on Patrilineal Descent. According to this resolution, a child of one Jewish parent, who is raised exclusively as a Jew and whose Jewish status is "established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people" is Jewish. These acts include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, bar/bat Mitzvah and confirmation. (taken from

The problem, at least in this particular case, was that the non-Jewish mother had agreed to raise their child Jewish, but personally had no idea how to do so.  She had no plans to convert and from what I could see she was the primary child-rearing parent.  So my little student, his face bright with joy, wanted to invite Jesus into the sukkah, no doubt because his mother, who set the tone for how the household was run, along with all of his maternal relatives, praised Jesus as was to be expected. All together now:  Oy!

I did not want to hurt, or confuse, or insult this child, or his mother.  I was brought up to respect anyone who practiced their religion (caveat: I was to respect them, not marry them. My parents' open-mindedness went just so far.)  As far as the teaching gig, I was staying one step ahead of the kids and nothing in my teacher's manuals had prepared me for this.

After 20 years, I don't remember exactly what I said, but the main idea would have been that we all worship the same God, different religions in different ways.  I would have pointed out the similarities between Judaism and Christianity.  I would have spoken respectfully of Jesus and explained why we would not invite him to this particular party.  It must have worked, because there were no complaints from parents or the Board of Directors of the congregation.

So that is my sweet and funny Sukkot story.  I hope you enjoyed it.  As for me, I never taught Hebrew school again after that year.  I don't know what happened to that little boy, but I suspect he grew up in his mother's religion, and in my singular opinion, that's the way things should be.  Apparently I am a Reform Jew with Conservative bone marrow.  

This day, September 1st, marks the 24th anniversary of our move to Florida, the day we landed (literally) in Kissimmee to take up residence in an apartment while our first Hunter's Creek house was being built.  That's a long time ... an entire generation that we have spent in this nominally southern state.  I am no more a Floridian than Chris Christie. I sound like New York, I think like New York, and I react like New York. And yes, I love my bad attitude.

No cooking today. Cooking tomorrow.

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