Ivo began a conversation with this line the other night as I lay in bed reading and he readied himself to do the same. The conversation was a good one, but the beginning was startling and caused me unease. Since Sunday night, to joke with Ivo, I have prefaced ideas which I've had with the statement "I have made a decision!" and have found it, actually, to be quite satisfying. It doesn't even matter the size of the declaration, it just feels good. "I have made a decision! I am going to eat a sandwich!" Such a thing could be a given, at midday, but the act of declaring makes a day seem more full.
In reality I've made a rather important decision and it is one that will be quite permanent. This makes the title of this blog slightly more appropriate, then say, announcing a decision to check my e-mail. Before I write what the decision, I shall write how I came to it.
We are not so far from the High Holy Days and during them, I have thought alot about Judaism (*spoiler* I am not converting to Judaism). I taught the kids in my kindergarten, to the best of my ability, about Roshashana (Yom Kippur took place during our vacation, so I was spared explaining what "Atonement" means to children who need a "Peace Rose" to tell someone that they're hurt), I read "The Yiddish Policeman's Union (soon to be a film by the Coehn brothers), I heard a few Podcasts on Public radio's "Speaking of Faith with Krista Tipett", and I found myself really loving the ideas of the whole tradition of the High Holy Days.
I am not jewish, and yet it became my responsibility at my Kindergarten, to teach the children about Jewish Holidays. Why? you may ask. Well, I began at the school last fall and as advent rolled around the teachers got all excited about it and Christmas and fun activities to do with the children. Mangers appeared, Marys and Joseph's too. Songs were song about stars over Bethlehem and I couldn't help worrying about the one-sidedness of it all. Part of my worries were the questions of one child in the school, who wears a Yarmulke. The other teachers seemed startled by the questions. He was a bright boy and not our youngest, and even our 3 year old children could answer his Christmas queries. This boy is half-american and I'm whole american and I remember, in my American childhood, a destinct awareness of Jewish traditions, I went to the Jewish Community Center after school for a while, I also had a boyfriend for three years who is jewish, and last of all, a child for whom I babysat in Philadelphia for two years has just become a man in the Jewish faith and his little sister will soon prepare to become a woman in the same faith. All of these things combined to make me the instigator of our Menorah lighting, our Passach lunch last spring, and our honeycake this Roshashana. (We didn't do anything for Purim. I forget why, but suspect that it is because I am the only teacher who celebrates halloween and was worried about the two being confused in the children's minds.)
Taking on this ill-fitting role has struck me in a number of ways. Many of the parents had assumed that I was Jewish before I began teaching their children about the holidays, and I suppose that this cemented it. (I have often been mistaken as Jewish, ever since I was about 18.) Also, I am not an expert. I try my best and have gotten help from the two Jewish mothers. When they brought jelly doughnuts for Haunnuka, I remembered having them in Preschool too.) I don't talk so much about Moses and God and the like. I talk about the stories, the beliefs and the food. I ask as many questions of the children, as they ask me, and I don't make any big scary statements.
The hardest part in this non-religious education has been during the time between holidays. One of our kids went to Bethlehem Children's Hospital with his mother, where she works for three weeks a month. When he came back he said loudly in front of the student who wears a Ki pa "If he saw the crosses, like I did, he would believe in Jesus."
I merely said "______ has flown to Israel too, haven't you _______?" He answered yes. I asked if he had seen the crosses.
"I saw a bear. But I don't believe in Jesus."
Lucily that was the end of the conversation. I feel comfortable in the fact that I don't need to tell any of the children any "truths" about religion as well as none of my "truths."
This morning I was reading a book a called "My Jesus Year" about an Orthodox son of a Rabbi who takes a year visiting churches in his home area, the bible belt, and sees what he's been missing. I heard the author on the show "Talk of the Nation" on NPR just before the high holidays (Luckily it aired when he was still allowed to use electricity) and thought it'd be a good read.
I've read a couple of chapters and am just up to the point where he's received Rabbinical permission to go into Churches, so long as he wears his Yarmulke and his press pass. The chapters mostly include his difficulty in life following religious doctrine, with the disappointment of no feeling of spiritual payoff. He's married a woman who was in the process of converting to Judaism when they met and she reacts poorly to his decision to visit Christian churches.
I closed the book and was struck with a memory. Ivo once described himself as being "Almost American anyway" and I flipped-out. Just freaked. It was a matter of poor timing and I had recently been given crap by a stereo-typing, generalizing nincompoop who was not worth my breathe, about Americans. I rounded on Ivo and said that he was not allowed to consider himself in such a way. That he was just doing it at this point to suit himself in regards to the more positive opinions of America (a.k.a music and movies). I grumbled that it was not fair for him to be able to pick and choose when he wanted to identify with a certain nationality, that an American has to be an American in good times and bad. It is to Ivo's credit that he did not point out that I am intending to have dual citizenship when my opportunity for Swiss citizenship finally comes. I like to think, however, that I won't be a fair-weather citizen to either nation.
Anyhow, it's the chapters that I read in this book that lead me to the decision that I have made, and it is this:
I'm going to change my tattoo.
Some may see this as a sign of maturity, some may think that I'll just be disappointed with that ink in another 7 years like this ink. Maybe some have expected this. I still stand by the decision to have the tattoo that I have and to have gotten it when I did. I just feel now, that I need to make it more respectful.
You see, my tattoo is not a lovers name or a band that I really used to love, but Hebrew characters which mean "indestructible". Whenever I was questioned on the choice, I always explained that I suffer from an Uhrsprünglich Jewish disease and that I am showing respect to it's origins. That is all still true. What is different is this: while before I thought that it was fine that someone may assume that I was Jewish due to my tattoo (these people may think that I do not follow the Jewish law that one should not be tattooed), after all enough people thought that without my tattoo. I have realized, however, that it is not about me (is that maturity?) and that having a tattoo in Hebrew that a passerby may glean there own information from, is like Ivo saying that he is "almost american". Like my (albiet over-) reaction to Ivo, I sorta have to say to myself "self, how dare you?" I don't get to be a fair-weather supporter of Jewish things. I mean, I'm still comfortable opening a dialog with my kids about the way Jews may celebrate a certain holiday, but it's kind of ludicrous to allow other people to assume the mantel of such a rich and important history, community and culture (also importantly, a community with which I do not always agree) is mine.
So, my plan is to eliminate the opportunity of a cursory glance from spreading misinformation. I still want the characters there in some way or another, I just want to try and join them (in a respectful way) and possibly cover parts of them, with symbols of strength which I also think are present in my body. Maybe a symbol of Portuguese strength, of American strength, of female strength, maybe an anchor (haha). I'm not sure on the details as of yet, but, on the whole: I have made a decision.