Family Truth

By Summer Block

Humor

Occasionally, I am Jewish. I am Jewish when watching Woody Allen movies. I am Jewish at delis and bar mitzvahs and seders and synagogues. I am Jewish when talking to a good-looking Jewish man. But I am never Jewish at Christmas.

What do I mean? It’s simple: my father is Jewish; my mother is not. By any reasonable standard then that means that I, along with my younger sister, am half Jewish. But somewhere along the way, my family simply decided that a mixed marriage meant that half of the children would be Jewish and half not. In other words, I am Jew, and my sister is a Gentile. The most remarkable thing about this conclusion was the ease with which it was accepted by everyone.

The origins of this strange myth are easy enough to trace.  My sister is the less “Jewish-looking” of the pair, with blue eyes that inspired envy in my childhood, fair freckled skin, and a charming Muppet nose. Growing up, her hair was a glittery translucent blonde above near-invisible eyebrows. Though no one would likely mistake me for Middle Eastern, as often happens with my dark-complected father, I do bear some traces of the Semitic – darker, curlier hair, brown eyes, and a nose that, if not prominent, would still be a challenge to fashion out of felt. In temperament, too, I have always been said to favor my father, and as a young child I consciously patterned my behavior on his amiable reserve and dispassionate intellectualism, while my sister shared my mother’s open heart, ready emotions, and inexplicable comfort with hugging. Does all that mean, then, that I am Jewish and my sister is not? Of course not: obviously none of us thinks this is actually true, but still, it’s an amusing thing to believe.

As an adult, I’ve adopted a dubious new schema. Instead of representing the Jewish half of my family, I have simply decided to be Jewish about half the time.When that handsome man asks me if I’m of the tribe, I usually respond by saying “Well, my father is Jewish,” a statement that is technically true but intentionally misleading when spoken by someone who was in fact baptized as a child. In fact, I grew up attending Christian churches—albeit progressive L.A. churches, laid-back, friendly, non-judgmental places that were a lot more about acoustic guitars and drum circles and scruffy beards and singing “Kumbaya” than sending anyone to hell–but churches just the same.

So why do I lie? Some of it, no doubt, is just the desire to appear different, or interesting, or ethnic, probably stemming from my time as the only non-Latino white person in my elementary school, who when everyone else brought tamales and kimchi on Diversity Day had to content herself with scones, a weak alimentary link to a long-ago English past.

But also, I like Judaism, I find it interesting. I like reading about whether or not giraffe meat is kosher, or about mechirah, the part during Passover when you pretend to sell all your dogs to Gentiles. Now I don’t keep kosher or pretend to sell dogs personally, of course, but it’s a great concept just the same.

About ten years ago, my father began listening to the late-night radio hosts Art Bell and George Noory on the 10pm-2am show “Coast to Coast AM” and Whitley Streiber on the weekly “Dreamland” podcast. On these shows, callers report their direct experiences with the dreadful and the fabulous, while self-appointed experts (including a panoply of UFOlogists) opine on the hollow earth, alien implants, reptoids, astral projection, the Planet X, and the “coming global superstorm.” Over time, this harmless habit became a veritable obsession. My father now listens almost every night, then rises the next morning to fill my inbox with emailed links to sites advertising time machines and powerful magnetic healing devices.

Through it all, though, my father has remained as I’ve always known him to be—intelligent, rational, and bemusedly skeptical—but these traits are hard to square with his newfound enthusiasm for the Freedom of Information Act and its promised disclosure of the government’s secret Roswell files.

“Look, Dad,” I said, “I know you think all this alien stuff is funny, but do you actually believe it?”

“I believe it because it’s funny,” he said.

“Yeah, I know, but seriously, do you think all this stuff is true?”

My father looked at me and said, “You know, truth just isn’t that important to me.”

Apparently it’s not all that important to me either.  Anyone who has seen me nod appreciatively at a klezmer concert in July would be surprised to visit my home in December. Because despite any Jewish proclivities, I love Christmas. I love Christmas as much as I’ve ever loved anything, and I love every part of it, from the carols to the gingerbread. I have five labeled tubs of Christmas decorations in storage, and every year I drag them all out, then go buy a tree, design cards, hang wreaths and stockings and mistletoe, bake cookies, and make gifts by hand. I love Christmas—yes—even more than I love pretending to be Jewish.

This year my eighteen-month-old daughter is just beginning to get in on the action; she takes candy out of the Advent calendar, says the word “tree” on command, and kisses all of the Christmas ornaments individually every morning.

Recently one of my friends, a scientist, asked me whether I would tell Beatrice about Santa Claus and flying reindeer and elves at the North Pole when she was older.

Now we are a family that believes in science, in progress, in telling it as it is. We don’t use baby words for bodily functions or tell confusing bird-based myths about sexual practices – but Santa? Hell yes we’ll do Santa. We’ll do Santa like you’ve never seen.

“You don’t think it would be better to tell her the truth?” my friend asked.

“You know,” I told him, “the truth just isn’t that important to me.”

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SUMMER BLOCK has published essays, short fiction, and poetry in McSweeneys Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, Wheelhouse, Identity Theory, DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle, PANK, and many other publications. Her story "Hospitality" won the 2010 MWA award for short fiction. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, three chickens, and two-and-a-half children. You can find more of her work at www.summerblock.com. Some people follow her on Twitter.

9 responses to “Family Truth”

  1. “A nose that, if not prominent, would still be a challenge to fashion out of felt.” – excellent line!
    Olive/pine branch accepted. If you’ll be my Dixie Chicken I’ll be your shabbos goy.

  2. dwoz says:

    Summer Block, another writer who raises the bar to untenable heights.

    Everyone else will have to learn the Fosbury flop, just to keep pace with you.

    There’s something spectacularly effervescent here, encapsulated in the line “of the tribe.” Now, I understand that Judaism rather uniquely among religions is about race/ancestry as well as about God, but your relationship to it strikes me as being very cool. If only we could all have that same kind of relationship with all our religions, and recognize that it’s all about being “in a club.” Then we could kick God to the curb, and live wonderful lives.

    and yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus. Until someone can show definitive proof otherwise.

  3. J.M. Blaine says:

    Ah, i love this
    I too am a part-time
    Jew
    but apparently
    I look
    full-time
    Jew
    like between
    Slash & Lenny Kravitz
    I guess.
    & Pilate said
    “What is truth?”

    Love your name.

  4. Brad Listi says:

    I just spent an hour driving around in a circle with my wife and daughter, trying to “do something” on a Sunday — but then eventually deciding to just come home, because LA on a Sunday is miserable with traffic (especially when the weather is this nice), and the only thing we could think of to do was to “stroller around” in areas that are vaguely commercial, and all such areas were flooded.

    Christmas.

    I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but I’m not a huge fan. It’s one of my least favorite times of the year. I was raised Catholic, by a mother who LOVES Christmas, and I think I’m the only person in my family who doesn’t enjoy it. Except for maybe my wife. Who’s not all that into it, either. We don’t have a Christmas tree, and have never gotten one. We have one ornament (which arrived in the mail yesterday, a gift from my sister, who is horrified by the fact that we don’t have a tree).

    I think it’s inevitable that we’ll have to step up our game as our daughter gets older — I understand the concept of making Christmas fun for children, and so on. I’ll take one for the team while she’s still young enough to believe in Santa.

    Or maybe I’ll convert to Judaism, to avoid the entire ordeal. Christmas dinner at Greenblatt’s!

  5. J. Ryan Stradal says:

    Summer,

    Awesome. This was wonderful aloud and it’s equally smart and hilarious in print.

    I’m glad you don’t pretend to sell your dogs during Passover. I’m sure your daughter agrees.

    J. R.

  6. Aaron Dietz says:

    Art Bell. Who would do publicity for the cast-offs without him?

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