I’m an easter bunny Jew. In my family we didn’t celebrate any of the Jewish holidays because Mom didn’t know what they were. We celebrated birthdays, christmas and easter. On christmas day Mom made chopped chicken livers and lox and cream cheese dip with tiny little bagels then we invited all of our friends over to visit. I realize now that a lot of our friends were Jewish too. On easter we looked for hidden chocolates and eggs that we’d decorated the day before.
We knew that we were Jewish because Mom told us that we were. Every so often she made latkes for dinner, just latkes, and I wonder now if that was at Hanukkah. I don’t remember if there was any consistency to the timing, I just remember loving that she had decided it was time. And we went to my grandmother’s house for Passover sometimes, but we didn’t know that it was Passover. I just couldn’t put butter on my meat. Mom never made spaghetti sauce, she made spaghetti gravy. Jews make gravy. She made great noodle kugel. When one of us got sick, and sometimes even when we didn’t, she made the best chicken soup ever with carrots squashed with the back of a fork.
In our house we learned to talk about everything and argue about most things. We were allowed to have our own opinions especially if we’d thought enough about them to defend them. I remember asking my best friend one day, after she’d come home from catechism class, why she believed what was written in the bible. How did she even know who’d written the bible? I didn’t realize that was my torah study. Think and question. My best friend looked flustered and angry.
In second grade my sister asked me not to tell anyone that we were Jewish. It embarassed her. We didn’t know any Jews then. At least we didn’t know that we knew any Jews then. It wasn’t cool to be an “out” Jew. Now that I do know something about being a Jew I realize that we were very much Jews even then. We ate the food. We learned to question and wonder and debate. We just didn’t do the holidays or put a mezuzah on our doorpost.
The litmus test for me was always the Hitler question. Would he have sent me to the gas chamber? Then yes, I’m definitely a Jew. So I placed my fundamental knowledge of self in the hands of a psychopath. Somehow I think that’s awfully Jewish.
Mom never did Jewish stuff because her parents never did Jewish stuff. They were immigrants from Russia where it was dangerous in the late nineteenth century to do Jewish stuff. And my Dad didn’t do Jewish stuff because he grew up in a kosher household on a kosher dairy farm where he learned that being Jewish meant he couldn’t have a cheeseburger and he didn’t get any christmas presents.
I’m an easter bunny Jew who does the Jewish stuff. We light shabbat candles, we eat a Passover seder, we sing the songs, we learn Hebrew. We are part of a great Jewish community and a secular community where it is cool to be an “out” Jew. But I married a Catholic man, so I guess I’ll always be an easter bunny Jew.