Are You Jewish?

Are you Jewish?

My mother has, on occasion, claimed that we are Jewish, but she has lied to me so many times over the course of the years—most recently, about the spelling of my own last name, that I’ve started to doubt her.  My father didn’t seem to have an opinion on the subject, one way or another, although occasionally he would mutter something about the chosen people and spit.  Often, he would do this indoors and my mother would scream something at him in pigeon Yiddish. I don’t look particularly Jewish.  I can’t speak or write Hebrew and I’m not that big a fan of chopped liver.

The question of who is Jewish and who is not, is hot right now.  Roger Cohen did a serious and thoughtful piece in the op-ed section of the New York Times on Dec 9th, on the debate over Israel, Israeli politics and what it means to be a Jew today.  Harold Jacobson recently won the Booker prize for his novel “The Finkler Question,” which is a book size comic meditation on what it means to be a Jew, to want to be a Jew, or for that matter, what it means to want not to be a Jew.  Don’t look to me for a contribution to a serious and thoughtful discussion—I’m not capable of that.  And as far as the Finkler Question goes, as I struggled to finish the book, I was left with the single strong impression of, “Oy, Enough already.”

Still, there are occasions when I ask— when you might ask, “Am I Jewish.”  Fortunately, there is a simple, foolproof test:

  1. Starve yourself for a day or two.
  2. Find a delicatessen outside of a 100 mile radius of New York City or LA and at least 100 miles North of Boca Raton, Florida.
  3. Order a hot pastrami sandwich on white bread, with mayonnaise and a slice of underripe tomato and a nice cold glass of milk.

If you can somehow slug the sandwich down, stop fretting—you are not Jewish.  If you can’t eat the sandwich, no matter how you try, treat yourself to a CD of Hava Nagila for under the Christmas tree this year.  Andy Williams does a nice rendition.

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