Friday, August 06, 2010

Working Hard to be a Jerk

Dear Uncle Milt,

I don't get you. You know that I still have lots of unresolved feelings for my grandfather. You know that I'm among the most Jewishly-engaged in our extended family (probably tied with you and Grandma). You know I'm a fanatic about our family history.

So how come, when I texted you letting you know that yes, I would like to have Zeyde's teffilin that his random Hasidic friend recovered a few weeks ago after loaning them out for the last sixteen years, you got all high and mighty?

I know you wanted to give the tefillin away to "someone who will really use them," and it was nice that you conferred with (read: coerced) your siblings into going along with your plan, since, as you wrote in your email, "teffilin can be really expensive!". And I'm sorry I said yes initially and then changed my mind. But why on earth would you then get on your high horse and start lecturing me about how you'll only "give them" to me if you can be sure I'll "use them properly"? And who the hell are you to ask if I'm "now practicing?" (I can't promise I'd practice more if dill-holes like you wouldn't hide tallesim from me at family functions, but it sure wouldn't hurt.)

I especially loved the follow-up email you sent to Zeyde's friend in which you were practically falling over yourself to emphasize how none of us "truly keep the faith," as if that was any of his business or concern. And here I thought the guy was just a dermatologist in Brooklyn. I didn't realize we were talking to Moses.

I just don't get you, Uncle Milt. You married a non-Jew. You're involved in a Reform temple. You don't keep kosher. Yet as soon as someone does something that you don't personally like, you become the Chief Rabbi of Douchebag-istan. If you want to defer to stricter views of Jewish practice or something for yourself, go nuts. But it makes no sense for you to try to enforce stricter standards on other people when you don't even follow them yourself.

No, I don't daven every day, or even most days. And I get that for you, that therefore translates as "not needing teffilin." And if it was a random pair of free teffilin, I certainly wouldn't ask you for them. But they're not, are they? They're a freaking family heirloom. There are plenty of stories of famous rabbis' teffilin being passed down in their families. You don't think they knew random people that could use a pair of teffilin? Some things have sentimental value. You can disagree with the sentiment, but it's a really low move to make me have to pass your personal observance scale in order to qualify for Zeyde's teffilin. Also, then insisting that I find someone to teach me how to use it? Not appreciated. (You mean I'm not supposed to wrap it like a bondage harness? Now I'm all confused...)

Wait, maybe I'm being too harsh on you. I mean, I know you. You probably just wanted to make sure that I knew what I was doing, and were trying to emphasize how important it was I learn how to pray properly. Yeah, between books, the internet and every damn Jew I know who was ever Bar or Bat Mitzvahed, I can see how you'd need to recommend I find a bona fide Teffilin Tutor to ensure that my davening is properly heschered.

Oh wait, I do know you. So much for benefit of the doubt.

You know what I think, Uncle Milt? I think you're threatened by me. I think that, not unlike Abbot Yid, you don't like that I'm not easily categorized along the Jewish spectrum. I light candles but don't keep kosher. I go to services on Friday nights but never on Saturday mornings. I read endless books on Hasidic history but can't read Torah. I'm dating a non-Jew but am planning on Jewish children. And that, unlike you, I don't feel guilty for it. Or conflicted. I think you don't like the idea of someone staying perfectly unaffiliated because they don't particularly need to join with a synagogue. And the idea that Jewishness has nothing to do with your social circle would certainly be at odds with your life.

I'm not trying to judge you, or your family, or your spirituality. Too bad you can't say the same.

Don't worry, Uncle Milt. When it's your time to go, I'll make sure your kids donate all your stuff. We have to make sure people "use it properly," after all. So, which charity do you want to get your organs?


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