Mrs. Yid and I visited my parents last weekend at their new house. It's in a retirement community, a mock-Italian village in the middle of rural California a few hours from the city. The combination of the hills, tile roofs, massive construction projects going on and imported vineyards and olive groves give it a quasi-surreal feeling, like a cross between the Truman Show and a West Bank settlement. I've taken to calling it Kiryat Geffen.
Anyway, the weekend was nice. It was easy to chat and read Saturday afternoon and avoid TV (still working on the no-screens on Shabbat thing), and after dark Mama Yid's new Jew-Bu friend Shoshana came by and we all did Havdalah. This also coincided with my mother saying she wanted to look into possibly going to services at some point and asking whether I would recommend she check out the Reform place or "this Chuh-BAD thing." Oh, Mom.
It's been a rather intense summer for them. For all of us, really. My parents moved from their house of 25 years to Kiryat Geffen. The move has been in the works for 2 years and we've all been working hard to get them out on time. The last few weeks of June I was over there every day, helping to pack them up. In the process I went through a lot of old family trinkets, too. The very last day, I went by and gathered up a few odds and ends. I also had one last thing to take: the family mezuzah. I pried it off the door and took it home, to keep for future generations. I'm the chronicler; it's my job.
This past Sunday, Mrs. Yid and I put up a new mezuzah on my parents' door. Baby steps, always baby steps.
The other night Abbot Yid was in town and took me out for sushi. When my order came (mackerel plus an assortment of sushi), I noticed that one of them was a shrimp. I asked him if he wanted it. While he was chewing, I could tell he was mulling something over.
"I have a question," he said.
"I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with you and Mrs. Yid. You know, with the clothes and keeping kosher and all that. Because, not to be judgmental or anything, but in my mind, someone keeps those rules because they believe they come from God, and you guys don't strike me as believers."
I had known this was coming, and I was actually happy to have a chance to explain in a low-pressure setting.
"Well, lots of people describe Judaism as a mixture of belief and practice. We've been in the process of learning a lot ABOUT belief and practice and we decided we wanted to start trying some of it on. We're in the process of digesting theology but it seemed like if we were going to give it a real try, we would need to take on some practice, too. Because if we're going to try to live Jewishly and raise Jewish children, we need to have some idea of what that means.
"If you look at it on a continuum, with 10 being totally religious and educated and 0 being totally secular and ignorant, if you're starting at a 10 and you decide to only practice on a 7 or a 5 or whatever, you have the knowledge and the background to make those decisions and adjustments-- you know HOW to scale down. But if you're starting at the other end, it's a lot harder to find a right medium for yourself if you don't try different elements of practice.
"And for me, it's also a mindfulness piece. Actually doing something, putting an action to the concept, is powerful. Keeping kosher, even if only in baby steps, not only has us think about the whole process of Jewish eating, but also about how we want to eat ethically (for instance, our recent decision to stop buying Empire products due to their environmental abuses).
He seemed intrigued. I continued:
"Similarly, I think it's really valuable for liberal Jews to be visible, as Jews. At first I was worried about doing something wrong or reflecting badly on Jewish people. But I think it's also an opportunity. If my students or neighbors or friends have good experiences with a visible Jew, a Jew identifying as a Jew, then so much the better. I don't want the only people with yarmulkes on being the Orthodox."
"Now you're sounding like a missionary." He grinned.
I shrugged. "If I can be a good example, so much the better." I didn't use the phrase Kiddush Hashem (Abbot doesn't know it), but that was the basic idea.
I still don't think he quite gets it, but I think he's getting closer. And there's something very nice about that.