Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Defining the Jewish Guilt-Shame Complex

My friends, the situation is farkakt!

Indeed, I say farkakt!

I say "farkakt" because I fall victim -in fact, prey- to the Guilt-Shame complex characteristic of my Jewish lineage. Yes, the Jewish Guilt Shame Complex! No Guilt-Shame complex torments the psyche quite like that of the Jewish persuasion.

I am still ashamed of bailing out on my eighth-grade chorus teacher, Ms. Nedzelski, when at quite the last minute and due to my pre-teen insecurities, I informed her I would not be singing the vocal solo on her arrangement of John Lennon's "Imagine." I am guilty of this lapse in integrity! I am ashamed of my guilt! Guilty of my shame! It was more than twenty years ago, yet I cannot rid myself of this burden! Ms. Nedzelski, forgive me!

If you are even just one-eighth Jewish, beware! If shame does not yet accompany your guilt, don't worry; it will. If guilt does not accompany your shame, don't worry; it will...

And, yes, my friends, I hyphenate: Guilt-hyphen-Shame.  I hyphenate because in a Jew, even a measly half-Jew such as myself, there is no guilt without shame, nor shame without guilt.  In some cases, the hyphen should be increased in font so as to stress the inseparability of these two forces: Guilt-BIG-HYPHEN-Shame.

I thus endeavor to dissect the Jewish Guilt-Shame Complex in the hopes that some of you may avoid this most unfortunate and unnecessary set of debilitating circumstances. Let me stress that no thoughts are thought, no food consumed, no sleep slept, and no bowels moved as both Guilt and Shame compulsions seize the body and mind indefinitely.

I still flush red when remembering how I -and my twenty-four other six-grade science classmates- mocked the ink blotch on Ms. Charboneau's cheek, the stray mark of which she was unaware. What of the time when I didn't invite my family to my older daughter's baptism because I thought I'd be saving them the trouble of traveling nine hours to Maine? Or the fact that I'm raising my daughters as Epsicopalians? Are they not only a quarter Jewish? Why such distress over something so seemingly logical?

I'll tell you why: Jewish Guilt-Shame!

How dare I complain or whine, EVER! Because I enjoy, because I laugh, because I bathe in the waters of happiness, health, and the hilarity of my peculiar eccentricities, I am guilty and thus compelled to shame for my good fortune, guilt that I enjoy and others do not, self-loathing of my entire existence. How dare I?

I repeat it: farkakt!


Note: This picture aboves are not products of my creativity. Rather, they was found via the Google Images search engine at and  Why do I state this, you ask? Reasons have been provided above, although it may be due more to my own neuroses. Articles on that are yet to come.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Am I Jewish or Italian? Wait, Jewish isn't a nationality? Oh,s*#@!

"Well I think it's been made perfectly clear that Jewish Italians have to decide whether they are Italians first or Jews."
-"The Duce," Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

This quote is out of context.  It's actually from a chapter in de Bernieres' Corelli's Mandolin "spoken" by Benito Mussolini to you, the reader.  It's entirely fictional.

But, he's right.

When I was thirteen, I was much more interested in being Italian than Jewish, especially as I began obsessively watching Goodfellas on VHS. There's not a scene nor a line that I don't know from that movie because, "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." Two other Italian friends and I formed our gang. We never got into a fight, never went to the "mattresses," never whacked any of the other seventh-grade boys, but also never sat with our backs to the classroom door. 

That year, as I watched Henry Hill weep over Karen dumping the coke down the toilet, I also watched the four other Jewish kids in my town getting bar mitzvahed and questioned whether I should be doing the same.  As I well imagined, all the shiksas would want to dance with me and I liked the shiksas.  But, ultimately and emphatically, I refused and further concluded the only reason I enjoyed bar/bat mitzvahs was the game of Truth-or-Dare that ultimately ensued. At the last bat mitzvah I attended, in order to transport us sweaty, horny teens home from catering hall, the girl's parents rented a bus for us to make out on.

I got to second base.

She wasn't Jewish.

And, I still wasn't getting bar miztvahed.

Now, as an Italian and Jew -a non-practicing Jew- I am always in the position of deciding whether I'm one or the other.  Immediately after the last posting, my father reminded me that being Jewish does NOT mean I'm ethnically Jewish.  It's not a nationality.  It's not an ethnicity.  It's not a religion that I practice. What the !*&@ is it, then?

Maybe this would have been easier to answer if I had been bar mitzvahed.

Being Italian is simple... I'm 50% Napolitan.  There's a street named after my great-grandfather in Calitri, Italy.  My grandfather and his brothers immigrated from Calitri on the S.S. Colombo in 1927. Fuhgeddaboudit.  

But, ask every Jew you encounter and you'll immediately learn that, by heritage, he or she is undoubtedly Jewish.  I guess I'm following the rules:  in Judaism, you're the religion of your mother.  That said, I went on a Christian retreat in high school, was married by a priest, and am raising my daughters Episcopalian.  I haven't sat down to a Passover seder in years and lost my dreidel when I was five.  

Perhaps, I like being different.  There are, after all, only about 13.5 million of us in the world.  Perhaps, Jewish Adam is a little more pushy than Italian Adam.  Perhaps, Adolescent Adam still lingers so he can say, "No, Dad, I'm Jewish!  AND, I'm taking the car out tonight!"

Maybe I don't need to answer the question. 

Maybe it's simply enough to know that somewhere deep in my family's past, about seventy years ago in Romania, by order of the Conducãtor, my relatives' voices were silenced because they decided they were Jewish before Romanian.