Wednesday, February 20, 2013

James Earl Jones as a Short Old Jewish Woman

Picture courtesy of Mattinee

Rarely have I encountered other Jews and not felt the need to prove my Jewishness. There have been those times when I've thought, "Well, I'm more Jewish than him but at least I'm not that Jewish." After visiting my wife's high school pals, though, I was reminded of a night when I felt the perfect amount of Jewishness. Katie and Jason's New York wedding gratuitously nestled itself into Autumn: breezy, brisk, early signs of the turning foliage. Winona Ryder and Richard Gere were not present but I would not have been surprised had they walked in and positioned themselves next to the bride and groom.

I left my car with the Battery Gardens' valet, a man possibly in uniform, possibly not, and appearing as though he might drive off with the car and my tip. Meditatively distracting, the sunset-silhouetted Statue of Liberty backdropped the chuppah, which was made from white birch limbs grown, though memory may be fabricating this, in Katie's home state of Vermont, a locale not commonly known for its abundance of synagogues. An elderly female rabbi, donning gold flowing garments hosted the ceremony, speaking as if she were reenacting James Earl Jones' "People Will Come" speech in Field of Dreams.

For the first time since my grandfather's funeral almost ten years earlier, I wore a yarmulke -I fully intended to keep it just never know. Prior to the funeral, I hadn't worn a yarmulke since middle school when I attended Aaron Hochberg's bar mitzvah, a rite of passage I, myself, avoided for fear that such a display would prevent the New England female coterie from allowing me to second base. In the interest of full disclosure, I also kept Jason and Katie's wedding program for self-educational purposes, as it contained information, albeit humorously presented, about the Jewish tradition, intended as self-tutorial for the bride's Gentile family.

There were lots of Jews.

There were lots of Jews from Long Island.

There were also lots of Gentiles from Long Island.

There were lots of Gentiles from Long Island who were likely better Jews than me. Although, if it came down to it, I'd bet on Bruce Willis acting a better Jew than my actual Jewish self.

Still, I felt at home at this wedding. Not because of the yarmulke or the chuppah or the Jews or the Long Island Gentiles -clearly not because of these things since these did nothing but make me feel less Jewish- but rather because I felt like I was so much nearer to the average height of the room. Although the DJ, a hipster Obi Wan, was the tallest man in the room by at least a foot, the average height couldn't have been more than five-foot-six. Yes, I was short the average by three inches, but I fit right in and I realized why I identify with my Jewish side: nobody's big.

At the wedding, I didn't have to muscle past anyone's armpit to get to the bar or punch somebody in the thigh for a turn at the urinal. No cricks in my neck, no meathead jocks snickering at the impossibility of my manliness, and, no dancing my head into somebody's elbow.

I hadn't had so much fun at a wedding, perhaps, ever. It was communal fun, right down to the horah -Wikipedia told me this was the circular, hand-holding dance as the bride and groom are lifted onto chairs (I needed Wikipedia because this definition wasn't in the wedding program). This was a tax bracket who came of age in the eighties so there was no shortage of Bananarama and Boy George. I once liked to dance when I dated a Latina girl fifteen years prior but it was a competitive, angry dance. Since then, the interest fizzled. Now, I was among my people. I danced.

As the end of the wedding approached, DJ Obi Wan played the last song, a tune with an anthemic whistle, resolute, determined. A song of relentless advancement. I thought, "I love this song. I need this song." It was motivational in a non-Anthony Powers kind of way. It felt sincere but it certainly did not feel Jewish. It was a far cry from Klezmer despite the um-pah, um-pah bass. During our visit with Katie and Jason, I seized the opportunity, asking if they recalled the name of the song.

They both answered: "Home."

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