View from a (non-) Jew

by Tammy Bleck (Oak Park, CA)

During the twenty-five years that I was married to a Jewish man, I was often called an honorary Jew. I’m not exactly sure why. In all those years my husband never attended Temple or practiced his faith. No high holidays were ever observed, no Hanukkah candles lit. So why does almost everyone I meet assume that I am a Jew, and why do I sometimes feel like one?

It could be because I shlep, kibbitz, and have done many a mitzvah, and since my divorce ten years ago I have found love once more with a mensch. For almost two years I have been going to Temple with this wonderful man. In that time I’ve witnessed a faith that is open, accepting, loving and giving. I would like to think of myself as all those things.

Each Shabbat I listen to prayers that are offered up asking for God’s blessings for all men and women, for peace and strength, for favor and healing. But mostly I hear prayers of thanks. There is a lot of gratitude in the Jewish faith. I think we could all stand to be a little more grateful.

My father raised, baptized and confirmed me as a Catholic. My mother taught, baptized, and took me to her Baptist church each opportunity she had. I know my catechism, the Stations of the Cross, and I know my Praise the Lord renditions of the old Baptist way. I am not uneducated in the world of organized faiths, but there is no church that has me as a member. I consider myself to be a faithful person but shun the term “religious.”

I am open, and I appreciate all faiths that are open and patient with me. Faith is a good thing, and God, whatever name you choose to call him (or her), is gracious and loving. I have to say, in attending synagogue, there’s something to be said for attending a worship service and not being aggressively recruited or reminded of how much I’ve sinned. I appreciate both of the omissions.

There is so much about the Jewish faith I won’t even pretend to understand. I may study it one day. I’m sure I’d be the better for it. But I do understand the foundation, the music, the feeling of gratitude that fills the synagogue. It uplifts me and it encourages me.

When I attend Shabbat services, I do so without any reservations. I am there with an open mind to support the man who has my heart. With so much of the evening service in Hebrew, I greatly appreciate the rabbi’s woven explanations of the prayers. They are beautiful, positive, hopeful and gracious–all things that I aspire to be.

I am motivated to come back by the music and by the man who sings it. He is called a cantor, and I learned very quickly that we don’t applaud after he finishes singing. Too bad, because he sings with such love, such emotion and such intent, that I want to leap to my feet and put my hands together loudly. (I imagine that the old Baptist way of raising your hands up in the air and swaying to the music would be deemed inappropriate!)

I listen without understanding a word, but I read along in the book (definitely not called the Bible), and am able to get a real translation. I appreciate the words almost as much as I do the voice. I don’t understand why Jews don’t pass a basket in the service for contributions from the congregation for the synagogue. After listening to the cantor, if a basket were passed in front of me, I’d be putting in some big money. It’s what thankful people do: contribute (at least in a perfect world).

It occurs to me that if we really want to make it a better world, we should support those people and those things that do right by us. Synagogues and churches are among those ‘things,’ along with family, friends, and country. Jews live this, and they vehemently support their synagogues and their homeland, Israel. I can only imagine what they are feeling in watching the events unfold in the Middle East. In some strange way, I feel it too; the fear, the uncertainty, the need to prepare and to pray.

The feelings Jews have for Israel are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They are committed to Israel in a quiet, precise, and serious way. It feels very American to me. The dedication and quiet resolve is a little off-putting, but in a good way. While I don’t pretend to understand it, I can feel the passion, the purpose of it all, and I share in some of that. I guess you could call me an American-Catholic-Baptist-almost-Jew.

I’m happy just to be invited. The people, the message, the peace, the food–don’t even get me started on the food. Oy Vay! (What do they do to those cabbage rolls that make them so heavenly?)

I have lots of questions. They range from matzo balls, black hats and long curls, the Book of Life, to the sounding of the ram’s horn, the bris ceremony, and bar mitzvahs; all for another time, another discussion. Until then, I will learn, enjoy, eat and try to be a good (American-Catholic- Baptist- almost-) Jew.

Oh, and yes, I will pray.

Tammy Bleck is the author of the book Single Past 50 Now What? You can read more of her writings at www.WittyWomanWriting.com, where a slightly different version of this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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19 Comments

Filed under American Jewry

19 responses to “View from a (non-) Jew

  1. Loved your essay, (“View of a non-Jew”) It is full of respect and admiration, and sometimes I wish I had the connection you seem to enjoy. Beautifully done.

  2. Mel, so very kind of you to say. Often times I find faith a hard thing to understand let alone grasp. So much of what I was taught has changed, and so much of what I’ve observed goes against what I believe. I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe I shouldn’t try so hard. So, I just let it be. Easier said than done for this cynical heart but I hope I get points for trying. Thanks for the good review, glad you enjoyed!

  3. Jeffrey Davidson

    A beautifully written essay which clearly defines your feelings, beliefs, caring, understanding, respect, compassion, appreciation, acceptance and tolerance. Listening to other points of view whether believing or not goes a long way toward getting along with others, learning and growing.

  4. Maryjo Morgan

    Well worded, so heartfelt and genuine. Your attitude of gratitude shows, and that is a good thing.

  5. Tammy, Mazel tov on a great honor! You have quite a gift in that you are able to express yourself so eloquently – one of many reasons I feel such a powerful connection to you.

  6. Ida

    Tammy, I am so impressed with your writing and your candid expressive feelings regarding love, religion and faith. You are not an almost jew, girlfriend, you are a jew with all the bells and whistles. Love your perspective and I so agree!

  7. A window into who you are–priceless. Thank you for sharing such a personal side of yourself. Miss you.

  8. Jeffrey, am very appreciative of your kind words. An open mind leads to great places. At least I’m hoping so. Thank you for the read.

  9. Prettywriting, I’ve always wondered why people thought that writing was a difficult thing to do. We all do it. It is so much a part of me that if I were unable to write what I feel it would be like not being able to breath. I’m thrilled that we are connected. Thrilled! So happy that you enjoyed and related to the piece. Thank you so much for being here.

  10. Ida, “all the bells and whistles” I love it! Thank you! My heart may often be confused when it comes to religion but it is always true to me and I listen with more gratitude than judgement. I’ve found these days that it helps to allow the goodness in without too much of an argument. Faith has a solid place in my life. The jury is still out on religion. I’m still not quite sure how to separate the two, but I’m working on it. Thanks so much for your sharing. This is a wonderful site and I’m very pleased to be here.

  11. Hi Janice, thanks for being here! You know that a writer shows themselves even though we try hard not to. This topic is close to my heart as I struggle to find my way. The experience has been so gratifying and joyful that I just had to put pen to paper. Wonderful hearing from you!

  12. Jenny Paulsen

    I smiled the whole time reading this. I was told once that the only way to get to heaven is to be a born again Christian. I think about all the good people in this world who have all different faiths. I don’t see how they would not enter heaven. I love learning about different religions, different rituals, hearing songs of praise. I just learned a little more about the Jewish faith from you. I always will believe that God is love no matter what faith you follow.

  13. Jenny, you are I were raised alike. I learned early on the condemnation that would be received if you didn’t accept the ‘right’ God. Like you, as I grew older I saw all the good people of different faiths and wondered why God would not allow them in his kingdom. It didn’t feel right to me then or now. At the end of the day I believe you are right; God IS love no matter what faith you follow. If you practice with a benevolent and graceful heart, if you love your fellow man/woman, if your humanity speaks louder than your words, then I believe God knows you and will smile when he greets you. I’m banking on it. Thanks so much for your sharing and for being here.

  14. Kris Henderson

    As always, you have a way with words!

  15. Adrian

    Truly great post Tammy. A really interesting story that’s so very different from my own; it’s nice to hear a alternate perspective.

  16. Adrian, we all have a different story to tell; a wonderful patch quilt of life, love, faith and hopes. I’m happy you appreciated the different perspective. I’m so happy you stopped by.

  17. Kris, so happy you found me here. I do have a way with words…sometimes good, sometimes not so much. But you know there’s always something on my mind and I generally speak my hearts peace. Thanks for listening.

  18. Tammy, this is just so lovely and poignant. I applaud your for sharing your feelings and words, and for being so open to learning about another path.

    I don’t know if I ever shared with you that I never had any kind of Jewish upbringing. As a result, I always felt guilty and uncomfortable around the holidays when attending services or going to Passover with people whom I considered to be real “MOTs” (That’s member of the tribe). At one of the High Holidays, I mentioned this to the rabbi and he said, “You know, Lee, it’s never too late to learn. You could even study for a Bar Mitzvah. I would be honored to guide you on that path.” Two years later, I was called to the Torah in front of all of my family and friends there to say mazel tov. Thankfully, both of my parents were still alive to see it. And no one was prouder of me than I.

    Learning about and experiencing Judaism is really a wonderful thing. But if you ever want to really push the envelope and learn some Israeli dances, I’d be happy to give you some lessons.

  19. Lee, what a wonderful sharing. And so, I MUST ask; do you feel like a real MOT now? Has your learned faith healed or helped you? I hope so. I’m learning that Judaism has a lot to it. On the surface it seems so simple: pray, give thanks, honor your fellow man, do what you can whenever you can and always honor Israel. Beautiful. But as I peel the onion, there is so much more. And I’m seeing now the differences between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. They almost feel like different religions. A wee bit off putting. But, as in life, I prefer to focus on what works. And the peaceful prayers, the beautiful song offerings of thanks and the giving hearts; well, it all works for me. I want to say that I’m so very happy for you and your parents that they lived to enjoy that moment with you. That they saw their son on the Bimah coming to the Torah. What a beautiful thankful prideful moment. Although belated … Mazel Tov!

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