Oy! Whenever My Mom Visits, I Have To Pretend To Be More Jewish Than I Really Am
â€œOy,â€ groaned my daughter, lunging precariously for a dishrag to wipe up a spill. â€œI canâ€™t reach the shmatte.â€
Brilliant, I thought as I nibbled on a corner of matzoh, sensing the pride a coach feels for her star performer.
My mother looked up and smiled, then turned back to the copy of Jewish London weâ€™d left out on the coffee table.
â€œWhile youâ€™re on the walking tour, Iâ€™ll head to the kosher butcher,â€ I said, â€œto pick up the chicken for Shabbat dinner.”
I wish I could say all my interactions with my mother were as honest to goodness as in those in the Old Testament stories I pretended to pay attention to at Sunday school. But my familyâ€™s come-lately interest in the Yiddish-English dictionary was a thinly veiled charade intended â€“Â whether or not Mom bought any of it â€“ to make us all feel a bit more comfortable around one another while sharing the same roof for two weeks.
She canâ€™t say she didnâ€™t start it. Since I can remember she has emphasized a Jewish education for her daughters, descendants of Eastern European refugees who relocated just in time to the not-to-be-taken-for-granted New World. Our lives were largely non-secular, governed by youth clubs, bible classes and spiritual summer camps. I fantasized about inhabiting Kevin Baconâ€™s character in Footloose. I imagined a kinship with Bart Simpson. Were I of another era I might have found solace in my Jewish community. Instead I felt only apathy toward it. And god (for lack of a better word) knows I gave it my best shot.
My coolness toward religion in general and Judaism specifically was only barely acceptable to my mother so long as there was still a chance Iâ€™d marry in the faith (and if he were a doctor or a lawyer, who was she to complain). Yadda yadda yadda, I now have two beautiful, blonde, one-eighth German daughters.
The children are the center of her universe, but when theyâ€™re out of earshot â€“ and sometimes when theyâ€™re within it â€“ she drops hints that sheâ€™s not entirely au fait with our godless world (â€œWhat, no mezuzah on your door?â€). Or points out that Passover is the perfect season for a visit home. And heaven forbid a month goes by without an email announcing that the daughter of the cousin of a friend from the synagogue congregation has moved to London and how rude it would be not call her and suggest meeting up for a bagel.
Thus when Mom visits I disclose when one of the kidsâ€™ friends is even a fraction Jewish, and effuse about the Hannukah party that was in reality â€“ shh! â€“Â a secret Santa.
I was secretly relieved when I got wind that my only Jewish friend in the neighborhood lost his job, which meant weâ€™d be bumping into him when my parents were around.
Alas the kids can talk now, and they donâ€™t see the harm in babbling about Easter egg hunts and stockings hung by the chimney with care. So this year they blew my cover and, as a result, my mother has lost faith in me ever rediscovering my faith. Meanwhile, my stories have gone from kosher to â€œnot suitable for consumptionâ€ and my motherâ€™s cycle of indoctrination has begun again in earnest. Before she left town last month she also left behind a few leaflets and a childrenâ€™s story about a Jewish holiday that, Iâ€™m unsurprised to say, failed to capture the imaginations of our cross-cultural kids.
It says something about mother-daughter relationships, though, that Iâ€™m still considering a trip home next Passover. What can I do?