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A Bicultural Jew Gives Thanks on Sukkot

I was born and raised in New York City; until I went to college, I had no real understanding that Jews are a minority. I lived around the corner from a synagogue, and public schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In fact, when I was about ten and my father brought me an almanac, I insisted that the reference book was wrong: since I didn’t personally know any Protestants, I assumed that group couldn’t possibly be the majority religion in the U.S. 

My journeys beyond New York quickly set me straight. In State College, Pennsylvania, where I majored in world literature, my first roommate, a born-again Christian, let me know within 30 minutes of meeting me that I was her first real-life Jew. She was nice enough, but I always had the sense that she viewed me as fodder for her evangelizing ways. When I moved to Texas almost 30 years ago to join the faculty of a Methodist-affiliated national liberal arts university, I received a very well-rounded education in Jewish otherness. I’ll never forget the day that an advisee who was an open-minded committed Christian informed me that her friends were pressuring her to switch advisors; they were convinced that I would be a bad influence on her. Or the day that a student in my Jewish American literature class related his dream that God was calling me to Him and that neither He nor he wanted me to end up burning in Hell, as I surely would if I continued to reject Christ as my savior and Lord. Then there was the time a religious studies professor insisted (much to her colleagues’ chagrin) that no synagogue in Austin holds services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (she clearly hadn’t done her research on that one!). And a few years ago, my local Whole Foods proudly displayed challah in their small Kosher for Passover display (I’ll let readers decide whether this beats the Yom Kippur cake that was sighted in a Whole Foods in Rockville, Maryland in 5778). 

So, my journey from New York to Texas has resulted in my viewing myself as a bicultural Jew: I have had the luxury and privilege of taking Jewishness for granted and I also know the depths of Jewish illiteracy and intolerance that plague parts of the country and some institutions of higher education. 

As we now move from the awesome drama of the High Holy Days to the vulnerability but also plenitude associated with Sukkot, I find myself in thanksgiving mode.  And my specific sense of a Jewish harvest results from my double-consciousness as a Jewish New Yorker and a Texas Jew.

So, without further ado, let me give heartfelt thanks to:

  • The administrator as well as the chair of a major university committee who made it easy for me to miss a late afternoon meeting on erev Rosh Hashanah so that I could do the necessary spiritual and culinary preparation to usher in 5778. 
  • The (non-Jewish) student who began an e-mail to me with “Shana Tova.” 
  • The colleague who, on erev Yom Kippur, wished me a peaceful holiday. 
  • New York’s Central Synagogue, whose live streaming services on Yom Kippur morning enabled me to avoid the traffic nightmare that the regressive construction of toll roads visited upon the city of Austin on the Sabbath of Sabbaths (but not on the Sunday that followed). 
  • The colleagues across the country who sent me Rosh Hashanah greetings that included warm support for some recent writing of mine
  • Jewish Twitter, in general, for providing me with a virtual Jewish intellectual and cultural community on a daily basis. 
  • Jewish Feminist Twitter, in particular, for recognizing and affirming my intersectional identity. 
  • My beloved for his vegan noodle kugel and so much more. 
  • The wisdom of the Jewish calendar that moves us from the exhausting but necessary work of atonement to the joy of building temporary spaces that encourage fall feasting and community. 
  • A very specific form of Jewish double-consciousness that has taught me not to take interfaith and intercultural chesed (loving kindness) for granted. 
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2 Comments

As someone in the process of converting in New York City, it was interesting to contemplate how different my experience would be someplace else in this country. Thanks for writing!

https://loveandmatzoballs.blogspot.com/

I enjoyed and identified with this essay about Jewish life in NYC and beyond.  Thank you for articulating these contradictory ways of being and being perceived.  A "double conciousness."  Well said.

Sukkot Harvest
Full image
Sukkot Harvest.
Photograph by G. Orcha.
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How to cite this page

Meyers, Helene . "A Bicultural Jew Gives Thanks on Sukkot." 3 October 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 12, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/bicultural-jew-gives-thanks-on-sukkot>.

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