Growing up in a typical Jewish American home, I knew what's what: a real honest-to-goodness Jew had chicken soup on Saturdays, bagels-'n-lox Sunday mornings and corned beef on rye with relish Sunday evenings. He was proud of Sandy Koufax not playing on Yom Kippur and no one he knew voted Goldwater. Jews vote the Democrat ticket all the way from president to dog-catcher. Yiddish, being funny, being a nebach and a JCC membership were really important parts of Judaism. "Be Jewish – but don't exaggerate" was another maxim I heard often.

All was fine and dandy, until…

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There were discrepancies. For instance: our family ate waffles with syrup Sunday mornings. I didn't like lox, but I loved waffles… but it seemed un-Jewish. We didn't even have an aunt named Jemima (which is really Yemima, a Jewish name, but I didn't know that then) – and even if we did, she wouldn't have looked similar to the nice lady on the pancake mix box. I caught my mom voting for a Republican dog-catcher. I didn't want to speak Yiddish or be a nebach.


What finally destroyed my simplistic American Jewish world was Sadie Hawkins Day at day-camp. We were supposed to run and catch girls, or the other way around. But by that time I was in day school – so I knew a thing or two. I thought: "I'm not playin'! No ichsie girl's gonna tag me and I'm not gonna tag any ichsie girl! 'sides – my brother is the Abner, I'm Dovid."

So I stood over to the side with the other only two Orthodox Jewish kids. One of the senior girl counselors (probably just a junior in high school – but for a fifth grader she seemed all grown-up) comes over and asks why we aren't participating. Just imagine: little boys running around tagging little girls – I mean today they'd cart the whole lot of us away to jail for harassment and the counselors would probably still be in Sing Sing to this day!

Anyway, we say to the counselor that it's against Jewish law to touch a girl (we guessed that it was o.k if she was related to you.). The counselor, with over self-confidence, declared something I'll never forget:

"I've read the whole Torah and I've never seen anything that says you can't play Sadie Hawkins or touch a girl!"

"Gee", I thought, "the whole Torah – the written, the oral and all the commentaries!" I said: "Some people spend their whole lives learning the Torah and haven't finished. You're somethin' else!" I hadn't read all the Torah and hadn't yet been initiated to the intricacies of the Talmud, so perhaps I hadn't yet reached the portions where Sadie Hawkins Day was tucked away.

That experience got me thinking: maybe not everything I superficially thought was Judaism was actually Jewish! Maybe it's "somethin' else!" Maybe you have to actually delve into the depth and breadth of the Torah, all the wisdom of Judaism, to know what's really Jewish and what isn't.

So I needled my fast-ball and Monopoly playing partner into teaching me Talmud, so I could learn to think as a Jew and discover what being Jewish really meant, straight from the horse's mouth (o.k., from the holy cow's mouth).

Almost incidentally I also became a Zionist. It made sense to me to live in our homeland, sticking together and not letting anyone mess around with us anymore – but at first it was separate from my Torah Judaism.

I had great mentors, rabbis and counselors, who set me on a path to Jewish completeness, showing those parts of the Torah that deal with the Land of Israel, our return to it by a Divine redemption through natural processes, the Jewish importance of being a sovereign nation in our land and of every Jew living there.

Some think they know all there's to know about Judaism, but really don't have a clue. Humor's great but not particularly Jewish. Bagels, lox and chicken soup are irrelevant. Being a nebach is wrong-headed. There's no Sadie Hawkins Day!

Living in Israel is intrinsic to both the greatness and the nitty gritty of being Jewish. It's where the "whole Torah" tells us to be!

Somethin' else!
 
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