My Jewish Soul

I was raised a Catholic. But, after several years living in New York City, and a short time in Miami Beach, I have come to recognize my Jewish soul. So call me pisher!

Some chutzpa you say? Or, as Presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Backmann put it, "Shutzpa".

I just want you to know that I have the credentials to back up my claim. I once shook the hand of the great Isaac Beshevis Singer. lf that is not to put the question to rest, I don't know what it would take. On evening on the Upper West Side of Manhattan I introduced myself to the man. He was gracious and warm. He gave me his time. He also had on his arm a most beautiful young assistant.*** So I know he was the kind of mensch I would like.

But I think I earned my chops in Miami Beach. At one time I lived in a South Beach Collins Avenue hotel where a lot of snow birds from Canada used spend the winters. The old Jewish ladies would vie for my attention and affection, bringing me little bubalas to eat. The best was my friend Rose Edelman who lived next to in an adjacent apartment. We shared a simple Seder alone together once. A blessing; how you say, a true mitzva.

Rose told me she once lived in a Catholic convent in Brooklyn where she leaned to crochet the decorative fringe for Catholic holy images. She made one for me with images of the Gurus Nityananda and Muktananda. Also, she knitted a meditation asana (mat) for me. I sent it back to her after a while in the hopes that it would comfort her in her last days. Blessed Jewish Rose of My Heart.

Not to get too sentimental, here's my favorite Jewish joke:

Sally comes back from her doctor exam and finds Sammy, her hubby of so many years, still firmly planted at the kitchen table nursing his usual cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. He barely notices she came in.

Excitedly she asks, “So, Sammy, you vant to know vat the doctor said about my br-r-reasts?”

Barely looking up, Sammy says, “Sure, vat?”

“The doctor said I had the br-r-reasts of a 16 year old.”

“Oh, yah? And, vat did he say about your 80 year old ass.”

Sally retorts, “Ve didn’t talk about you!”

Apropo of nothing in particular I recommend the book How to Be a Mensch, and Not a Shmuck by  Michael Wex. It gets into the deep history of the issue of what is and how to be a mencsh in the Jewish culture in an engaging and entertaining way.

So you ask, am I a mensch? Eh, I try.

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*** Master of Dreams A Memoir of Isaac Bashevis Singer Author: Deborah Telushkin

In 1975, twenty-one-year-old Dvorah Telushkin wrote a letter to the great Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, offering to drive him to and from a creative writing class in return for permission to attend the course. The literary master, then seventy-one, accepted the offer, which led to a twelve-year-long apprenticeship for Telushkin. Throughout Dvorah Telushkin's tenure with Singer, she kept detailed diaries chronicling both their literary efforts and the evolution of their personal relationship. Indeed, Telushkin was the one person to whom Singer tried to teach his craft as a writer. She writes about the great moments in Singer's public life, his winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, his fiery encounter with the Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, his surprising meeting with Barbra Streisand, who adapted and starred in the movie version of Singer's short story "Yentl." But the private Singer is revealed as well, the "merry pessimist" haunted by despair and torn between the old-world ethic of his Hasidic forebears in Europe and the moral abandon of modern secular man. 

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