The Adler Family Menorah

     My mother’s house is the cleanest house I’ve ever been inside.  Even rich people don’t have houses as clean as my mother’s house.  You really could eat off the floors.  It’s that clean.

       It is also oddly decorated.  

       Among other things, she has a shrine to FDR and John F. Kennedy (first Catholic president).  And a shrine to Elvis.  And her dog (which is growing alarmingly fat) has a St. Francis medal on her collar and her dog bed.  She took the dog to church to be blessed by the priest before she brought it home as a puppy.  

      Last year, when I went home for Christmas, I walked into the kitchen and found a huge honkin silver Menorah on the kitchen table.  

       It was huge.  I do not exaggerate.  It overwhelmed the table.  It looked like it was looted from Solomon’s palace or something.

       “What the hell is this?  Are we Jewish now?” I asked.

       “What do you mean?” 

        “Why do we have a menorah?”

        “What’s a menorah?”

        “That thing on the table.”

         “What?  The candalabra?”

        “That’s not a regular candalabra.  It’s a menorah.  It’s Jewish.”

        “Jewish?”  My mother’s voice was bewildered, as if I’d said it was Martian.

          “Jewish!  They use it in Church!”

         “I think you’re confused,” said my mother.  That’s what she says when she thinks I’m wrong about something.

        I went to the bookcase and took down one of the encyclopedias that I used to write papers back in 8th grade.  I opened the page to the entry on menorahs.  Sure enough, there was a big photo of a menorah.

        I showed it to my Mom.

        “Oh,” she said.  Then: “Well, I like it anyway.  It’s pretty.”

        “Where’d you get it?”

          “A garage sale.”

          “Mom, I don’t think that it’s very nice to appropriate people’s religious objects.”

         “I paid $40 for it!  I’m keeping it!  How do you know about this stuff, anyway?”

         “I saw it on TV,” I said, but in my mind I was thinking about the Surgeon, back in New York, and the expression on his face the time I asked him why he didn’t have a Christmas tree. 

         “Momma, how would you feel if some Hindus brought a statue of the Virgin Mary at a garage sale because they thought it was pretty, and planted it in their garden?”

          “But I have a statue of the Virgin Mary in my yard!”  (It’s true.  She does.)

          “That’s not the point,” I said.

          “I’m keeping it.  I like it,” she said.

           And so the hugeass honkin silver menorah remains in my mother’s house.  

           I hope this story doesn’t offend anyone.  She means well.  

                Happy Holidays.

9 thoughts on “The Adler Family Menorah”

  1. I love religious confusion having been raised on it.

    My Jewish parents sent me to a high church Anglican school that had lessons on Saturday morning no less! They sent me there because it had been my father’s school and had a good academic record.

    So I was a member of a school choir that sang hymns every morning and carols at Christmas. Simultaneously I was a member of the local synagogue choir and sang on those Saturdays when there was no school.

    I guess I was a kind of religious switch who ended up saying ‘a plague on both your houses’.

    1. You can sing? I couldn’t carry a tune if you held a gun to my head. My parents sent me to four years of piano lessons, all for naught.

      Anglicans! Anglicans are Catholic Lite! I think there was on Anglican church in my hometown. There are lots of them around here, though.

      My mother has become more religious as she’s gotten older. It’s really the damndest thing. Especially since the Church treated her like shit over her divorce. She couldn’t take Sacrament for like 10 years, which basically means they damned her to hell. It is idiotic, but if you believe…If I was her, I would have been like “Fuck you, if I’m going to hell anyway I’m not giving you any more of my time on Sunday, or my money!”

      Eventually, the Church loosened up on the divorce thing, so now she’s good with God. I still don’t get it. I think the religious shit is for empty-heads. I stopped believing quite naturally once I reached the age of reason–for me, it was about 12 years old.

  2. I’m Jewish, and since I speak for all Jews everywhere, I’d tell your mom to knock herself out. Have fun with her Menorah. Why not? It is pretty, and if she doesn’t mind advertising a bit for the tribe, then who am I to mind?

    Who knows? If there is a Jehovah, maybe he’ll forgive her for believing in false prophets and open the pearly gates wide — though Jews don’t really believe in a heaven or hell — simply for displaying the Menorah proudly.

    I don’t understand how the Catholic church can forgive everything — murder, pre-marital sex, divorce, sexually abusing young boys — except homosexuality, something Jesus never even talked about. How would a loving God, an asexual one at that, not accept love in any form? Why would that loving God want people to die over it? I just don’t understand it, but it’s not my book.

    We Jews don’t put our faith in symbols or objects, least of all a hunk of metal with some candle holders. Even the holy Torah is not worth losing even one life over. Judaism is a religion of wandering tribes, it is a personal relationship with God.

    Tell your mom to have a good time with the Menorah. After all, she’s practically one of us — clean house, doesn’t listen to her children, and loves a bargain!

    1. Great post. And an interesting point about the Torah, on which, with respect, I’d like to demur. It could be argued that the Jews are essentially the children of the written word. There’s the Torah, and then there are all the hundreds of years’ worth of rabbinical discussion of matters arising, written up in the Talmud. We’re a people of readers and debaters and scribblers (which is why we’re over-represented in the groves of Academe). Think of a typical bar-mitzvah. The first act of a Jewish boy on his passage from boyhood to manhood is to read a portion of the Torah.

      We don’t have a top-down centralised hierarchy like the Catholics. Judaism is not an empire. Catholicism, in a way, is. We wander about all over the globe looking for a way to make a living, and wherever we settle, what’s the first thing we do? We build a synagogue. And in that synagogue is a holy place, the ark. And in that ark are the scrolls of the Torah. And during the festival of Simchat Torah what do we do? We dance, carrying the scrolls, such is our joy.

      Something interesting flows from this. There aren’t many illiterate Jews. Even in the stetls of Lithuania and Poland where people were dirt poor and endured enormous hardship (and forbidden by law to attend university) illiteracy was almost unknown. In the Catholic empire, it was different. Why the great richness of imagery bequeathed to the world by Catholicism – glorious stained glass windows (the mediaeval equivalent of a technicolor movie), sculpture, painting? Because you don’t have to be able to read in order to understand them. The teachings of the Church are embodied in the visual (notwithstanding the proud and worthy traditions of the literate minority, the monks in their scriptoria, the princes of the church, the great theologians, and so on).

      Near where I live is a remote place called Peyrusse le Roc. I suppose the nearest big town would be Toulouse 150 km away. It’s built on an inaccessible crag and looks like something out of Tolkien. But we know that in the Middle Ages it was a thriving community. And in that community there were Jews. I don’t know enough about mediaeval history to hazard a guess as to how many there were or what they were doing there, but we know that they were there because slap bang in the middle of the old town (now barely a village) lie the ruins of an old synagogue. And you can bet your bottom dollar that if we were able to go back in time and join a service, the Torah would come out of the ark and be read with reverence.

    2. Tony, thank you for this rich comment. I can’t address all your points because I’m at work right now, but I will take on a few:

      Roman Catholics were, indeed, illiterate and barbarously ignorant. I’m no big fan of the Protestants either (Calvinists were the worst!), but they had higher literacy rates because, unlike the Catholics, their religions encouraged them to personally read the Bible in order to have a personal relationship with God and Christ. I dislike Puritan culture intensely, but I taught it at my last university, and in American colonial times–like Mayfair times–they were some of the most literate people on earth.

      As you know, the Catholics relied (and rely, unfortunately) on priests to convey knowledge and sacraments. You don’t have to be able to read if the priest does it for you. The Church jealously guarded knowledge and intentionally kept people ignorant, which is (just one) aspect of the faith that I find deplorable. Any institution that guards/hoards knowledge is an oppressive institution and morally suspect. The French and Mexicans were right to attack the monasteries and other representations of Catholic power in their respective Revolutions. I’d love to go to Vatican City one day, but when I look at the opulence and try, intellectually, to put it into historical perspective, I just think, “Wow, what total fucking assholes. Imagine the peasants who slaved to get this marble out of the quarry.”

      It was–and is–a huge, corrupt political institution. It fascinates me to study it and it gave some good things to humanity, but for the most part, I think it sucks.

      And the way it treated Jews (or women), especially in the Middle Ages, and during the Plague? Whenever a kid went missing in town? Oh my God! Like, I just picture these guys telling their wives “GET IN THE BASEMENT AND LOCK THE DOOR AND DON’T OPEN IT for ANYONE!!!”

      The Protestants were not better about the genocidal impulse. I sort of admire Martin Luther–the man had tremendous courage and conviction–but he was a notorious asshole.

      Finally, a blogger I link to, Ex Urbe, writes at length about exactly the point you make about art in the Catholic tradition (convey knowledge to the illiterate). If you go to her blog, her “Spot the Saint” series is wonderful. I have learned so much from her blog.

      I wonder what it must be like to think if you can’t read. I can’t imagine it. I wonder about my students sometimes when I read their papers–“Is this how you THINK?”–but at least they are literate. How do you think if you can’t read? Obviously, people did, but I don’t know how they did. Nobles in Charlemagne’s time were mostly illiterate.

      Oh, and I’ve always thought that the religious basis of antisemitism was absolutely retarded. It makes no sense. It is contradictory. “The Jews killed Christ!”–well thank God they did, or else we wouldn’t have Christianity, and furthermore it was written in the Scripture, so it was destiny. Jesus had to die. It HAD to happen, and everyone knew it was going to happen, including Virgin Mary and Jesus himself. So why be mad at Jews about it? The Pope should send the Jews a fucking Hallmark Thank-You card and a gift basket every Christmas! “THANKS FOR MY RELIGION DUDE!”

      And it was Romans who carried out the execution, anyway.

  3. Christians are mad at Jews because Jews own the messiah. He’s ours, and we get to determine when he has or hasn’t come. And we say he hasn’t come, and Christians says Jesus was it, but we say no. That’s why they’re mad. The messiah is in the Jewish books, the books of Moses; the New Testament is based on the savior having arrived in the form of Jesus. But like The Return of Martin Guerre, the guy is wrong. He may be a good guy, but he’s not the right guy.

    The Vatican keeps Jews around, I once heard, because it’s Jews who have to verify that the messiah has come. No Jews, no messiah; that’s the deal.

    Do you know that there are more versions of the Bible, than there are words in the Bible? Do you know that 600 years ago they found over 30,000 mistakes in the Bible? Christianity was a religion for the illiterate, for the masses, for the poor, the weak, the powerless. Its pages were copied often by scribes who were illiterate. Its words conveyed political agendas. Early Bibles did not say Jesus was god, so it had to be changed so that he became god-like. They did not say women were subservient, so they had to be changed. Of the Torah, there is one version. One. They all say the same thing.

    And while it is true that Jews highly value literacy and the study of Torah, and revere and love the Torah, if a Jew is given a choice of saving one good person, of any age, race, religion, or culture, or saving a copy of the Torah, a Jew must choose to save the life. To choose otherwise means that the ideas and principles in the Torah must be meaningless, so it’s not worth saving. Walk the talk.

    The Torah could never have inspired an Inquisition, so why did the Bible?

    Sorry for the rant. Especially at Christmas. BTW, I have nothing against Christianity, but I object to the way it is mostly practiced. I’m fine with Christianity, it’s the hypocrisy of Christians that offends me.

    1. Downlow, I always like your comments even though you’ve bitten my head off a few times. I think you are smart and you are also possessed of a pretty funny sense of humor. Most importantly, you are kinky as hell, which I identify with.

      So don’t freak out about this part:

      This is one thing (the ONLY thing, actually) I have found weird & curious about Judaism: you guys act like you own it.

      You do. You act like you own it, like you have it on lockdown in a safety deposit box at the bank, like the Mathematician’s huge affair-file.

      But other people got it. They got the goods, dude, they appropriated your religion. You should be proud that it was worthy of appropriation. It annihilated the religions of Europe.

      The Bible didn’t inspire the Inquisition. That was just an excuse. The Jews were tortured and expelled and demonized and yadda yadda so that certain (privileged, political) people could steal all their stuff and take their jobs. Same thing happened in England and most of the other nations of Europe, as I’m sure you know. Steal all their stuff. Take their jobs. It was easy because they were disenfranchised. Once the Christians got their acts together enough to be proficient international traders, the Italians got the jobs.

      I am sure you are right and the Bible contains multitudinous “errors.” It was written way after the the death of Christ by people who weren’t there and didn’t know him.

      I have never heard a gentile say that we needed Jews to verify the Messiah. That train has left the station, my friend, and you missed it. Best get with the program ASAP or else you are going to be a very unhappy dude come the Rapture. It is going to be zombies walking around and Daddy Jesus is going to be very disappointed with you. You are going to be in Big Trouble. He’s gonna take off his belt, dude. That “Prince of Peace” shit ends with Armageddon.

      For the record: I don’t like Christianity. And the early ones were the biggest assholes on the planet. Total anti-intellectual assholes. I hate to think of the knowledge that was lost because they destroyed books and killed scholars. Even the Muslims were not as bad.

      Oh: the Muslims took your scripture, too. You don’t own it.

  4. I’m not freaked, I’m a huge fan, and I don’t disagree with a word you wrote.

    Except that when the Rapture comes, I don’t believe it will be Jews who will get spanked. I believe it’s anyone who wasn’t generally kind to others. I believe it’s haters and abusers who will feel the wrath belt. That’s what I believe.

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