I can actually conjure up that buttery smell of hot cinnamon. The smell of fluden wafted into every corner of that green weathered farmhouse. When grandma baked, she was forever low humming and as she pulled steaming pastry from the oven, she always warned me to let it cool. Me, so anxious to pop that layered miracle of walnuts and sugar and raisins into my mouth. Feeding me was her covert way of passing on a legacy from the old country. Because, though all four of my grandparents were Jewish and eluded death-by-pogrom in Eastern Europe, something of their essence died when they crossed the Atlantic. Blending in became a matter of survival.
My parents were born into Yiddish speaking households, where the remnants of ancient traditions were woven in between the lines. But opportunity beckoned and they moved their young family to the west coast, putting thousands of miles between me and the smell of fluden. For me, overt religious instruction consisted of lighting Hannukah candles and knowing the difference between a true bagel and a fake. But dogma was delivered in more insidious ways. There was an under the radar message about this religion that spoke of hiding and shame and exclusion. A sense of not belonging to the predominant culture, but not really fitting in elsewhere. Childhood sensitivities as subtle as breathing helped to create a soulful tone of what it meant to be Jewish.
There was a plus side to this brand of upbringing. As a curious and awe-struck child, I developed my own nature-inspired pagan sensibility. It became the basis for a lifetime of spiritual exploration. But in recent years I can feel how much was lost in this tactic of melding for survival. That the way my mother and her mother were with being Jewish created a perception that this out-dated tradition carried no weight.
But here’s the deal: one does not have to be a traditional practitioner to feel the blood-thirsty ties to a suffering history of ostracism, persecution and, most of all, loss. Loss…for which I have a lifetime of proclivity. There is no escape from being born into a genetic cesspool of trauma and violence. I am the child of survivors. What I know now, more than ever, is that I am not Jewish because I go to temple or celebrate Passover or keep kosher. I am Jewish by way of my embodied connection to this unique lineage.
In the last several years I’ve immersed myself in learning all that came to pass in my parent’s and grandparent’s lifetimes. I just wanted to know, to understand. And so I am shocked even more by what is happening in the world right now. I never imagined I would actually live through an era of ramped up anti-Semitism. But here it is. In the news everyday. The ugly face of hatred being flung in my direction.
And the time is way past for silence or hiding. Not just for me, but for everyone who identifies with not belonging to the predominant culture. What the f—k is the predominant culture anyway? Who are they and who anointed them? Do the math. There simply is no predominant culture…those fearful humans are way outnumbered. It is their very terror at being surpassed that creates every anti-“fill-in-the-blank”. This is a plea to speak up when you feel someone crossing the prejudice line. That boundary cross can range from joke-subtle to flagrant display. Tune in to both muted and blatant injustice. Cultivate courage and speak clearly.
My grandma will love you for it…❤️Bella