Saturday, December 09, 2006

the little drummer goy

I'm officially ready for the holidays! A friend gave me my very first dreidel!*


First time I met a Jewish person was my first semester of college. He was this short, fat guy that everyone called Sludge-O, who flunked out because he could not get himself out of bed in the morning to go to classes. As I have since discovered, there are many Jews who do just fine in higher education. When I started on the faculty at Madison, I mentioned to a certain Jewish professor friend of mine that I was surprised by the number of my new colleagues who were Jewish. "Jeremy," said this person in a low, let-me-clue-you-in-farmboy voice, "Madison is a top-ranked department."

Anyway, if I kept an annual list of the 100 people I'd interacted with most that year, I'm quite sure the percentage of Jews (or people with, e.g., a Jewish father) on that list has increased more or less every year since starting college. It's not (yet?) a majority, but that I would have to ponder this a moment for a group that is <3% of the US and <1% of the upper Midwest population says something. For me, this has been accompanied by an increasing bystander fascination with certain aspects of Judaism. Coming from my background, I learn about various Jewish practices and regularly think: Wow, Jews really know how to do a religion.

Awhile back, I was going to do a whole post listing maybe a dozen different ways in which I think Judaism has a clearly superior way of doing things (e.g., sitting shiva, and having a holiday where a key part is getting so drunk you can't tell two old men apart), but let's just focus for now on a religion should do the weekend. My chronic problem when I am in situations where I have work for my job to do over the weekend is that I engage in all this guilty procrastination on Saturday and then really only get down to business on Sunday. If I were an adherent to the religious tradition in which I was raised, this would mean that I would feel guilty for procrastinating on Saturday and then feel guilty for working on my Sabbath on Sunday. If I were Jewish, meanwhile, I could justify my procrastination on the grounds that my religion didn't want me working that day anyway, and then Sunday I could get down to work guilt-free.

* As always with photos that have a book in the background, this blog is sponsoring a contest giving a official JFW virtual kewpie doll to first person to identify the book. Readers are reminded of rules of this contest, including those prohibiting the reselling of the doll and prohibiting the author of the book or her/his relatives from entering.


Lucy said...

I think I would just save all my procrastination for Sunday, if I had an excuse not to do work on Saturday.

I'm glad I already won a doll; this contest is much harder.

Winston said...

Do we have a bar mitzvah in your future? Or do they do that with converts? Seriously, I was raised Methodist and practice no religion now, but with many Jewish friends over the decades, I feel they generally have a healthier view of life and religion than any of the Christians I have ever known. Guilt doesn't seem to be in their language or thinking. Except when a good Jewish mother uses it to get her way with the little ones.

Anonymous said...

Other cool things about Judaism (from another non-Jew):

Unlike a few other world religions,
a) There is no belief that non-adherents are destined for hellfire
b) Forced conversion has never been allowed
c) It wasn't founded through revelations witnessed by only a single individual

Also, while conversion is allowed, and happens fairly frequently, it's considered just as good to be a "Noahide" -- which involves many, many fewer commandments than does being Jewish.

Anonymous said...

The book is Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews, by Melvin Konner. At last, a kewpie of my very own.

I've always liked the sundown-sundown approach to holidays myself; it makes all the holidays seem longer, and more amenable to late night drunkennes.


jeremy said...

Yes, D., congratulations: You have a kewpie doll of your own!

rps said...

One of my favorite aspects of Judaism is a teaching that says that in Heaven you will be asked to account for every one of life's blessings or pleasures you were offered and failed to appreciate. Granted, there is wide variation across sects of Judaism regarding what pleasures are appropriate (and for whom), but I love the fundamental notion that life is to be savored and enjoyed.