JEWS: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH

 

photo credit: angus mcdiarmid via photopin cc

photo credit: angus mcdiarmid via photopin cc

I was born in Flushing, New York … a while ago to two Jewish immigrants: Shirley, who was born in Poland; and Louis, from TorontoCanada.  OK true, we don’t usually think of Canadians as “real” immigrants who were running from Czars, Nazis, and other horrors, shlepping their few belongings through Ellis Island where their names were changed from Portowkowminksy to “Porter” but believe me, Canadians are different  … which is whole other story …

 

Anyway, many readers have questioned my name: “C’mon,” they say. “‘Marnie Macauley’ – a Jew?!” Here’s the ganza (the story). You may need to sit.

 

My original birth name is Marnie Fertel Winston which was changed some years earlier from Weinstein, which had also been changed from Melamed. It seems my great great ancestors were learned teachers while shlepping in the desert. Fertel was my mother’s maiden name. Neither of us was thrilled with it for obvious reasons. When you’re a kid it’s “Fertle the Turtle.” When you hit puberty, you’d rather have a zit.

 

So, after I married, I started using my last name, Winston, as my middle name.

 

I married Ian T. Macauley, a former New York Times Senior Editor, may he rest in peace. Ian was probably one of three people christened in The Church of England who lived as a Jew for years before I met him, and converted.

 

All of which explains how a Jewish maidel (female) came to have a name that sounds like an Irish folk song.

 

About 15 years ago, in addition to my secular writing, I became fascinated by Jewish culture, news, and humor, which I’ve shared with readers worldwide through my books, calendars, series, articles, and lectures.

 

At the start ……..

 

Picture It.  December, 1993.  The scene: Riverdale, New York.  A small, almost entirely Jewish enclave north of Manhattan. I am wearing a gold lame strapless I picked up at an upscale re-sale shop that was obviously worn by a bulimic heiress.  True, the waist was around my neck, but it was reduced from $2,000 to 150.  At that price I would have worn a kitchen curtain.

I digress.

I was being picked up by my boss at the time, the late, fascinating, Douglas Marland, head writer of the daytime drama As The World Turns, for an evening of theater.

 

As I tumble into the limo, he looked at me oddly. OK, yes, the dress frightened him.  (He was terrified I would show up next to him at the Emmy’s looking like an aging neon hooker.) But more to the point …

here we are, a few days before Christmas. Houses everywhere in the U.S.  are draped with red and green lights — then there was here. Riverdale, NY. A tiny highly Jewish enclave in the Bronx with nothing but the faint orange glow of Menorahs peering into the winter night.

“Where the hell did we land … ”  he asked,  “Tel Aviv …?”

Undaunted, I explain the neighborhood, which kicked off a discussion of what it was like to be a Jew in the 50’s in a non-Jewish neighborhood, which I did as a kid.

 

It is one of the very few times this master storyteller was speechless.

Finally, he said:  “You know … It never once occurred to me what it must feel like to be an outsider on Christmas.”  He got it. You see, he, too, was an outsider. A farm boy, who spent every waking moment at the movies — dreaming – instead of with the goats.

 

In that instant, we both understood that silent bond we’d always shared.

Proverb: “The Jews are like other people …  only more so.”

 

Picture it. August, 1960s: The scene: London, England. I’m traveling with the family.  Dad’s driving. Actually, he is swerving and crashing, hopelessly lost in the East End.  When he careened into a pushcart, mom started yelling Enough, ask already!

 

Dad approached the pushcart vender and they briefly shook hands.

After resorting to miming, as the Cockney was incomprehensible, Dad impulsively uttered the ubiquitous … “oy vey.”

 

The man suddenly stopped with the “blimeys” — and, bursting with excitement, shouts,  “… Farshtaist (understand) Yiddish  …?! ” to which Dad replies, “Nu, vo den? (So, what else?)”

 

Then the two men shook hands again, this time, with palpable warmth, as though they were greeting for the first time.  Two lantsmen —  countrymen —  who lived thousands of miles apart, who had never met, and never would again.  Yet, there was an undeniable connection and a shared bond between them.

 

And with that one handshake, even as a youngster, I instantly understood it. A feeling that took 3,500 years to evolve.  A feeling I’d never forget … that we Jews were a very special family of people. It was at that moment that the seedlings for my work about Jews and Judaism took root. It started with A Little Joy, A Little Oy (NOTE: LINK), the calendar and book, and then there’s Yiddishe Mamas: The Truth about the Jewish Mother. (NOTE: LINK) I’ve been doing Jewish calendars, books and writing for AISH, and other Jewish publications ever since.

 

The Jews are like other people, only more so.”

 

In the various Jewish sections you’ll see a smorgasbord (always with the food), that reflect a feeling – mine – of being a Jew today.  The pieces came from my heart to reach yours – Jew or Gentile. The mission? Simple, yet not so simple:  to pass on some of the joys and oys of our magnificent, complex,  vibrant, quixotic, neurotic, opinionated, contradictory, open-minded, often  hysterical (OK, constantly hysterical) masterpiece of a people who laugh when it hurts, sob when their happy , make jokes when we’re running … and   endures. My late husband once cautioned: “let the words tell the story.” Throughout this section, I give you the words … and you don’t even have to be Jewish!