September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve written a little bit about my relationship with Judaism before. In this Catonsville Patch post from over a year ago, I compare the ways in which I am Jewish to ways in which I am Jew-ish. In a post on my own blog last March, I wrote about how I had a Passover Seder without realizing it. I am continually amazed at how every time I learn something new about Jewish law, customs and teachings, I find myself saying, “Hey! I do that, too! For that same reason! Except, I didn’t know it was a Jew thing…” While you’d have to be on drugs or delusional to call me observant, I can assert with great conviction that I have a strong Jewish identity – always have. Judaism’s funny that way. You don’t meet many “Secular Catholics” or “Secular Mormons” the way you might meet a Secular Jew.
Growing up in Brooklyn, I was surrounded by Jews, of course. All through my schooling years, though, my friends were as likely as not to be Jewish. Or black. Or Asian. or Puerto Rican. Brooklyn’s awesome like that. Even though the only Jewish holidays we celebrated in our family growing up were Hanukkah and Passover, and I only went to synagogue to hang with my dad who played organ there, I knew I was Jewish and never felt alone in that. Then I went to college in Baltimore.
Before classes even started, I was dating the (Jewish) guy who would become my boyfriend for 2 years, but on one of those first dates I remember him having trouble believing I was Jewish. “Really? Are you sure your’e Jewish? With the light hair and the small nose?” (He was probably kidding – thinking back, I’m guessing my name – Aliza Lirtzman – was enough to give me away.) Yeah, he was way more religious than I was, and taught me lots of stuff about my religion. So that first month of school I was still feeling pretty Jewy. Or so I thought.
One pretty September day, I was walking from class to the Student Union, when I passed a classmate who said, “Happy New Year!” I kind of went, “Huh?” as he passed, but made the connection quickly enough to wish him the same. It was Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. When I grew up, the holiday was marked only by my having a day off from school and my dad having to play in synagogue all day. Here I was in Bawlteemawer, on my way to class without either of those reminders. Sure, I had a Jewish boyfriend, and knew other Jews on campus, but I wasn’t exactly raised steeped in Judaism’s finer points, like when one of the most important holidays took place, or even why the Jewish calendar was so screwy that it didn’t neatly line up with the regular calendar.
I was struck by something else when my classmate wished me a Happy New Year. Once I realized to what he was referring, I found his wishes comforting. “That’s kinda weird,” I thought. Why would I find something comforting when I didn’t feel like anything was troubling me to begin with? It took me a while, but I thought about it enough to come to the following conclusion: when I went to college, I became minority.
Growing up in Brooklyn, I never felt like that – I mean, pretty much EVERYONE in New York is a minority in one way or another – even white, Christian males. But here? At Johns Hopkins? In Charles Village? A Jewish girl? Yup. I was a minority. It was a weird, complex yet subtle transition, and it had taken place for sure. How else to explain the feeling of unique connectedness I felt with my classmate? The feeling of “Whew, it’s nice not to be the only one” that was subconscious, but close enough to the surface to emerge with a single “Happy New Year?”
The funny thing is, I don’t remember anyone in Brooklyn wishing me a Happy New Year over Rosh Hashanah growing up. We weren’t religious, and didn’t really travel in observant circles. It probably happened sometimes, but it sure didn’t have the effect on me as when I was in my first month away at college. Yet, even though it wasn’t a yearly celebration for me in Brooklyn, my classmate’s kind wishes brought me a slice of home. That is something EVERY freshman in college needs in those days of transition. So, thanks, George Whatever-Your-Last-Name-Is. You gave me something I was missing even before I realized I was missing it.
It happens my parents will be visiting us this weekend, which coincides with Rosh Hashanah. Maybe we’ll accidentally observe by accidentally dipping an apple in some honey, or accidentally explaining to my kids how the holiday is related to the reading of the Torah. And my youngest son will have his first trumpet lesson. It ain’t a shofar, but it’s about as close as you can get Catonsville.
September 3, 2012 § 6 Comments
Sure, I could be writing about “Eastwooding” and Akin’s thoughts on my magical voodoo vagina. I could be writing about Crazy Uncle Joe Biden’s ridiculous metaphor that cast Republicans as 21st-century slave owners. I could be writing about Lance Armstrong’s doping and Prince Harry’s antics, or the coup de grace: a member of the United States Congress skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee. (Don’t ask me why that last is just coming out now…it happened a year ago.) Others, though, have taken on those subjects with greater speed (except the Sea of Galilee thing), wit and wisdom than I possibly could. Sometimes I just leave the quicker minds to say what I wish I had.
Friends, no politics or gender issues here for me today. Since April, a subject matter much closer to my heart has been sitting neglected and sad, like Baby in the corner of my blog. I’m talking baseball. Many esteemed political and historical minds – think George Will and Ken Burns – also love baseball. (Reader, to Empty Chair next to him/her: “Oh, no she did NOT just compare herself to George Will and Ken Burns…” Empty Chair next to Reader: “Oh, yes, she DID…”) Okay, FINE. My political/historical savvy is to Will’s and Burns’s what my athletic prowess is to Cal Ripken’s. Happy? Still, indulge me in my baseball nostalgia.
I was born in May 1969. The New York Mets went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series that year. Coincidence? I think NOT. My dad took me to many games at Shea Stadium. Rain delays and extra innings meant extra time at the ballpark. I spent hours watching Mets games on TV, eating potato chips out of a bowl my dad propped on his belly.
My grandfather was also a die-hard Mets fan. I’d pitch down the narrow hallway in his apartment to him. Instead of the discreet hand signals catchers used to communicate, my grandfather had elaborately choreographed moves (think Elaine’s dancing from Seinfeld, but on speed) that had me in stitches between pitches.
In elementary school, my sister and I went home for lunch one day. My dad was home doing some work. After lunch, we were halfway to school when we heard my dad calling us. We turned around and he was sort of running to catch us before we got there. He looked at us very seriously, and said in a deep, quiet voice, “Ya wanna play hooky?” He’d finished his work early, and there was a home game at Shea on that Tuesday afternoon. So, while the rest of Mrs. Dounay’s class was learning cursive, I was watching the Mets from behind their dugout. Easily one of my top five most cherished childhood memories.
Ah, John Stearns. Tom Seaver. Lee Mazzilli. Also, Lee Mazzilli. And don’t forget Lee Mazzilli. Sigh. What a dreamboat. He was even from my part of Brooklyn, baby. Surely, we were meant to be together…but the closest I came was the his rookie card given to me by a dear friend last year. The Mazz would make an appearance much later in my baseball life as a manager for the Orioles, but we were both married to other people by then, so I made the tough, but ethical decision not to pursue him.
Baseball continued to be important throughout my teen years. In matters of love, my hippie groovy parents said we could date whomever we wanted. Any race, religion, even gender was okay with them. As long as…and this was the ONLY condition…they weren’t Republicans or Yankee fans. (They were kidding about Republicans.) I’m still reeling from the past few years when they hint at early onset dementia by rooting for the Yankees if they make it to the Series. “I can understand why you may be confused and upset about this, Aliza, given the way we raised you,” they say. Meanwhile, I have the nursing homes on speed-dial. But, I digress…
My freshman year in college in Baltimore began in August 1986. My dorm room overlooked the baseball field. The Mets once again won the World Series. I watched the final game – that crazy 10-inning come-back game – in the Students’ Union. I almost cried watching Mookie Wilson (named my first cat after him) and Gary Carter (RIP) celebrate, and sprinted across campus back to my dorm to call my parents. Before I could get there, another New Yorker/Mets fan came running towards me and jumped into my arms with glee. Ah, it was a glorious way to begin my college career.
Slowly, though, the Baltimore Orioles worked their way under my skin. I shared a rowhouse on 33rd street and my roommates and I became attached to the fans who would roll by during pre-game traffic. I went to a few games at Memorial Stadium, but a couple of years in California and Virginia had me feeling distanced from baseball in general. Virginia has no team, and the Nationals didn’t exist.
Then came Cal. I really became attached to the Os during Cal Ripken’s run to break Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played. I mean, try – just TRY not to love baseball after that. I was almost hooked, but troubled at the thought of loving a team other than the Mets. After all, I was a National League girl at heart. What is this DH nonsense? Pitcher doesn’t have to hit??? Come ON, man, where’s the STRATEGY in that? Where’s the THRILL when a pitcher comes to bat and gets a single??? Where’s the ANXIETY as the bottom of the order comes around? All those doubts drowned in the depths of those blue, blue Cal Ripken eyes. Yes, Lee Mazzilli had competition. Finally, I found solace and rationalization in the common ground I shared with Os fans – and that is, of course, a rabid hatred of the Yankees.
My subsequent love affair with the Os was (and is) peppered with appearances from Mets players from my past. Davey Johnson – beloved manager of the 1986 Mets, managed the Os almost into the World Series in 1996 and 1997. Lee Mazzilli also managed the Os for a couple of years. Some Mets continue to break my heart. I never really got over Joe Torre’s defection to the Yankees, or more recently, Bobby Valentine’s move to the Red Sox. The Os and Mets shared some legendary players – Jesse Orosco and Roberto Alomar come to mind. Bizarre love triangles, to be sure.
With interleague play came the inevitable. A Mets vs. Os series. How great could it get??? I’d be rooting for BOTH teams! I was so excited for this first face-off, I actually SEWED something. I bought an Os shirt and a Mets shirt, cut them in half, and sewed halves of the Mets shirt to the other halves of the Orioles shirt. I gave one of the shirts to my sister, and wore this one to the first Mets vs. Os game in Camden Yards.
I even began my life as a parent at Camden Yards by going into labor there. I had accepted an impromptu invitation to a game with friends on Emma’s due date. She was my first – how likely was she to be on time? Sitting in the car in the pre-game traffic, I timed contractions. But hey – they were, like, 25 minutes apart. Onward. I would discreetly elbow Dave with each contraction so he could keep track. I even managed to stay reserved when Eddie Murray hit a grand slam home run right to the bleachers where we were sitting – I didn’t dive for the ball or anything! My friend finally caught on and said loudly, “OHMYGOD, are you having CONTRACTIONS????” We left in the 8th inning to avoid post-game traffic.
Sixteen years later, the Os have a shot again. Finally. It’s taken us a long time to get back to potential play-off status. Usually by September, I am so disgusted with the Os, I am itching for the Ravens to start playing and give me something to cheer about. I’m used to my baseball team tanking spectacularly. I mean, I grew up a METS fan, after all. For the first time, though, in many, many years, when someone asks me if I’m excited for football season to start, I say, “Slow down, tiger. Baseball’s not over, yet.”