So it's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. There's some kind of irony in this holiday coming so close on the heels of the 9/11 anniversary, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Something about the U.S.'s unwavering support of Israel and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, mixed up with being a secular humanist stuck in my Jewish body...
Despite having given up on religion, many of us secularized Jews still do our habitual rituals around the holidays. My sister says it's a "tribal" thing and I think there is something to that explanation. But I do find some of the knee-jerk stuff around the holidays rather irksome. Sitting through a seder just makes my skin crawl nowadays, for instance. I also have a strong aversion for hypocrisy, which seems to underlie my Jewish holiday despondence.
It's not all gloom and doom, though. My kids, who are half-Jewish (or semi-Semites, as I like to say), have nicknamed the holidays according to the foods served. So Passover is the matzoh and charoseth holiday, the latter substance being a melange of apples, nuts and wine pulverized in a blender and used to symbolize the mortar used by our enslaved forbears to build the Egyptian cities. There's never been any outward discussion of matzoh balls' symbolic meaning as bricks, but I do think that would work, considering how they sometimes feel in one's stomach. Chanukah is the latkes holiday, of course. And R.H. is the apple and honey holiday.
I have a Jewish friend who has a big problem with non-observant "cultural-only" Jews. She calls them "lox and bagels Jews". I suppose I understand her point of view, but there are so many different ways to be Jewish, it seems. The Orthodox don't even recognize those outside their sects as Jews; they are as insular as the most ardent fundamentalists of any faith (though I have yet to hear of a Hasidic suicide bomber). For me, a little tolerance mixed in with one's beliefs (whatever they happen to be) adds considerable credibility to the individuals who practice it.
And if pride in sharing a heritage with the likes of Albert Einstein, Itzhak Perlman, Philip Roth and Sandy Koufax makes me culturally Jewish, then OK, pass the bagels, please.