What A Jew Is
Mickey Small sank into the old Adirondack chair, worn smooth by generations of family. It was a little cold to be on the porch, but he needed the sight and sound of the ocean. And he was glad to be with his best friend. Scratching his armpit, he exhaled deeply into the November wind. Both men felt heavy with food, drink, and a certain gravitas they’d been carrying lately.
“So? How do you feel, Mickey?”
“It’s so damn complicated, Lenny. I’m not even religious. Imagine if I was.”
“We wouldn’t be having this conver- . . “
“The most religious thing I’ve done all year, you want to know what it was? I said a blessing. Shehechayanu. To myself.”
“Well, I can see why. That’s the blessing for first times.”
Michael “Mickey” Small was not a religious man. He had dated non-Jewish women, but he had married Ashley Lorraine Schwartz. Back home in Brookline, they had belonged to a Reform synagogue, mainly for their twins, Jon and Jessica. To give them something. Some kind of a foundation. They did not light Sabbath candles, nor did they actually go to their synagogue except to drop off the twins at Sunday Hebrew. In short, they were like a lot of American Jews in that way, Jewish in their skin.
“Lenny. What have I done to my wife? They’re tweeting about the nose job she got when she was 17. Seventeen, Lenny. A kid doesn’t like her nose.”
“She wasn’t trying to make a statement about ---“
“Right; now she’s scared I’ll get shot by some bald kid in Montana.”
“Not an unwarranted concern.”
“And that Muslim man at the county fair, I apologized! I said something wrong. I’m not going to uh…to prostrate myself!”
“Your intentions were sterling, my friend. It’s a new world we’re all trying to navigate together. You’re not anti- . . .”
“Because I happen to be . . .”
“Do you think Obama would have been elected if he were any more---“
“I know, right.”
“Wear a yarmulke, I’m too Jewish for Iowa.”
“And if you don’t wear one . . .”
“They want to find the exact locus of my moral center.”
“Mickey, they don’t know what a Jew is..”
“It’s something you can’t----“
“It’s under your----.”
“Right. Scratch a goy, find an anti-Semite, my father used to say. “
“Always the Other. In this country. That’s what a Jew is. And yet---here we are, somehow.”
“Damn, it’s cold. Even for Hyannis. Smells like snow.”
Mickey swallowed his last gulp of Sam Adams Oktoberfest, stretched his legs, and grinned at his Topsiders. “Socks would be good right now. You know what my father used to say? ‘I hope they get their white Christmas, I really do, because it makes them so happy.’”
“I’ll drink to that. L’Chayim.” Lenny downed the rest of his beer.
Michael Alan Small, grandson of Sweet Caroline and the first Jewish president of the United States, patted the back of his lifelong best friend, a Boston social worker named Len Schuster. They entered the warmth of the old house that they both loved. In two weeks the President would light the White House Christmas tree. Like he had said at the press conference, “Why wouldn’t I? It’s a tradition.”
And for the second time since he was elected, he would silently say the Shehechayanu, the blessing for new and unusual occasions. Blessed art thou oh Lord, Creator of time and space, who has supported us, protected us, and brought us to this moment.