What A Jew Is
Mickey Small sank into the old Adirondack chair, worn smooth by generations of family. What a view. It was a little cold to be out on the porch, but he needed the sight and sound of the ocean waves. And he was glad to be with his best friend. He scratched his left armpit and exhaled deeply into the November wind. Both men felt heavy with food, drink, and a certain gravitas they’d both been carrying lately.
“So? How do you feel, Mickey?”
“It’s so damn complicated, Lenny. It’s just so damn complicated.”
“I’m not even religious. Imagine if I was.”
“We wouldn’t be having this conver- . . “
“The most religious thing I’ve done lately, you want to know the most religious thing I did this year? 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, who was not a religious woman. Back home in Brookline, they had belonged to a Reform synagogue, mainly for their little twins, Jon and Jessica. To give them something. Some kind of a foundation. They did not light candles on Friday nights, nor did they actually go to their synagogue except to drop the twins off at religious school on Sunday mornings. In other words, they were like a lot of American Jews. 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; and the twins are scared I’ll get shot by some bald kid in Montana”
“Not an unwarranted concern, I might add.”
“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.”
“If I 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 just don’t know what a Jew is. And they never will.”
“It’s something you can’t----“
“It’s under your skin.”
“Scratch a goy, find an anti-Semite. That’s what my father used to say. “
“You’re always the Other. In this country. That’s what a Jew is. And yet---here we are, somehow.”
“Damn, it’s cold. This is cold, even for Hyannis. Smells like snow.”
Mickey swallowed the last gulp of Sam Adams Autumn Brew, stretched his legs, and grinned at his Topsiders. “Socks would be good right now. You know what my father used to say? He’d 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. The men stood up and entered the warmth of the old house that they both loved. In two weeks the President would light the White House Christmas tree. Just like always. Like he had said to the mob of reporters, “Why wouldn’t I? It’s a tradition.”
And for the second time since he was elected, he would silently say to himself 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.