Friday, July 6, 2007

Coming Out

The big news of the previous Shabbat is that SG "came out" to the gabbai of Beth Elderly toward the end of the potluck. We had previously discussed how she wanted this to go. She originally wanted me to talk to the gabbai for her, but I wasn't entirely comfortable with this- not the least of which since I wasn't quite sure what his reaction would be. In some ways I figured that, if his response was less than positive, it might be better if he was just talking to random shiska rather than said shiksa flaunting the apple-cheeked bochur she was taking captive with her back to Babylon.

I played wingman for her by talking to a few of the elders so they weren't all swarming around her, since I figured that would make things even more stressful.

* * *

This isn't the first time SG has had to deal with the "passing" issue. In fact early on, when her parents heard that she was shul-hopping with me, one of their first questions was, "Do you pass?", to which she responded, "it's kind of hard not to." The general assumption tended to be that you were Jewish unless you mentioned otherwise, and unless there was a reason, she usually preferred to keep such information private. At our monthly Carlebachian minyan, she occasionally reminded the organizers that she wasn't Jewish, just to make sure that she wasn't causing a halachic problem for anyone.

In college, I had a Lovely Orthodox Professor who had become a baal teshuvah and married Super-Mussar Hubby. She regularly invited SG, myself, and my dear roommate to her house for Shabbos. LOP was great but SMH was sort of a jerk (and very right-wing), so we could always count on a fun time when going there.

For SG's first time, we came early and were a few of several guests, including a frum female high school student spending the weekend at LOP's house while checking out colleges.

The troubles started almost as soon as we arrived. LOP knew SG wasn't Jewish but we didn't know who she had told, and, not knowing their position on interdating, SG was eager to avoid problems. LOP's friends asked SG if she wanted to do candlelighting. SG looked at me. This was in the days before we had even bought a transliterated bencher. I could barely get through the brocha, much less SG. She politely declined. In the meantime, I wandered around the living room to give the women their space (I could give a hoot about kol isha, but there was no reason to make an issue of it. While doing this, I noticed that the high school student had gone down to the basement, presumably to be in her own "women's section." A little strange, but her prerogative.

SMH came home with a buddy from the local Chabad shul and we sat down to dinner. SG and I sat on the far end of the table, right next to the student. SG was wearing an outfit that wasn't entirely tznius (darn collarbones) and was absent-mindedly rubbing my arm. Things that, in our circles, would barely get noticed, but to the high school student, we might as well have been dry-humping on top of the challah. At one point, she asked SG, "How do you guys know each other?" SG replied, without really thinking, "Oh, he's my boyfriend." I couldn't tell if it was the dating thing itself or her unabashed candor that caused the poor girl to go into a fit of blushing.

Over dinner, SMH started picking on my friends a little. My roommate comes from a pretty serious Conservative family and really knows his shit- Hebrew, Talmud, he knows it all. And he consciously made a decision to go the route of the ritually observant but ideologically apikorosdik Jew, which tends to get him noticed by folks like SMH. Also, they both love to argue, in part because they both like to show off. I also suspected that my roommate enjoyed going to SMH's house because it gave him a chance to play the heretic, whereas in college he tended to be considered one of the most "religious" students on campus (ah, the folly of labelling!)

SMH and his buddy noticed that my roommate could say the brochas in a perfect accent and without even looking at the benchers. The buddy commented, "Did you used to be observant?" Not-so-hidden subtext: You know what you're doing but weren't at the only "real" shul in town, mine. What gives?

Roommate: "I was raised in a Conservative household."

Buddy: "Really? Where?"

Roommate: "X."

SMH: "X? Frum highschooler, isn't that where your family lives?"

FH: "Yup."

SMH: "Did you guys know each other?"

FH: "I don't think so. Did you go to Machmir Orthodox High? That's the only Jewish school there."

Roommate: "Um, actually, there are a bunch of other Jewish schools. I went to middle-of-the-road Conservative Day School."

FH looks like a deer in the headlights. My roommate decides to be kind and let it go.

Buddy: "Well, you should really drop by the shul sometime."

SMH: "Or the kollel. That goes for you, too, Friar Yid."

Me: "Oh, I'll definitely think about it."

SMH's attention then turned to poor SG. "So, I hear you're from the South."

SG: "Yup."

SMH: "Was it difficult living in [suburban Southern hellhole]?"

SG: "Well, it didn't have any of the benefits of a big city. We had to drive across state lines to see Fahrenheit 9/11, for instance."

SMH: *Clearly miffed at her movie choices.* "Yes, but, did your family find it challenging to stay involved with the community there?"

At the c-word, SG tenses up a little. Did LOP really not tell him? She decides to play along.

"No, we mostly kept to ourselves."

SMH: "Uh huh. Did you work in the summers?"

SG: "I worked for years at a barebecue restaurant."

Buddy: "Really? Beef?"

SG: *Confused* "Uh, no. Pork, mostly."

The whole table inhales. SG looks around, a little freaked out.

Buddy: "Um, was that an issue for you?"

SG: "Well, I was a vegetarian at the time."

Buddy: *Relieved* "That's good."

I forget what actually did it, but right as SMH was about to point-blank ask SG about her family's observance level, she cracked.

"I just have to be honest, I'm not actually Jewish."

Again, the table did a collective inhale. All eyes turned to SMH. He stood up and hit the table with his fist. "Why I never! And I can't believe nobody told me!..."

He trailed off and chuckled. LOP shot him a death-glare. The guests all had a belly laugh and tucked into the brisket. SMH leaned back in his seat and grinned at the oil print of the Chofetz Chaim on his wall like they had shared a private joke.

When we got home, SG said she didn't really mind. "It's not like I didn't know what I was getting into."

She took it a lot better than my parents. Mother Superior Yid said that people like SMH were an embarrassment to Jews everywhere. Abbot Yid told me I owed SG an apology and made me promise to never take her back there (which I broke within three weeks, if only because LOP was so nice and SMH was irresistible in his narishkeit comments).

* * *

With all this background, I was a little nervous for SG as she went up to talk to the gabbai. Even though Beth Elderly has a great reputation for welcoming everybody, who knows how the individual congregants feel, especially those who are old-school?

Apparently, I needn't have worried. SG thanked the gabbai for asking her up on the bimah. He grinned. "I have a tough job of keeping track of who goes up to the bimah and remembering who does and doesn't like it. I'm glad that you enjoyed it."

SG: "I just thought you should know that I'm not actually Jewish."

The gabbai chuckled at her behind his rimless glasses and said in a thick German accent, "Who knows? Maybe you'll convert someday. I don't really care." He walked off to get a cup of coffee, and she squeezed my hand. Another mini-milestone.

It's nice when the truth sets you free.


Oyster said...

HILARIOUS story. Thanks for sharing! :-)

Jack's Shack said...

Nice story, I very much enjoyed it. As a matter of fact I have sort of lived it, but that is a different story altogether.