Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nu Testament

Until I was around 4 years old, I thought that everyone was Jewish. Judaism, to me, seemed monolithic, the whole point, the only thing there was. So, it must have been December circa 1965 that I approached my childhood friend and neighbor, Susie McElvaney and asked her, "What did you get for Chanuka?"

Susie responded, "We don't have Chanuka, we have Christmas."

"What's that?" asked I, clueless.

"Well, Jews have Chanuka, and Christians have Christmas."

"What is 'Christian?'"

"It's a religion. Like being Jewish is a religion. You're Jewish, I'm Christian."

"Wait. You mean you're not Jewish??"

I was crestfallen. To me this indicated some kind of blemish in my favorite playmate and seemed to be something that was irrevocable. I remember feeling very sad and disturbed that there was a sudden gap between me and Susie, between her family and my own. I found it difficult to grapple with this concept and felt depressed.

Within days, I had come to terms with the idea that not everyone is the same or has the same beliefs, but I found myself very curious about Christianity. I picked up bits and pieces about the religion from my reading, and from my friends, but I think what brought home the whole issue to me in its entirety was the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Once I figured out the gist of Christianity, I was stymied—how on earth could anyone believe such a wild story, I wondered? I mean, did people really believe a guy could be God, subsequently die, but they think he's going to come back and rule over the world as a reincarnation? How could God die? I mean, if he's God, he can't die—isn't that the point?

So, my little ten year old mind had passed judgment, nay dismissed concepts that great minds had wrestled with for 19 plus centuries. Of course, big mouth that I was, I couldn't keep this discovery to myself. I had to share the joke. At home among family members, I was thought of as quite the comedian. I could always bring down the house with my antics. Why not try out my act on the schoolyard, thought I?

The next day, I heard the kids singing the title song from the musical. I was ready. I lifted my arms out at my sides and called out in an authoritative, hopefully Godly voice, "I am the reincarnation of Jesus Christ Superstar, come to rule over the earth!"

I waited for the guffaws to roll in. Curiously, they did not. Or rather, the kids laughed all right, but not because they thought I was funny—they thought I was wacked up in the head.

From then on, whenever kids would see me, they'd call out, "Hey, look! It's the reincarnation of Jesus Christ Superstar," and they'd expect me to go into my Varda on the Cross imitation. It was horrible. They were ridiculing me. But I couldn't think how to gracefully change my situation.

For years, this went on even after I switched schools. My former classmates and others from that school would see me on the street and call out, "There she is, "Jesus' reincarnation," and they'd laugh and point to me and I'd dutifully hold my arms out at my sides and wink divinely.

It boggles my mind today, as a mother of children, just how permanent that whole episode became; how that one little bit of playacting colored my entire childhood and made me miserable and unpopular for years. In fact, I kind of suppressed this memory until a short time ago when I met up with old friends from that school on Facebook.

I told my husband what had happened and he just couldn't believe I had started such a dumb routine going. He was embarrassed for me. I'm still not sure I should have told him about this whole business. But in the interest of full disclosure, as they say, I guess it was important for him to know about this (gulp) formative experience. Just hope my kids never find out…


  1. Varda on the Cross

    Not Barbara on the Cross?

  2. Yeah, yeah. Okay, so I've been outed. Varda was Barbara back in the day.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Richard!

  3. *facepalm* I can see you doing that! You goof!

    Another thing you may not remember was a day when you came to my house to play. I was just finishing my lunch of tuna on matzo. You looked stunned. Shocked. Bewildered. Befuddled, even. When you found your tongue you said to me "You can't eat that! You're a Christian!". It was as if you expected me to keel over and breate my last few shuddering, gasping breaths right there on the floor before you.
    That was the day that I realised that many of the things (mostly foods) that I sort of took for granted were part of some magical, mystical heritage that I knew very little about.

    So, from my perspective, going with you and your family to Purim carnivals and Chanukah (did I spell it right?) at your house brought so much life and colour into my life. I was always aware, as were Patty and Claudia, that we were different from most of the rest of the neighbourhood kids. Our Jewish friends (especially you!) gave us a wonderful new point of view on our family's religious views. We grew up to be much more open minded than a lot of other non-Jews. And we are spiritually richer for it.
    It was one of the reasons I wanted to raise my own child in that area.

    Susie McElvaney

  4. Tuna on matzo, eh? Be a lot more shocking if it had been corned beef on wonder bread with mayo. I was probably more relieved than shocked, Susan :-)