Last week I premiered a little song called “So Long, Rabbi Schulweis”* in my Songwriting I class – a song in which I lay bare my main reasons for despising Judaism in particular. I was surprised by how positive the reception was—one student in particular who actually teaches at a synagogue was standing and cheering afterwards. (She’s also very hot, which makes me rather pleased that she was standing and cheering. Ahem, tangent.)
Anyhow, aside from the one student walkout (after three offensive songs in a row, I finally got a walkout – good work, me), the students, many of whom were Jewish, loved it. Afterwards I talked to some of the more Jewish students, and I realized why they enjoyed it so much — no matter how critical I am of Judaism, they still consider me a Jew.
Now, keep in mind, this song is explicitly anti-Jewish. It’s done in a kind of show-folk format in which I simply tell stories over underscoring, and divide the stories up with a sung chorus. I directly quote grandparents saying about my non-Jewish girlfriend, “you can fuck her all you want – just don’t marry her” (followed by a quote from them explaining how the holocaust came about because of religious intolerance). I directly quote a Rabbi who explained to me that Jews make better songwriters because a Jewish soul is so much richer and beautiful than a goyische soul. I even relate an anecdote that appears to suggest that I believe that Jews themselves are perpetuating many of the more harmful Jewish stereotypes. And the sung choruses rather explicitly state that I am leaving behind all association with Judaism, all identification with Jewish culture and ritual. How the hell did they think this was an internal criticism?
They gave me the same response, over and over – “Yeah, but, you’re Jewish. You’ve got a kind of Jon Stewart thing going.” And ever since I’ve performed that song, other people have been calling me Jewish as well.
I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again: the label of the “cultural Jew” is an excuse to keep atheists and anti-religionists from giving up support of synagogues and eroding the Jewish community. If atheists were to leave the faith entirely, reform and conservative judaism would practically disappear. At the very least, their main sources of income would probably dry up.
On the one hand, I appreciate this because it forces many Jews to reach out to atheists, understand atheists, and make the first amendment a priority. On one occasion, our synagogue’s Rabbi Schulweis (yes, the one from the song title)the Rabbi for the synagogue to which my family belongs made a high holiday speech entirely devoted to the subject of atheism. While on the one hand it’s ridiculous (the fact that suffering leads us to disbelieve means that there is a God? Wtf?), it is nice to get such recognition from religious leaders who at least get one big point about atheism – that we’re not all about hedonism, that many of us lost faith because of our sense of morality. But I digress.
No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to escape Judaism because other Jews won’t let me. They don’t seem to recognize that an ex-Jew is not the same as a self-hating Jew. Or, as I said to a rather culturally Jewish friend of mine who had half-jokingly called me an “anti-semitic, self-loathing pig” (we’re those kinds of friends):
I’m not self-loathing. I don’t think of myself as a Jew; other Jews do, but I don’t. This myth of the self-loathing Jew is false – we don’t loathe ourselves. We loathe Judaism, so we decide to be non-Jews. I don’t care how I inflect the ends of my sentences, I don’t care how many hours I spent in synagogue, I don’t care how much chicken soup is coursing through my capillaries. I am not Jewish. I do not identify with the Jews. And I am certainly not self-loathing.
She immediately relinquished my right to make Jewish jokes in front of her, but I feel it was worth it to make a clear stand on this. No matter how many years my father went without having a thing to do with Judaism, he was still a Jew to all the people around him. I’m not going to let people try to count me in their ranks when I’m simply not one of them.
*Yeah, yeah, I know, the title is inspired by Billy Joel’s demo for “So Long, Reverend Ike.” Good writers borrow, great writers steal outright.