Why I Liked Being Jewish at an All-Boys Catholic School
Photo courtesy of Aaron Reiss
The locker my freshman year at St. Thomas High School was on the second floor of the main building, 50 feet from a chapel where Mass was celebrated before every school day. The walls along the hallways were filled, floor-to-ceiling, with lockers. Freshmen got the lower ones. I had to get on my knees to get my books out of my creaky, cream-gray locker.
Next to me was a kid named Jack Reidy. He was one of those guys who went through puberty in sixth grade and dominated the middle school athletics scene.
Everyday, I'd squat down to access my locker and have to shift my weight as Jack's huge ass blocked part of my locker. I didn't say anything about it to him for the first couple months of school because he was massive, and if sitcoms were anything like real high school, he would have kicked my ass.
I can't remember how my fear of Jack died. Maybe it was from his football player friends making fun of him every day before they went to practice, causing me to realize he wouldn't crush every person who spoke to him.
I now consider Jack a friend. We had lockers next to each other for all of high school, thanks to our last names. I have a lot of memories of funny moments we had at our lockers. But from my freshman year, when I had to squat down and wait for the toolish sophomore with the locker above me to get his books first after school was dismissed, I remember only one interaction with Jack.
It was Ash Wednesday. By that point, Jack and I spoke enough that he knew I was Jewish -- the only Jew in my grade. Jack jokingly asked where my ashes were, then sincerely wondered why I didn't wear a yarmulke. He knew less of my religion than I of his, the one I attended Mass for once a month and learned about during third period.
I told him I don't wear a yarmulke, except when I rarely go to temple. He said, "oh." We laughed. I pushed Jack to the side so I could get my books from my locker.
I only remember my mom -- technically Catholic -- going to Mass once in the time I've been alive. My dad goes to Temple for the big holidays. My parents chose to raise me a Jew because the culture, not the spirituality, was and is important to my dad. To my father and me, being Jewish isn't about a powerful religious experience so much as it is the ability to laugh at certain jokes and feel a fun, if meaningless, connection to another Jew you find in Texas.
Being Jewish gives me the social capital to jokingly brag about Drake being Jewish to my friends. I got Bar Mitzvah'd because my dad said it was important to him and his side of the family, and I agree. A Bar Mitzvah is a religious ceremony, and I recognize its significance in that realm. But it's more than that. The pictures I took with my family and the luncheon we had after the ceremony are as important to me as the Torah portion I read.
And because I never totally connected with the religious aspect of Judaism, I went to high school feeling unsure of religion as an organized entity. I believe in God. But when I began forming my own adult opinions, I stopped buying into organized religion with churches and temples and monasteries. I think religion is supposed to be a relationship with God. And if that's the case, who are all of these other people intruding?