When I first heard Elvis Costello was coming to the Ithaca State Theatre I was really excited. Elvis Costello? In our tiny town? Wow! What’s wrong with the world? What’s right with the world?
After all, Elvis Costello’s music was a backtrack to my university days and I still have the T-shirt from the “Mighty Like a Rose” tour concert at the legendary London venue, the Hammersmith Apollo. And now Elvis Costello would be in Ithaca, upstate NY? I just had to go.
And then I began to think, is it worthwhile to attend a concert out of nostalgia? Two decades on and I still kinda like the ephemeral energy of the songs but my musical tastes have changed, I’d actually rather be listening to David Daniels.
And then I looked up Elvis Costello on the internet and read that he had participated in a boycott of a concert in Israel. My rose-tinted nostalgia balloon burst. Any desire to attend the concert entirely evaporated.
The most notable aspect about this was the conversation with the kids. They were perplexed that I was so excited at first, (isn’t it cute how kids are always intrigued about their parent’s formative years?), but then had decided against attending the concert.
This then led to a very interesting discussion about the ins and outs of not attending a concert because of the performer’s views – when was this justified and when not?
In turn, our discussion led to the topic of why somebody would want to boycott Israel, which, of course, led to a discussion of anti-Israel sentiment. And so we ended up talking about anti-Semitism. The question the kids wanted to know was:
“Why would anybody be anti-Semitic?”
These types of conversations are like swimming in the ocean. It is very easy to very quickly get out of one’s depth and comfort zone.
I grew up in a household whose Judaism was shaped by anti-Semitism. The heavy hot breath of the Holocaust was not too far behind, our lives saved by the fact that Hitler was unable to invade the UK. Anti-Semites lurked around every corner waiting to pounce and destroy. My sister and I spent many hours analyzing our circle of friends and speculating which ones amongst them might be noble enough to hide us if the Nazis came to power again. And also which of our friends might betray us – we were only too aware happened to Anne Frank. And now my kids were asking why somebody might be an anti-Semite?
With all this swimming through my mind I began to frame my reply. But before I could get any words out my youngest piped up with her suggestion:
“Maybe people are anti-Semitic because they’re jealous that Jews get to have parties all the time.”
The discussion between the kids immediately veered off into if Shabbat counted as a “party”.
I was so astonished. This is my children’s Judaism? Parties all the time? Don’t they realize we just got through Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur is around the corner? Have we attended too many simchas recently?
And then I realized what they were getting at – growing up in Ithaca, USA their entire experience of Judaism is positive. For these children, every kiddush oneg is a party, their life is full of richly rewarding Jewish events entirely untainted by any worries about anti-Semitism. This is wonderful and, I think, part of the promise of America. I hope they can cherish and nurture this attitude into a Judaism that sustains them for their entire lives.
And that discussion as to whether Shabbat counts as a “party”?
The kids concluded between them that apparently it most definitely does!
Shabbat Shalom everybody! Party on!
ETA To adapt a phrase from this excellent blog post, I should add that my hope is that “excitement about being Jewish” will naturally flow into adherence to the rules.