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Finally Jewish: Late to the Party, but Dancing My Ass Off

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I tried my whole life to break into Judaism. Just a few months after I finally did, I read a Pew Research Center poll finding that American Jews aren't feeling so Jewish these days, and, as reported by The New York Times, an increasing number of younger Jews have "no religion."

Wait a minute -- I get to the party and people start leaving?

I converted to Judaism before I got married. But I had been an aspirational Jew for nearly all my life. In nursery school, after learning about Chanukah, I told everyone my father was Jewish. This was just a big lie, but I couldn't bear not to be descended from the people who came up with the potato latke.

At five years old I'd shrewdly picked up on the fact that Jewish food is much, much better than WASP food.

My whole childhood I was always trying to weasel my way into Passover Seders and Shabbat dinners. "I'm really good at finding the Afikoman, just so you know," I would hint to my Jewish friends. "Yum, I'd just love to try your mother's brisket."

And about brisket: is there anything in this world more delicious? I like to think of myself as an almost vegetarian and I spend all my money on juice cleanses, organic kale, and those Kombucha drinks that spray all over you when you open them. But when there's brisket to be had, all my reason and principles go out the window. It's only society that keeps me from shoveling the stuff straight into my mouth with my bare hands.

It's true that I bring a certain outsider's zeal for Judaism. A new Jew, I'm like a tourist who comes to New York City and takes nine-hour walking tours and rides the Circle Line: everything is fresh and exciting.

For instance, I don't think I'm exaggerating at all when I say that the Horah is the most fun a person can have without breaking the law.

The Horah is a dance done at celebratory occasions where everyone holds hands and goes around in a whirling, frenzied circle with people periodically breaking to hook arms with their neighbor and skip around each other. At some point during hubbub the guests of honor sit in dining chairs and the burliest men in the group lift the chairs into the air. The fear that one of said burly men has had a few too many and might lose his grip makes the occupant of the chair feel wildly alive. After the Horah at my wedding, my mother asked me repeatedly, when she could "go up again."

And speaking of weddings, as part of a Jewish ceremony, the bride and groom can get a special blessing called an "Aufruf." Just knowing about the word Aufruf is a blessing in my opinion.

Anyway, the Horah goes on for about 25 minutes and by the end everyone has sweated through their formal wear and burned enough calories to eat as much brisket as they want.

While we're on the subject of food again, in all my 32 years of being a lapsed Protestant I never got to eat bagels for dinner. But that's exactly what goes on during Yom Kippur, the biggest Jewish holiday of the year. Yes, you are meant to fast all day before dinner, but that just means you can really go down to bagel town without remorse. Now really, what's better than a guilt-free, all-you-can-eat bagel free-for-all?

This is just to say that, to me, Judaism feels like a party not to be missed.

And I haven't even mentioned the kugel.