Lenny Bruce once riffed that "If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn't even matter if you're Catholic; if you live in New York, you're Jewish."
My parents were so secular I didn't have a bar mitzvah or ever go to synagogue, but all my schools were mostly Jewish, so I was, like, Jewish by association. Or by camouflage.
Then I went to a Catholic College, Fordham, because there was a writing professor I wanted to study with, and my cover was blown. Comedian Kate Clinton has said that Jews are co-Catholics and Catholics are co-Jews. Well, I didn't feel co-anything.
One fellow student assured me that the Mafia was actually Jewish-controlled and Italians had almost nothing to do with it. I guess she hadn't read Mario Puzo. I agreed with her, but I said that being Jewish hadn't helped me personally: "I can't get a summer internship with them because I'm just not connected enough. Go figure!"
Fordham was the first place I ever heard the phrase "Jew him down" aloud. I was sitting with some friends, all of them Irish-American or Italian-American, and one said it while describing something she'd bought. Then she looked at me and covered her mouth in embarrassment.
I assured her that Jews had a similar expression: "Goy him down." For a moment, she believed me. And why not? Christians know as much about Jews as Americans know about Canadians, to misquote a line from The Kids in the Hall. You think I'm kidding?
A few years later when I was living in a Jewish student's coop, someone called around Passover asking to find out if non-Jews were allowed to see the Paschal sacrifice of the lamb. She clearly thought that Judaism had not changed in two thousand years. I took the phone and explained, "Well, nowadays, it's only symbolic. We pour some red wine on a virgin wool sweater. But you're welcome to participate if you like."
Then there was the woman cleaning for us who pointed to the lavender-scented eye pillow by my bed and asked it it was a Jewish ritual object.
Jewish Friends are always telling me about people who can't believe they don't celebrate Christmas. "Not at all? Nothing? No tree? No wreath? No presents? Not even egg nog?"
I wonder what Lenny Bruce would have said about that.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more