I was pretty much raised by my Mother, she was Jewish. For her, being Jewish was cut and dry, no questions asked. Her Mother was Jewish, so she was Jewish and that’s the way it goes, Joe. It wasn’t so cut and dry for me, I wanted to be in charge of my religiousity, my spirituality. I wasn’t going to claim her faith just because she gave birth to me for heaven’s sake. What kind of punk rocker did she think I was, one who listened to her Mother, especially when it came to such profound and important topics such as GOD? Hell no! I was a free thinker in charge of my own life, I knew better, and quite frankly, I didn’t trust my Mother. She wore a Star of David around her neck that rested on top of a cross, she did past life regressions in our living room. She was squirrley when it came to most everything. After all, she had married my Father. He was Greek Orthodox, which I learned later, isn’t at all compatible with Judaism.
My Mother left my Father when I was three, my Brother and Sister had already been baptised in The Greek Orthodox church, apparently behind my Mother’s back. I was saved from the blessed waters for a while, but my time would come. We took a Greyhound from Illinois to Arizona. She sent us to temple, we celebrated the High Holidays, and claimed our Judaism. I had a little torah that I toted around and opened sometimes, mostly so I could roll it back up again. I didn’t really like being Jewish, It felt like an affliction. I remember being about 6 years old, and coming home from school on the bus, some kids gathered around me and started chanting, “she killed Jesus, she killed Jesus, she killed Jesus!”, I ran to my Aunt Blossom’s house, crying. She assured me that I didn’t kill Jesus. I thought Jesus was like Santa Claus, made up…I thought Jesus was a more realistic rendering of Santa Claus.
When I was about 10, my parents got back together for a brief period. My Father was getting revenge. He sent my Mother packing after a couple of months, keeping the three of us. I was suddenly Greek Orthodox. My Grandmother bought me a little gold cross to wear around my neck, and suddenly Jesus was more than a cartoon character, he was…our savior? I started going to church with my Grandmother. While I couldn’t make out what they were saying in church, cause they were speaking Greek, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t all hogwash, cause I felt good while I was there. Safe and full of quiet. I loved going to church with my Grandmother, I would wear a dress, and we would stick a dollar in a little wooden box, and take some long white candles to light for our loved ones. We would jumpstart them off already burning candles and stick them in white sand, saying a prayer for our family members. We would bundle up our thumbs, index finger, and middle finger, the father, the son, and the holy spirit..the trinity… and cross ourselves..up, down, right, left, before leaning down to kiss a picture of a saint. The church always smelled so good, like earth and spices, I imagined this was gods aftershave. The priest walked around with a bowl of burning incense hanging from chains, he would swing it back and forth while blessing us. I never knew what he was saying, but it felt benevolent. St Nicholas Cathedral was full of stained glass, high ceilings, and little Greek women and men looking repentant. I was baptised here when I was eleven . I wore a burgundy one piece bathing suit, and I stood in an inflateable pool, while the priest and my grandmother said prayers, and poured holy water over my head. I crossed myself and I suppose I said without knowing what I was saying that I would follow Jesus Christ. I don’t remember, but I think I was being protected from hell. My Grandmother was my godmother, which I felt was a rip off, because she was already my Grandmother, and I already got presents from her. My Brother and Sister had better godparents, ones that weren’t immediate family, ones that gave them special gifts, because they were special.
Eventually I was shipped back to my Mother. I was Jewish again. She assured me she spoke with her Rabbi, and the children follow the Mother’s faith…GOD DAMN IT!. We fought. I always felt victorious, because she would inevitably end up crying, and I got to keep my independent spirituality, which at the time, probably looked a bit like satanism..piercings, skin untouched by the sun, blood red hair. fishnets, miniskirt..torn tshirts screaming THE DAMNED…still, a really good band. I wasn’t a satanist, but I think my Mom worried about that. I was full of demonic anger that I aimed at her.
I’m grateful for my parent’s conflicting religious perspectives. Somehow the confusion forced me into clarity.