Do you remember a time during your childhood, where you were really embarrassed of your parents or grandparents? Now that you’re an adult, do you look back and see that moment so differently?
It was the late 80s and the day of my older brother’s Bar-Mitzvah reception. I was 11 years old and couldn’t wait to show off my white satin dress to Evan; one of the 13 year old boys who would be attending. He was my first crush and I was hoping that he would ask me to dance with him that evening. Well, he didn’t, but someone else did.
The celebration had started and the music began. Everyone gathered in a circle to dance the Hora, and that’s when it happened … my Yiddish speaking, Holocaust surviving, charismatic and energetic Grandpa was sooooooo embarrassing! Oh my gosh! He did not stop dancing around like crazy and everyone noticed him! On top of it, he embarrassed me! You know why? Because he took all of his enthusiastic energy and danced WITH ME! (See video above, where my grandfather had told me to “get into the groove” and I start yelling “Stop, Grandpa, stop it!”). Can you imagine how embarrassing this was for me? What if Evan (my crush) saw!
A few months after the Bar-Mitzvah, my family received a video copy of the celebration. During this period, I had a friend who had yet to attend a Bar-Mitzvah, so she wanted to see it. I brought the video to her house, but I had to warn her of something before we watched it; my grandpa’s embarrassing dancing. As we got to the part where my grandfather and I danced together, the following ensued:
Me: (screechey voice) “Oh my gosh, here it is. Wait until you see. My grandpa is so embarassing.
Friend: “No, he’s not embarrassing. He’s happy!”
She was right. My grandfather was always happy, and while his joy was not limited to being Jewish, it definitely was a big part of it. But why? What was so great about being Jewish for him? Was it because he survived the Holocaust and was appreciative of every Jewish moment? Even so, why did he have to put it out there so often; couldn’t he have been a bit more quiet about it? I mean, why did he have to show everyone how proud he was of his Judaism? I never asked him the questions, but I do know the answer … He knew something back then, that too many Jewish people can’t seem to accept today … It’s really okay to be Jewish. In his case, however, it wasn’t ok … it was awesome!
That was my grandfather’s life; constant enthusiasm and joy, no matter what the situation. However, if Judaism was involved, his happiness took on a whole new level. He was the life of the party at every Simcha. If he saw a man with a kipa walking around the street, he would go over to him and introduce himself, simply to connect. He took great pride in saying the blessing over the Challah at every family occasion. My grandpa was a proud Jewish man and made no apologies for it, because, why be sorry for being Jewish? More so, why be sorry for being proud to be Jewish?
Fast forward two years, and it was time for my Bat-Mitzvah. I couldn’t have been more excited to dance with my grandpa and celebrate. And I did! The only thing I regret from that period is not doing something about that little moustache thing I had going on.
All these years later, I find myself dancing like crazy at every Simcha I go to. My social media is constantly filled with my love for Israel and Judaism. When I see another Jew outside of Israel or hear Hebrew on the street, I will turn around and start a conversation, because I simply want to connect. It took a while for me to realize it, but I am my grandpa. I love putting my love for Judaism out there, and I’m so proud of it.
When I think about that moment when I danced with my grandpa at my older brother’s Bar-Mitzvah, I always remember his pride in being Jewish. Today, on Yom Hashoah, I think about all the proud Jews, and the not so proud. And to the not so proud, all I want to say is, “Really, it’s Okay to Be Jewish… or more so, it’s awesome!