So I’m an American Jewish guy living in Sweden and I’m 36 years old. I’m not religious at all, but I do have a hairy back so I’ve got some cred.
Somehow, my mom still makes me feel guilty that I’m not that religious and don’t celebrate any of the Jewish holidays.
I was talking to her back in September over Skype. (What a great Swedish invention, up there with Ikea, Spotify and porn.)
“Do your kids even know they’re Jewish?” she asks me. I had to swallow that question hard.
To buy some time I turn to my 7-year-old daughter Olivia. “Do you know you’re Jewish?” I ask her.
She stops dancing for a second and just looks at me with her head tilted like I’m the crazy one, a dumb dad, an idiot, and then continues to dance.
Somehow I’m always talking to my mom right before a Jewish holiday. It’s almost like there’s something inside her, some Jewish mother thing, like a ticking matzo ball that will explode and destroy her if she doesn’t get in touch before a Jewish holiday.
I know it’s sweet. It is our cultural heritage and I appreciate it. But it’s tough to keep up with these Jewish traditions when you’re surrounded by a bunch of reserved Swedes who know little about the Jewish people. “Channakah, hmm,” the say, “OK, that sound fun.” They have no idea, but they’re nice about it.
I try my best to celebrate a Chanukah here and there and make matzo ball soup, but I’m not super energized about it. “We’re celebrating Rosh Hashanah at your sister’s house. Are you celebrating Rosh Hashanah?” asks my mom.
At first I think I should lie because I don’t want to let her down, let my people down, but then I remember something I’ve been remembergin a lot lately. I don’t have to lie.
“Ummm, I don’t know if we will,” I say, having totally forgot that it was Rosh Hashanah.
“Can’t you at least buy an apple and honey?” she asks.
I turn to Olivia. “Olivia, should we celebrate the Jewish new year with an apple and honey?”
That catches her attention. She loves sweets, she’s obsessed.
In Sweden, kids eat candy on Saturdays. It’s a tradition. You take them down to the store where they sprint to the massive wall of candy that dominates a whole section of the supermarket. They pick a scooper, a bag and go to town.
If Olivia’s finished her candy already but her younger brother is still eating his, she swarms around him like a vulture over a wolf eating a baby rabbit, waiting for it to make one mistake, sneaking in manipulative lines here and there just to get one more hit of the glorious gummy worm or Swedish fish. (In Sweden they’re just called fish.) She wants him to get full so bad that she can’t control her body. “Oh, it’s so hard, candy’s so good,” she says, falling down on the floor. “It’s just sooo good.”
So when I ask her about the apple and honey she begins to listen. “How do they make that?” she asks.
My daughter’s mother-tongue and most comfortable language is Swedish, and mine is English, so a lot gets lost in translation when we talk to each other. There’s a lot of explaining to do.
“We just have to buy apples and honey,” I tell her.
She thinks about that for a few seconds. “Can we have Nutella instead?” she asks. “Nutella is really good.”
No, I tell her. “It’s the Jewish New Year’s, which is a rare fun holiday for us Jews, but we’re still Jews, we can’t have that much fun. Let’s just stick to the honey.”
“Ok,” she says.
“Yup, we’re going to celebrate,” I tell my mom.