Bad Jews vs. Good Jews

Admittedly, I’m not a “good” Jew. In fact, some of my orthodox relatives don’t consider me Jewish at all and they may have a good point – I don’t practice Judaism, don’t speak neither Yiddish nor Hebrew, don’t observe any Jewish holidays, don’t follow any dietary laws (unless they promote weight loss), and so on and so forth.

If anything can be said in favor of my being Jewish is a deeply ingrained childhood memory of being told by a classmate that I was a “filthy Jew”. However, that was nearly half a century ago in a country that no longer exists on the map and the statute of limitations on this issue has run out by now.

Nevertheless, the confusing questions of Jewish self-identity continue to linger and, as it turns out, not only in my head. The wonderful play called “Bad Jews” (written by Joshua Harmon) effectively illustrates this point via a funny, engaging, and controversial dialog between four young people in a single room NYC apartment. While the action seems to be focused on the inheritance of a sentimental piece of jewelry from the just-deceased grandfather, a Holocaust surviver, it peels off multiple layers of sibling rivalry, family politics, financial imbalance, interfaith marriage, personal insecurities, and many similar issues that all of us are facing during our lifetime. The 90 minute play keeps you on the edge of your seat and goes by in a flash! It ends, very fittingly, in a very unexpected and emotional finale. The only thing you can do is to stand up, swallow the tears and applaud…

As we were driving home on the unusually deserted Los Angeles freeways, I was thinking about why this play had touched me so much. It seems that the author was intimately familiar with our own conversations about the eternal “Jewish question”.

Certainly, our experience adds a few more layers, which are uniquely associated with the Soviet past and immigration to the West. Many Soviet Jews were supposed to “exodus” to Israel, but had specifically rejected Aliyah in favor of the more comfortable, prosperous and safe life in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Moreover, some of the Soviet Jews, who had initially moved to Israel, eventually decided to leave the “promised land” and resettle in the West. I also doubt that many Soviet Jewish men had followed Abraham’s example and undergone circumcision, once they had an opportunity to become “real” Jews in the Free World.

The list of the unique Soviet-Jewish traditions, culinary habits, lifestyle and the bitter-sweet assimilation issues goes on. Perhaps, the author of “Bad Jews” would consider writing a sequel to include a few funny Jews with a heavy Slavic accent?

At any rate, seeing “Bad Jews” was a highly enjoyable, moving and thought provoking experience.  Hope that you can catch it in your shtetl!