The Non-Jewish Butt

19 Dec

“Jesse had loved converting to Judaism! He loved going to the mikveh.  To attain a state of ritual purity, it is necessary to disrobe and immerse oneself in a cistern, a natural spring, a flowing river, the ocean, or a very small indoor pool.  Jesse fearlessly, nakedly, cannonballed into the water of a tiled mikveh at a local synagogue under the gaze of an Orthodox rabbi; he immersed himself the required three times and for good measure did a somersault, his little white butt flashing briefly above the waterline.

Now, in the backseat of the car, he excitedly prepared Helen for her visit to the mikveh. “The blue-green water will cover all your body and make you Jewish!” he enthused. “Really?” “Yes! You take off all your clothes and you jump in!” “Wait. You take off all your clothes?” she asked. “Yes! And you jump in the blue-green water!” “And the rabbi’s there?” “Yes.” “Then I’m not taking off my clothes.”  “Yes, you have to,” he insisted “The blue-green water touches every part of your body and makes you Jewish.” … “I am not taking off my underpants.” “You have to!” he said again, alarmed by this unforeseen obstacle.

“Forget it,” Helen pronounced, looking out the window to end the discussion.  “I am wearing my underpants.” “FINE!” yelled Jesse.  “Fine! But your BUTT is NOT going to be Jewish!”
                                               – excerpted from No Biking in the House without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene 

I’ve read this excerpt every day this week.  And end up laughing every time.  Because I identify with Jesse.  If you do something in the right order, in the right way, then you get the right result.  Don’t even think about doing something differently or you may (shock! horror!) end up with a non-Jewish butt.

And yet I always do things in the wrong order.  It’s apparently my trademark.  I switched out of being a business major as an undergraduate and am now completing my Master’s degree in business.  I completed a Half IronMan (my first time biking 56 miles).  I’ve never done a sprint or Olympic triathlon.  I didn’t like people as a kid.  Now I’ve been in Human Resources for 7 years. I ran 6 ultra-marathons before training for my first marathon. Birthday parties make me nervous.  I planned one for my Dad’s 50th, 10 years ago. Strangers make me nervous. I met a famous hockey player on the T who I still keep up with. I love order and cleanliness and neat tidy lines yet I always bake haphazardly, following the concept of a recipe but never the actual instructions. As a kid, I hated sleepovers because I had to be away from home.  Now I am happiest when traveling. Engineers were my best friends and my chief nemesis.  Oh wait.  They still are.

I like things done in the right way, at the right time, with the right result. I try my best to have grace for those who do the wrong things at the wrong times with the wrong results.  But I have a hard time having grace for myself.  The last two Christmas seasons have been challenging as I remember some mistakes I made, knowing they were mistakes, deliberately choosing to make them.  Forgiving myself has been hard.  I don’t feel true to myself – I have a non-Liz butt.  Or maybe a non-Liz arm?  Or a non-Liz pancreas?  If I don’t feel fully myself, fully an MBA student, fully an adult, fully a full-time employee, am I?


The story makes me laugh because it is funny but absurd.  Just as my fears, that I am me and not me, that I am the best I can be and the worst I can be and that they must be separate people, because I couldn’t possibly be a human contradiction (aren’t we all?) are absurd.

Despite my mistakes, I am me.  I am not 90% me and 10% other. You are Jewish or you aren’t.  You are not Jewish-with-a-non-Jewish-butt.

Isn’t that a relief?



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