Hey Ma, Are We Jewish? by Michail Mulvey

Sunday, June 17, 2012
An Irish Catholic high school student decides to become Jewish in the hope of attracting the attention of the girl of his dreams; by Michail Mulvey

In high school I had a crush on Miriam Goldfarb - National Honor Society, class president, Debating Society, editor of the yearbook and the school paper, Orchestra, A Cappella Choir, captain of the tennis team, etc, etc. But Miriam was way out of my league. Not only was she very bright, she was also very Jewish, while I, to use Grandma Kelly's expression, was 'as Irish as Paddy's pig.' And Shanty Irish at that, she added. I wasn't sure what Shanty Irish meant so I asked my Uncle Jimmy. "It means we don't have a pot to piss in," he told me. I wasn't sure what that meant, so I asked my Uncle Joe. "It means we don't have two nickels to rub together," he said. I was going to ask my Aunt Joan what that meant, but I finally figured it out for myself while walking to school in the rain one morning. When I looked in my shoe to see why my sock was wet, I found a hole in the sole. It meant we were poor.

I can't explain why I was attracted to Miriam. She was pretty but not beautiful. She had quiet brown eyes and short brown hair. She looked nothing like the loud girls in the big, heavily hair-sprayed, beehive-type hairdos, the ones you could hear a mile away, the gum-snapping queens in short skirts and tight sweaters... like Cookie Conlon... and Annette Amalfitano... and Donna Dumbrowski.

And she didn't wear any lipstick, or makeup that looked like it was troweled on, like Connie Cronin... and Patty Palumbo... and Katie Kovacs. But since I worshipped Miriam from afar, it was hard to tell if she wore any makeup at all. From across the room, she appeared to possess perfect, unblemished, lily-white skin.

Miriam usually dressed in a gray tweed skirt and white blouse buttoned all the way to the top. In winter, she wore a Navy-blue sweater over her blouse. She could almost be mistaken for a librarian. In fact, she spent more time in the library than at Tony's Drive-In after school. And she always appeared to be lost in thought. Even around her girlfriends, she was the listener.

At lunch one day I told Tommy Hogan I wanted to ask Miriam out. He gave me his 'What, are you nuts?' look. "Don't waste your time," he said. "Look who she's sitting with." I looked over at Miriam's table. "Melissa Mentzer, Judy Jacobs and Gretchen Grossman. See anybody named Colleen, Brigid or Dora? Jewish girls don't go out with guys like us. My father's a cop. Your step-father drives a truck. Her father's an accountant. You see the car he was drivin' that morning he dropped her off at school? You know how much a '63 Chrysler New Yorker goes for? Almost six grand!"

Mo Goldblum sat down with us. I'd known Morris "Mo" Goldblum since third grade. He was a good friend and trusted confidant. And he owed me. I'd introduced him to Marie Tartaglia.

"Mo, you think Miriam Goldfarb would go out with me?"

Mo glanced over at Miriam's table then looked at me. His look was none too reassuring. "Ask her out. What's the worst that could happen? She could say no. But she could say yes."

"Tommy thinks she won't go out with me because I'm not Jewish and my step-father drives a truck."

Mo looked at me for a moment like he was trying to find the right words. "You have to understand, Jewish mothers are very protective. They're always trying to fix their daughters up with a nice Jewish boy. Preferably a college guy who's studying to be a doctor or a lawyer. And they're very protective of their sons too. When my mother discovered I was going out with Marie Tartaglia, she almost had a stroke. She chased me around the house cursing in Yiddish. And it works both ways. Marie's mother didn't care for me much either," said Mo. "Marie told me her mother asked, 'Why don't you go out with a nice Italian boy? Jewish boys only go out with Italian girls for one thing. What's the matter with Rocco Sementini? His father's a fireman.'"

"I went out with that girl from Darien once, what's-her-name, Bunny or Buffy," I said. "The one I met in the parking lot after the football game. Yeah, Buffy was her name. She told me her real name was Taylor but her family called her Buffy. And she had two last names separated by a hyphen. Fenwick-Whyte I think. Her mother didn't seem too happy when I picked her up that one night we went out. She smiled through gritted teeth and spoke like she had lock-jaw. And her nose was up in the air like she smelled something."

"Yeah, she smelled poverty. Or maybe it was your Irish Catholicism. Are you a Democrat?" asked Tommy. "Buffy and her stuck up friends only spoke to you in the parking lot because you had beer. And she only went out with you because you have a car. Even a car like yours."

"What's wrong with my car?" I asked. "It's only nine years old. '55 Chevys are very dependable... except they burn a little oil. OK, a lot of oil. But the radio works. And it'll go from zero to 'Holy Shit!' in 15 seconds flat."

"Yeah. 'Holy shit! Look at all that smoke pouring out his tailpipe!'" said Tommy.

"What are you driving? Your father's station wagon." I replied before Tommy could answer.

"It's the perfect car for the drive-in," Tommy said with a knowing smirk. "And my father always keeps the tank full. I just have to wax it once in awhile and make sure I clean up any stains or spills before I get home from a date."

"After he found out I was dating Marie Tartaglia, my father wouldn't let me borrow his car anymore," said Mo. "He was afraid I'd get her pregnant and have to marry her. And if I did, to my mother I might as well have been dead. She even called Marie a nafkeh - I think that's Yiddish for whore."

Miriam and I both went to the same junior high, but I didn't really notice her until tenth grade when she got her braces off. The dentist told my mother I needed braces too, but we couldn't afford them. My Uncle Jimmy told me to sleep face down on a brick. "Works just the same and a brick only costs 17 cents," he said with a wink.

In our junior year Miriam and I both had Miss Bailey for English. Miriam sat by the door. I couldn't take my eyes off her. As usual, I sat next to Miss Bailey's desk where she could keep an eye on me. My teachers all claimed I was talkative and antsy. And they told my mother I didn't apply myself, whatever that meant. What was I? Some kind of ointment?

I was going out with Arleen Horsley at the time. My mother didn't like her at all. In fact, she thought Arleen was a snotty bitch. And she heard Arleen had a reputation. As far as I was concerned, that was a plus. Arleen wasn't always a fun date, but she did let me put my hand up her skirt.

Arleen's mother worked six nights a week at Cipriano's, an Italian restaurant on Stillwater Avenue. When she was at work, me and Arleen made out on the couch in her living room. One night her mother came home early and caught us going at it. We jumped up and tried to act like nothing was going on. "We were watching American Bandstand," I said, but Arleen looked like she'd been wrestling, and my face was flushed and my shirt was hanging out of my pants.

"Yeah?" said her mother. "What do you call that dance you two were doing on the sofa?" After that Arleen's mother wouldn't let me take her to the drive-in anymore. For some reason she didn't trust me.

Arleen could be a real whiney pain in the ass sometimes, but even Arleen was better than no girlfriend at all. And she did let me put my hand up her skirt. We broke up the summer between my junior and senior year when I tried to go too far.

"That's all you're after," she said, zipping up her slacks and buttoning her blouse. I had no comeback. She was right. But, in a way, I was glad to be rid of her. I knew in my heart that she went out with me for one reason only; I had a car. A nine year-old car that burned oil, but the radio worked.

Tommy and I spent the rest of the summer cruising for girls at West Beach and reading the wrinkled Playboy Magazines I found in Mickey Cicarelli's basement one Saturday morning when we were rooting around for baseball equipment. The Playboys belonged to Mickey's brother who was in the Navy. That summer Tommy and I spent more time with Miss February and Miss March than with any of the girls at the beach.

At registration for senior year, I overheard Miriam tell Sarah Silberman she was signing up for German. Even though I'd failed first-year French in 10th grade - sometimes even English seemed like a foreign language to me - I signed up for German too, just to be near Miriam. I also heard her say she was gonna take Chemistry, but I knew I'd have about as much luck with Chemistry as I had with French... and Algebra... and Biology. I couldn't conjugate a French verb if you put a gun to my head. Don't even ask me to solve a linear equation. And I still don't know the difference between meiosis and mitosis.

In German Miriam sat three desks behind me and over by the window, so I usually had to find some excuse to turn around and look her way. But the brilliant afternoon sun shining through the tall classroom windows blinded me and all I could see was a shadowy figure radiating light, kind of like the sun during an eclipse.

I wanted to tell her Ich liebe dich, but I didn't have the nerve. And, besides, I didn't like the way it sounded. Maybe that's why German wasn't considered one of the Romance Languages. When I told Tommy Hogan I signed up for German, his reply was, "Great. In no time at all you'll be inarticulate in three languages."

Thinking Miriam might be attracted to jocks, I went out for cross country. I almost had a heart attack on our first training run. I had plenty of experience sprinting from Mr. Goldschein at Karp's Deli when I was a kid, after I'd stuck a bagel down my pants, but I'd never run five miles before. I stopped halfway around the course, staggered back to the gym and told Coach O'Meara I pulled a hamstring. I never went back.

Then I went out for the swim team, thinking, "I know how to swim." I almost drowned. In practice we swam endless laps and when my arms and legs turned to rubber in the middle of lap fifteen, I sank to the bottom of the pool. Coach Markowsky had to dive in, drag me to the surface and haul me out.

Then I tried out for the track team. I signed up for the pole vault but almost broke my neck on my first attempt. I went up, hit the crossbar and came back down head first. Coach McCaffrey put an ice pack on my neck and told me to sit in the bleachers until my eyes uncrossed.

I went out for the tennis team even though I'd never once held a tennis racket in my hand. The first time I tried serving, I missed the ball. Picking at the strings like there was something wrong with the racket, I walked off the court saying I was going back to the gym to have it restrung.

So much for sports. I'd have to find some other way to impress Miriam.

Thinking I might stand out from the crowd with a sexy, Hollywood-style tan, I lay under my Aunt Joan's sun lamp for an hour. Could have been two. Anyway, I fell asleep. My mother had to drive me to the hospital where I was treated for first-degree burns. She kept me out of school for a week until the swelling went down and my face stopped peeling.

I let my hair grow long thinking Miriam might find me attractive in a Beatles or Stones-like hairstyle. My mother said I looked ridiculous, but when Vito Calabrese said I looked like one of the Three Stooges, I went to the barber.

"Clothes make the man," I heard someone say. I think it was Mr. Grant, my history teacher. He was a handsome guy and a dapper dresser. The girls all loved him. Even Mrs. Silvestri flirted with Mr. Grant, and she was married. I had no money for a new wardrobe, so my Uncle Vinnie wangled me a night job unloading trucks at a warehouse in the south end of town. Some people owed him, he said. After three nights I was so exhausted I fell asleep in second period Algebra. Thinking I must be sick, Mrs. MacDonald woke me up and sent me the nurse. But first she made me wipe up the drool on my desk with my sleeve.

I was about to give up hope that Miriam would ever go out with me, let alone notice me, when I overheard a conversation that changed everything and gave me hope. I was at my Uncle Eddie's wake at the time. Uncle Eddie was a drunk and one night he passed out in the parking lot of a local bar. He was run over by another drunk who didn't see him lying there face down on the blacktop.

Over the din of inebriated relatives shouting at each other while shoving ziti and meatballs down their pie holes, I heard someone mention a Great-grandpa Goldman. I thought I knew all my grandparents and great-grandparents. They had names like Ryan and Riordan and Kelly and Cavanaugh. I knew I had one great-grandmother who came from Sweden named Sohlqvist, but for the most part, like Grandma Kelly said, we were as Irish as Paddy's pig.

"But if there's a Great-grandpa Goldman, that means we're Jewish. Or at least part Jewish." I said to myself. I couldn't wait to get to school and tell Miriam. But first I'd have to tell Mo Goldblum who, I hoped, would teach me how to be a Jew.

"Mo, guess what? I'm Jewish," I said as I sat down at the lunch table.

"Funny, you don't look Jewish."

"Ha ha! Really. I'm Jewish. I found out I had a great-grandfather named Goldman. That sounds Jewish to me."

"Could be. But just because you have a Jewish great-grandfather doesn't make you a Jew. You can't just put on a yarmulke and go to shul on Saturday night."

"What's shul?"

"Synagogue. Religious services."

"Why can't I go to shul, sit next to Miriam and ask her out?"

"It's not that simple. If you want to be accepted by Miriam and her parents you'd have to convert. You get to choose between Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. I think Miriam's parents are Orthodox, so even if you convert to Orthodox, men and women have different seating areas in shul separated by a Mechitzah, a partition."

"What are you," I asked.

"We're Reform. The food's better," said Mo.

"But Miriam's Orthodox?"

"Yup. And I hope you know that if you convert you're going to make some people very unhappy," said Mo. "When my cousin Joel told his parents he was going to marry an Italian girl, they went nuts. Everybody was against it, especially his mother and her father. The families almost disinherited both of them. Vicky went through almost a year of instruction in Jewish history, culture and the Hebrew language in order to convert. Then she went before a Beit Din, a kind of final exam, then a full-body immersion in a Mikveh, kind of like a baptism." Mo waited a minute for it all to sink in, then continued.

"She's still not totally accepted by our family, but now she's a better Jew than Joel. She's got one set of dishes for dairy, another for meat, and another for parve foods. It's called keeping Kosher."

"Sounds like a lot of work. You must have a shitload of dishes to wash on Easter Sunday. Do you have a lot of people over for dinner?"

"We don't celebrate Easter."

"Oh, yeah. Right. I'll miss that big ham my grandmother makes every Easter. And no Christmas, right?"

"No Christmas. And no ham. And you can't mix dairy and meat at a meal."

"So, no bacon cheeseburgers?" asked Tommy.

"Not if you're Orthodox. No Easter, but we do have Passover around the same time. No Christmas but we do celebrate Hanukkah in December. Eight days of exchanging gifts. Kind of like Christmas but no baby Jesus lying in a manger. My father puts up a tree but we don't call it a Christmas tree. My mother doesn't approve, but she goes along. She's tired of arguing with my father."

"No ham, huh? So I guess pork chops are out too."

"Yup. And no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. I have to ask, are you circumcised?" said Mo.

"What's that?"

"When you were born did the doctor cut off some or all of your foreskin?"

"From where?"

"From your dick."

"I don't know."

"Then look."

"At what?"

"At your dick, stupid ass. To see if the doctor cut off your foreskin."

"I'm not looking at my dick!"

"Then go ask your mother. Jeeze, you're such an asshole. Do you want to be a Jew or what?"

"I'm a jerk? You're telling me to go ask my mother to look and see if the doctor cut off part of my dick?" I said in a voice too loud for the cafeteria.

"Just the foreskin," said Mo. He noticed some girls at a nearby table had stopped eating and were staring at us. "Forget it," said Mo.

"I saw you in the shower in gym. You're circumcised," whispered Tommy.

"If you weren't, you'd have to have it done by a Mohel in a religious ceremony called a Bris," continued Mo.

"You never heard of the Feast of the Circumcision?" asked Tommy.

"Well, yeah, but I didn't know what it meant. Why would Catholics celebrate something like that? My mother doesn't even like it when I use the word 'dick.' Can we change the subject? Those girls are still staring at us."

"What word does your mother use for 'dick'?" asked Tommy with a smirk.

"Never mind."

"Wee-wee? Mister Winkie? Dingus?"

"Shut up, asshole."

"And if you're already circumcised the Mohel makes a little prick and takes a symbolic drop of blood," said Mo in a low tone.

"A little prick, huh? That supposed to be funny? If they cut off part of your dick that would make it a little prick for sure."

"Never mind. The bell is gonna ring," said Mo, getting up. "Stay a Catholic. Find yourself a nice Irish or Italian girl and save yourself a lot of work. If you think French or German is tough, Hebrew's a bitch. You'd never make it past the Beit Din."

"Yeah, it does sound like a lot of work. And all that time I spent in Catechism would have been a waste. I'd really miss bacon cheeseburgers. And ham. And all those dishes?"

"Do you like shrimp or lobster?" asked Mo who stood by our table waiting for the bell.

"I love lobster, especially when you dip it in melted butter. Why?"

"There's no shellfish allowed in the Orthodox diet," said Mo.

"No shellfish?"

"Nope." Mo sighed. "Think it over. If you're sure you want to convert, I'll give you my rabbi's number. Good luck. You'll need it."

The bell finally rang and Mo left for fourth period chemistry. Miriam was in Mo's class. I was hoping he'd put in a good word for me, tell her I'm Jewish.

"This is gonna be tough, but I'm not giving up," I said.

"Is she really worth it? I don't think she even knows you're alive," said Tommy. "Look at Cookie Conlon over there. Nice smile. Great rack. Her sweater looks like it's about to explode. I'd love to get her in the back of my father's station wagon. Why don't you ask her out? You have a car. I heard Cookie will go out with any guy who has a car. Even you."

"Kiss my ass."

Miriam and her girlfriends got up and walked past our table. I smiled, but she didn't even look my way. Tommy and I got up and headed off for Wood Shop with Mr. Grover.

I was determined to ask Miriam out, however long it took to convert, whatever the cost. I even went through the TV Guide looking for old episodes of The Goldbergs. I thought of taking Miriam to see West Side Story. A movie is a good first date. You don't have to talk much and you can let the movie do the entertaining. And it's cheap. Bobby Haggerty told me he took Carmela Carlucci to see West Side Story. He couldn't tell me much about the movie or how it ended, though. He said he was too busy making out with Carmela to pay much attention.

Miss Chapman, our English teacher, had told us that West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet. I was out sick the week we read Romeo and Juliet... well, I wasn't really sick. That was the week I fell asleep under the sun lamp... but Bobby Larson let me borrow his Cliff's Notes before the test. It was missing the last couple of pages, but I got the gist of the play, took the test and got a 72.

I thought West Side Story would be an appropriate flick. Miriam might catch the point of the movie, that groups of people who didn't necessarily like each other or have much in common should try to get along, date even.

"I'm going to ask Miriam if she wants to go see West Side Story," I told Tommy on our way home. "It's playing at the Plaza."

"Not anymore. Gypsy is playing there now."

"I heard Gypsy is about a stripper. I don't think Miriam would care for a movie like that. Or her parents. Especially her parents."

"King of Kings is playing at The Palace," said Tommy.

"I don't know about that one either. The Romans nailed Jesus to the cross, but didn't Father Connolly tell us in fourth grade that he was turned over by the Jews? Maybe she likes Elvis. Blue Hawaii is playing at the Avon this Saturday."

"She might like Elvis. Who doesn't? But she plays the oboe in orchestra, right? Maybe she prefers classical music."

"How about Goldfinger?"

"Too suggestive," said Tommy.

"Then what?" I asked in frustration.

"How about Cleopatra? I've seen it. Great love story. But, then again, Elizabeth Taylor's jugs are fighting her nightie the entire movie. I thought that was the best part, but Miriam might be embarrassed... or jealous. She is kind of flat-chested."

"Looks aren't everything."

"Yeah, right. So why don't you ask Joan Calabrese out? There's a whole lotta woman there."

"It'd cost me double to get her in the drive-in," I said, chuckling.

"If you really want to impress Miriam, you could take her to see Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. I heard it's about a Jewish milkman with five daughters and one of them marries a Christian. There you go. Take her to see Fiddler."

"Broadway? I don't have that kind of money. I can barely afford gas for my car."

"Where'd you even get the money to buy a car anyway?" asked Tommy.

"My Uncle Jimmy gave it to me. He said someone owed him and besides, he drives a Caddy. He wouldn't be caught dead in a Chevy."

"What does he do for a living?" asked Tommy.

"I'm not sure, but he always seems to be carrying around a wad of bills. And he only works at night. How about Irma La Douce? I heard it's a comedy. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine," I said. "It's playing at The Strand."

"He's a French cop. She's a Parisian prostitute. I don't know how that'll go over. But I heard it's funny too," said Tommy. "First, though, you have to get up enough nerve to sit and talk to Miriam in the cafeteria or in German class. Ask if you could drive her home. Drop some hints that you're a Jew, even though you're not. At least not yet."

"I haven't called Mo's rabbi yet. I'm going to learn some Hebrew first before I ask Miriam out so I sound like a Jew, like Mr. Goldschein at the deli. I have to start off slow. I'm not just going to come out with something like, 'Hey, Miriam, how are you doing? Guess what? I'm a Jew like you.' I'm gonna have to be a little more subtle. I'm going to the deli after school and ask Mr. Goldshein to teach me some Hebrew so I can impress Miriam."

"Good luck with that," said Tommy.

"Hey, Mo, you gotta help me. I'm not getting anywhere with Miriam. Tried to use some Hebrew on her at lunch. It didn't work. In fact I think she's mad at me now, but I don't know why."

"Just speaking Hebrew doesn't make you a Jew," said Mo. "And besides, where did you learn Hebrew? And in such a short time?"

"I went to Karp's Deli and asked Mr. Goldschein if he'd teach me enough Hebrew to impress this nice Jewish girl I wanted to ask out. And I told him about my Great-grandpa Goldman. He looked at me a long while, stroked his beard, then smiled. 'So, the little goy wants to go out with the nice Jewish girl? Sure. Get a piece of paper and write down what I tell you,' he said. In between making sandwiches he gave me some lines he assured me would impress 'the little maideleh.' I wrote everything down, went home, and memorized all the lines on the list. I used them today when I was in the lunch line with Miriam. Mo, it was a total friggin' disaster."

"'Shalom!' I said to her. 'Tsi volt is vein essen mitog?' Mr. Goldschein said it means 'Hello' and 'Would you like to have lunch?'"

"'Look at all the traif!' I said. 'Would it kill them to put out a little lox, or kugel, or some rugelach, maybe? A brisket would be nice.' She looked at me like I had three heads, then turned and continued walking down the lunch line."

"Mr. Goldschein told me that if things weren't going well I should try, 'Hot ir kinden?' So I did, but she turned around again and said something that sounded like 'Shmegegi.' I wasn't sure what it meant, so I just smiled and continued walking along with her down the lunch line."

"Then I used another line Mr. Goldschein taught me. He told me it was a compliment and that she'd probably blush. 'S'zol dir vaksn a geshver oyfn pupik,' I said, but she didn't blush. In fact, she didn't even smile. She said something that sounded like 'Zolst lign in drerd.'"

"So I smiled and replied, 'A choleryeh oyf dir.' Another compliment, Mr. Goldschein assured me. She turned around and said, 'Gai avek ya shmuck.' I thought she was saying something like 'Nice haircut,' so I said 'Frantsn zoln esn dayn dayb,' as she walked away from the register. She still wasn't smiling, though. In fact, when she sat down with her girlfriends, she looked pissed off. I don't know what I did wrong. I used the Hebrew phrases Mr. Goldshein taught me. Maybe I got the accent wrong?"

"First, what he taught you was Yiddish, not Hebrew. You started off OK with 'Hello,' and 'Would you like to have lunch,' but then you asked her, 'Have any children?' Then, 'May a boil grow on your bellybutton,' then 'A plague on you.' And if that wasn't enough, you said 'May syphilis consume your flesh.'"

"I said what?"

"You heard me. You're a real charmer. Inarticulate in four languages now."

"What did she say to me?"

"Well, first she called you an idiot - a 'shmegegi' - then told you to 'Drop dead,' then, when you insulted her again, she said something in Yiddish that when very loosely translated means, 'Get lost, dickhead.'"

"She said what? A nice girl like Miriam?"

"Good job! You said Goldschein taught you all those great pickup lines?"


"What did you ever do to him?"

"I don't know. Well, when I was a kid, I used to steal a bagel from the deli once in awhile when I was hungry. But that was a long time ago. I thought Goldschein would have forgotten by now."

"Guess not."

"That old meshugener kucher."

That night over dinner my mother asked about the upcoming school dance.

"You taking Arleen Horsley?"

"We broke up. I've been trying to get up enough nerve to ask Miriam Goldfarb out, but she barely speaks to me. Well, she spoke to me today in the lunch line. I used some Yiddish phrases Mr. Goldschein taught me, but the old fart set me up. All I did was piss her off."

"I think Goldschein coughed on my sandwich once after I told him to take his finger off the scale while he was weighing the pastrami. Besides, Jewish girls don't go out with boys like you. What's the matter with Mary Ellen Toomey? She's cute."

"She's got a big mouth and I heard she's a tease."

"So you think this Miriam Goldfarb is the girl of your dreams? Why would you even ask a Jewish girl out anyway?"

"Well, we are Jewish, right? Irish and Swedish and Jewish?"

"What are you talking about? We're not Jewish," said my mother. "Where did you hear that?" She put down her fork and gave me a look that was somewhere between angry and exasperated. It was a look I was all too familiar with.

"At Uncle Eddie's wake. I overheard Aunt Kate talk about a Great-grandpa Goldman."

"Golden. His name was Michael Golden and he was Great-grandma Riordan's second husband. So even if he was Jewish - and he wasn't - there's no Jewish blood in our family."

"Well, Golden sounds Jewish."

"Well, it's not. Great-grandpa Golden was an Irish immigrant. I met him once long ago, before you were born. He was as Irish..."

"...as Paddy's pig. Yeah. Figures."

As usual, at lunch the next day I sat with Tommy and Mo. Three tables over, Miriam sat with Mindy Mendlebaum, Wendy Winkleman, and Ruth Rosenblum. Miriam sat with her back to me. Ruth and Wendy glowered at our table. Well, they glowered at me, mostly.

"Guess what? I found out I'm not Jewish after all."

"No! Really?" said Mo with just a touch of sarcasm and maybe a touch of relief in his voice.

"That great-grandfather I thought was Jewish was named Golden, not Goldman."

"Our loss," said Mo, again with the sarcasm.

"Sounds Jewish to me," said Tommy.

"Well, he's not. He was born in Ireland."

"They have Jews in Ireland," said Mo.

"I thought Saint Patrick chased them out," I said.

"Where'd you hear that? He chased out all the snakes. Jesus, you're such an idiot," said Tommy.

"Oh, right. I had him confused with Tsar Nicholas. He chased the Jews out of Russia, right?"

"I can understand how you'd confuse Saint Patrick with Tsar Nicholas," said Tommy, again with the sarcasm.

"Well, Great-grandpa Golden was Catholic... and I knew Saint Patrick chased out the snakes. I thought the Jews left too."

"The Jews left Egypt... and Russia... and Poland..." said Mo, exasperated and slightly annoyed.

"So, you have no chance with Miriam," said Tommy. "None. Number one, you're not a Jew and, number two, you're a complete idiot."

"And yesterday at lunch you called Miriam a slut, hoped a boil would grow on her bellybutton, wished a plague upon her head, and said syphilis should consume her body," said Mo. "Find yourself a nice shikseh."

"A what?"

"Stick to Catholic girls," said Mo. "There's Kathleen Rooney. Go over and ask her out. She'll go out with anybody who has a car."

"I really wanted to go out with Miriam, take her to see West Side Story. I heard it's about two gangs, one Puerto Rican the other Polish and they fight over turf in Manhattan. But one of the Polish kids goes out with the sister of a Puerto Rican. I thought Miriam would see that it's OK for the races to mix, like in the movie."

"Do you know how it ends?" asked Mo, putting down his sandwich.


"Well, the movie is based on Romeo and Juliet…"

"I knew that."

"Do you know how Romeo and Juliet ends?" asked Mo.

"Kind of... Well, not really."

"We read it in tenth grade."

"I was sick that week. But I read the Cliff's Notes... Well, most of it."

"The two lovers end up committing suicide," said Mo.

"Is that how West Side Story ends?"

"Not quite. Only one of the lovers dies. Shot by a guy in the other gang."

"Oh. I thought everyone lived happily ever after. So, it's not a musical? Better we didn't go see that one. We could have seen The Pink Panther. I heard that's pretty funny."

"I saw it," said Tommy. "Inspector Clouseau reminds me of someone."

"Yeah, who?" I asked.

Tommy shook his head and smiled. "You're such a shmendrik."


  1. Cute premise, well executed, till he got to learning Hebrew from Goldschein. That was too predictable.

  2. i liked it very much. a lot of us have probably been there. trying to think up ways to impress a girl of our dreams. it was funny and reads very authentic with all the references to the culture of the times. well done.

    michael mccarthy

  3. Funny - in parts very funny, not least in the incidental jokes, the 'apply himself' ointment, the 'inarticulate in three languages'. Shows up those peculiar mixtures of race and class prejudices that live in the U.K. as much as they do in the U.S. Comedy which makes you think - not easy.