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I constructed my very own tribe for Hanukkah

by Bliss Goldstein

Twenty years in the past, I moved from L.A. to San Francisco after which Bellingham, Wash. — up to now north I might spit throughout the border and a Canadian would apologize for being too shut. For the longest time I regretted the transfer from areas with sturdy synagogues and vital Jewish populations to a city with so few Jews and one synagogue. It was as if I have been dwelling as much as my genetic future as a Jew wandering the desert, however this time with extra rain.

Final Hanukkah, I made a decision I’d had sufficient moping. Even when I couldn’t discover a crucial mass of Jews right here within the Pacific Northwest, I might cobble collectively mates who felt Jewish to me. And now, with antisemitism spiking within the U.S., I’m all of the extra motivated to be surrounded by my tribe.

Fact be informed, I initially discovered my mates up north complicated. I’d assumed once I met them they have been official Members of the Tribe, a tongue-in-cheek option to describe fellow Jews. Take Vicki, for instance, a lady I’d met in an area Buddhist meditation group over Zoom. Vicki’s accent jogged my memory of the pastrami-on-rye waiters at Canter’s Deli in Fairfax.

“Bliss, man,” she mentioned as soon as, “generally you simply have to tug the plank out of your butt.”

Vicki’s brassiness drew me to her right here within the Pacific Northwest, the place niceness is available in all flavors of vanilla. Once I discovered she wasn’t an official Member, I used to be shocked. Being round her was a cream cheese schmear with lox on a poppyseed bagel.

One other buddy, Janet, a nurse through the Vietnam Battle, is lively in her church. But yearly she lights a menorah. Once I moved to city Janet was drawn to me like hen to soup, asking for assist: “Please present me what to say and the way to do that proper.”

Once I confirmed up at her residence the primary night time of Hanukkah, Janet had already positioned all 9 candles into her menorah. As gently as I might, I defined that Jews solely place two candles within the menorah on the primary night time: one on the far proper to be lit and a second, helper candle — the one which lights all the remaining — referred to as the shamash.

Janet returned seven candles into the field. As I held the shamash to the lone survivor, chanting Hebrew, Janet swayed by my facet.

I met increasingly more individuals who mentioned to me, typically in whispered tones, that they’d all the time felt Jewish. What an odd place for them to assemble, right here in homogeneous upstate Washington, the place you must actually hunt down range. It was virtually as in the event that they have been referred to as right here.

One after the other, the necessity to know consumed all of them. A lot of them discovered they have been 1% to 25% Jewish.

“I’m 1%!” texted one in every of them.

“One p.c what?” I texted again.

“Ashkenazi Jewish.”

“Mazel tov!” I replied. Because it was getting near Hanukkah, I added a couple of dreidel emojis.

It takes 10 Jews to kind a minyan, or prayer group. Ultimately I pieced collectively sufficient of those subcutaneous Jews to kind my very own minyan of friendship. I felt related to the legend of the Prague rabbi who created a person product of clay, referred to as a golem, to guard the Jewish individuals. I created a tribe of my very own to guard my coronary heart from feeling so lonely.

Generally that safety is literal, as in 2020 when the Proud Boys marched into our sister metropolis 20 minutes away. It was Chuck who confirmed as much as stand vigil as they marched via city. His ancestry check didn’t reveal any Jewish connection, however his actions did.

Different occasions, that safety is predicated on threats which can be existential and overwhelming, as when Jews are gruesomely killed in Israel and the reverberations are felt all the best way to the U.S. One other non-Jewish buddy, Steven, requested how I used to be doing. I informed him I’d heard a few mom in Chicago ushering her yarmulke-wearing son into the automotive whereas a bunch stood on the fringe of their garden looking at them with useless eyes.

He mentioned, “If it’s essential to be hidden, we’ll cover you in our basement.”

Steven acknowledged this with such sincerity, such care, that I felt a lump in my throat. When Jews spin the dreidel at Hanukkah, we play with a pile of foil-covered chocolate cash referred to as gelt. After he made this vow of safety, our eyes met, and I considered how wealthy I’m in gentile gelt.

I imagine that few persons are 100% something, and if somebody feels they’re Jewish, or stands up for the Jewish individuals, they’ve the suitable to an honorary six-pointed star. I used to be introduced up in a Jewish family and attended spiritual faculty, but my 23 and Me outcomes revealed that I’m solely 88% — not 100% — Jewish. However I really feel Jewish via and thru, particularly this Hanukkah.

This 12 months on the final night time of Hanukkah I’ll consider 9 of my “Jewish” mates. As I ignite every particular person wick, and its candle sparks to life, his or her face will flare in my thoughts. It’s a good factor to not be alone on the holidays, no matter which vacation you’re celebrating or who you’re celebrating with.

And I shall be celebrating with my tribe.

Bliss Goldstein is engaged on her Jewish magic realism novel, “The Sixth Soul.” She will be discovered at blissgoldstein.com.