By Seth Kushner
For as long as I can remember it has been endlessly drilled into my head that I must marry a Jewish girl. This drilling was done courtesy of my mother. My grandmother helped though—she often told me if I marry a ‘shicksa,’ she would haunt me…presumably from beyond the grave.
A direct quote from my mom: “What if everyone in your Generation said ‘I’m proud to be a Jew, but I’m gonna marry whoever I want.’ I got news for ya, we’d die off.”
She was in effect, putting the survival of an entire race of people on my shoulders. Talk about pressure. I understood what she was saying, but I just wanted to be happy.
I’ve had several non-Jewish girlfriends in the past, and when I was with them my mother wanted nothing to do with it. When I was dating Sharon (gentile Asian girlfriend #2), my mom would always say, “It’s okay to be friends with her, but nothing more–she’s not for you.” My dear old mom had no interest in ever even meeting Sharon. The same was the case with Jenny (gentile Asian girlfriend #3), who she met once and was cordial, but not particularly friendly. I kept Ling (gentile Asian girlfriend #1) a secret from my mother, because I didn’t want to deal with it.
The truth is, I have nothing against Jewish girls, in fact, my first girlfriend, Stacey was a “Nice Jewish Girl” and we dated for nearly six years. My issue all along has been: I didn’t want to be with someone who reminded me of my mother…at all. I love my mom, but I didn’t need another loud, overbearing woman in my life.
I’ve never been religious and I’ve never felt being “observant” had anything to do with spirituality or believing in God. I’ve never felt comfortable at temple and though I certainly identify myself as Jewish, I think I’m more “Jew-ish.” Meaning, I’m more culturally a Jew than religiously. Thinking back, I think Hebrew school left a bad taste in my mouth, like rotten gefilte fish.
In the Jewish religion a boy becomes a “man” at age 13 when he gets Bar Mitzvahed. I don’t think my Bar Mitzvah really took. I was so bored at Hebrew school I never learned to actually read my Haf Torah portion, which I was to perform for the ceremony. One time in Hebrew School, the Rabbi caught me reading an X-Men comic, which I had hidden inside my Hebrew textbook. I was deeply involved with the X-Men’s latest battle with Magneto, so I didn’t notice him standing above me.
“Mr. Kessler, are these…’X-Men’ Jewish?”
“No…well, one of them is.”
“Yeah, Kitty Pride is Jewish, she even wears a Jewish star…she can phase through walls.”
“That’s very interesting. When you go up to the alter in the shul for your Bar Mitzvah, instead of reading from the Haf Torah, make sure you tell all your family and friends and the whole congregation, all about the ‘X-Men.’”
I wanted to tell him comics were a whole lot more interesting than Hebrew. When the time came, I wrote the words phonetically in my book and cheated on my Bar Mitzvah. I confessed this to my mother, just a couple of years ago. Her response: “Why are you telling me this now?!”
While I’m proud of my heritage and would surely defend against anti-Semitism of any kind, I’ve never felt the need to strictly date Jewish girls. Why limit myself? Why not experience others cultures, customs and foods?
But, that powerful force called “Jewish Guilt” began kicking in and I got to thinking about my old friend, Sarah—a “nice Jewish goil.” I had an unrequited crush on her in the 9th grade, back when she was the cute dark-haired girl with the nice toockus. Alas, she was a “cool kid” and I was dorky. I got over my schoolboy crush, and we’ve remained friends over the years, and at times when neither of us was romantically linked with anyone, we’ve each acted as a stand-in date for the other. I do not believe any attraction existed between us, so there has never been any awkwardness.
I had some idea as to why Sarah wasn’t attracted to me, but why was I not attracted to Sarah? She was always pretty and smart and cool. Maybe part of it’s that I’ve known her for so long. But, more likely she was just too darn yenta-ish for me. She often frequented uptown, young Jewish cultural type places, like the one she twisted my arm to go to with her for her birthday.
I had promised to take her anywhere she wanted for the occasion, and she picked a Friday night Shabbat service. Terrific. I figured I’d make the best of it and try to get in touch with my roots and at the same time attempt to examine my relationship with Sarah and see if I had been missing anything.
Upon entering, I was separated from Sarah and ushered to the men’s side of the room. Damnit, I’d forgotten the orthodox sit separately. I tried to take a discreet seat in the back, but the pushy usher wouldn’t allow me to hide and shoved me into the middle of a row full of 30’s-ish men, all in suits and yarmulkes. Each one greeted me with a “Shabbat Shalom.” Uh…yeah, “sabat salmon”, I clumsily and amateurishly blurted back.
The praying went on for more than an hour, and required me to stand up and sit down many times. I was bored, just like at Hebrew school years earlier. The whole thing just seemed too…secular for me. Cultish, even. I’d never been a part of this. I spent the whole time looking over to my right to the girl’s side, ogling the young Jewish cuties. The Jewties.
Afterwards, I was reunited with Sarah for the Shabbos diner. We were in a large room filled with many round tables. At least we were seated together. After the Rabbi’s seemingly never-ending speech, we were finally served dinner. I was starving. As I slurped Matzoh Ball soup, Sarah told me she had a huge crush on the young Rabbi.
“Are you kidding?” I asked her. “If you marry that guy, he’d make one of those longwinded speeches EVERY night before dinner…oh, the horror!”
If a Rabbi was her type, there was no way she’d ever be into a Jew-with-a-side-of-bacon like me, I reasoned.
I scanned the room, and honestly, there were a number of young Jewties in attendance. Maybe this Shabbos thing was all right after all. There was one particular Jewish princess who caught my eye. I liked her clean complexion, straight dark hair, and the nice round Matzoh Balls poking through her orange sweater. She looked to be there with a girlfriend, so maybe I could talk to her?
I saw her get up, so I told Sarah I had to use the bathroom and I plotted my intercept course. I walked straight towards her, not sure of what I would say. I was then nearly blinded from the light gleaming off of her rather large, gold star of David hanging from her neck and I pictured us together at these services every week. She would argue with me that going here was much more important than seeing a movie on an opening Friday night. Maybe I’d be able to talk her out of religion? Like peer pressure—“Come on, all the cool kids are at the movies, not at schul.”
As I got close to her, I took a sharp left and actually went to the Men’s room.
I was at the urinal, trying to get something to happen. I hate the urinal because I get stage fright. I much prefer standing over the toilet with the little door that doesn’t quite reach all the way down to the floor. I had just started urinating when this guy tapped me on the back. It was Rob, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, who she ran into at the services earlier that night. She acted as though she was appalled that he approached her on her way to the bathroom, but I knew she really wasn’t. She broke up with him a year earlier because he wasn’t Jewish enough for her. Oy . So, with a little urging from her mother, she broke up with him. Once again, Oy.
Sarah was annoyed that Rob approached her on her way to the bathroom. Well, he approached me in the bathroom.
“Hey, Adam…how are you?” Dude, I’m trying to pee here.
“I’m good, Rob…how are you?” I asked midstream.
“I’m well. Are you here with Sarah?”
I knew he was fishing to make sure I wasn’t here with Sarah. I should have told him we were engaged.
“Yeah, but we’re just hanging out.”
I returned to the table and told Sarah about my encounter with her ex.
“The nerve of him…I can’t believe he did that,” she said.
They had lunch the following week, and they were engaged nine months later. It seems in the interim, Rob became “Jewish enough.” Perhaps he agreed to endure a second circumcision?
The following Friday, while at the movies with my friends, my mom left me a voicemail. She’d found a “Nice Jewish Girl” who’d like to meet me. My finger hovered over the delete button on my cell phone, but I hesitated. Was I in any position to ignore a potential opportunity? I could just meet her, right?
Hopefully she was just “Jew-ish”.
Read past installments of SCHMUCK and THE SCHMUCK DIARIES
Whenever Seth Kushner did anything foolish growing up, his mother would call him a “Schmuck,” that beloved Yiddish term of not-so-endearment. So, of course, it’s the title of his new comix semi-autobio on TRIP CITY, an online multimedia arts salon. Renowned for his The Brooklynites book and CulturePOP Photocomix, photographer and author Seth Kushner now throws his hat into the comics arena. SCHMUCK chronicles the period after his being dumped by a girlfriend, and the ensuing cascade of blind dates, Internet hook-ups, and comically tragic situations he endured with the hopes of finding “true love.”
SCHMUCK sheds a brutally honest light on 20-something relationships. Adam Kessler, our “hero,” is based on Kushner, ten years ago – a pop-culture-obsessed photographer torn between pleasing Mom by finding a “nice Jewish girl,” and figuring out what he really wants. His internal monologue is filled with the standard inane, perverted and self-deprecating thoughts we all have but are ashamed to admit. Meanwhile, his shit-talking, sex-obsessed Brooklyn boys stand by with their own, often wacky, advice.
Chapter One “Beer, Babes and Bowel Movements,” illustrated by Kevin Colden, (with “Photocomix” by Seth) debuted on Monday, January 9. From there, a new chapter will appear on TripCity.net every second Monday for one year. Every fourth Monday will see the release of a prose piece, “THE SCHMUCK DIARIES,” which will act as supplements to the comics. 2012 will see the release of 12 SCHMUCK comix and 12 SCHMUCK DIARIES.
SCHMUCK is an anthology series with different artists illustrating short “schmucky stories,” which can be read individually, or together to tell the complete narrative. SCHMUCK artists include; Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), George Schall, (Dark Horse Presents) Nathan Schreiber (Power-Out), Leland Purvis (Resistance) and more TBA.
What to expect: heartbreak, diarrhea, painful STD removal, rejection, Kung-Fu, Natalie Portman, vomit, boobs, self-loathing, unkempt genital regions, sex with an ex, drunkenness, sexual dysfunction, depression, misogyny, and somehow, hope.
Influences on SCHMUCK include; Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison, Bob Fingerman’s Beg The Question, Dean Haspiel’s Street Code, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Curb Your Enthusiasm, works by Nick Hornby, Jonathan Ames, Woody Allen, Adrian Tomine, Jeffrey Brown, Chester Brown and Joe Matt.