By Rossi, AKA Chef Rossi
When we were toddlers, my mother taught my sister, brother and me a prayer to say every night before we went to sleep. It was modeled after the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Torah and to the Jewish people. I promise to live a nice Jewish life and to marry a nice Jewish boy.” My brother’s prayer ended with “girl.” Seriously, that was the prayer.
It was so ingrained in me that I said it every night without thinking about the words. It became part of my DNA, brush my teeth, recite my bedtime mantra. At age 6, I had yet to meet a Jewish boy I could fathom marrying, nice or not. I rather liked the idea of marrying my first grade teacher, Mrs. Mahon, but my mother said that was silly.
The shul (synagogue) we went to was Orthodox, so the men and women sat separately. The rabbis and everyone else going to the podium were men. It was never a woman. I didn’t mind. It was easier to sneak out as a girl, because so little was expected of you. I’d say I had to go the bathroom and run around the back yard looking for trouble to get into. I always found some.
When I was 7, my father was honored by being called to the bema to read a few lines from the Torah. I sat next to my mother, who was kvelling, so proud she could feel it in her kishkas. I leaned over and whispered to my mom, “Why can’t you be up there? You read Hebrew, too!”
“Slovah. The men are in charge in shul. The women are in charge at home.”
It wasn’t flying with me. “I want to go to a shul that lets the women get up there, too.”
“Shhhh. I’m pretending I didn’t hear that.”
As I got older, my budding feminism was usurped by practicality. I was 14 and realized that while my brother was held captive at shul, I was free to hide behind the bushes and smoke cigarettes. The other teen girls caught on and joined me. “They’ve got prayer. We’ve got Marlboro!” I kissed my first girl when I was 15. I’d kissed loads of boys by then. Some had been relatively pleasant experiences, some about as enjoyable as a root canal, but none had elicited the passion of my first gay kiss. I was smitten.
I ran into my sister Yaya’s bedroom and announced, “I think I might be gay!”
“Why do you think that?” she asked taping magazine cut outs of the “Bay City Rollers” on her wall.
“I have no interest in having sex with guys. I only want them to take me out and pay for everything.”
Yaya laughed, “You’re not gay! You’re a Jewish American princess like me!”
The paying-for-things waned pretty fast, especially when Moishe Silverman asked for a “golden shower.” “A what?!”
My parents sensed something was different about me. My sister obsessed about cute boys in teen magazines. I obsessed about “The Bionic Woman.”
“Would it kill you? To find a nice Jewish boy?” my mother screamed.
“The last Jewish boy you pushed on me was Moishe Silverman!? Is that the kind of Jewish gold you want for me?”
“Gold shmold! You need a doctor, lawyer or accountant!”
The more my parents pushed, the more pink I put in my hair and the more safety pins went into my leather jacket. They wanted a mensch. They got a mosh pit. Being a bisexual rocker chick suited my image, but still, there were all those pesky penises to contend with. At first I thought, “Maybe I just don’t like nice Jewish boys.”Then I thought, “Maybe I just don’t like any kind of nice boys.” While that part is true, the not-nice bikers and rockers I dated still left me feeling like the only one locked out of the candy store. Where was my Almond Joy?
I didn’t come out as gay until I was 18. I needed a few more years of horrible dates with men and fantastic dates with women to set myself straight, or rather gay. But I did come out with a vengeance, hooting and hollering everywhere from Fire Island to New York City’s gay pride parade.
One night when I was 19, I crawled in next to my gorgeous Dominican girlfriend Carlita (got my Almond Joy at long last) and started to whisper my nighttime mantra. When I got to “and I promise to marry a nice Jewish boy,” I stopped. “What am I doing?” I said a bit too loudly, waking Carlita. “What’s wrong honey?” she asked. “I’m gay and Jewish! That’s what’s wrong!” “Go back to sleep. You know you can’t eat spicy food.” “Exactly!”
It wasn’t enough to date women, I wanted to get as far away from nice Jewish boys as I could get. Carlita and I lasted two years. My Grenadian girlfriend Ally and I lasted three. Then I met a six-foot-two German Amazon named Heidi. Heidi ate steak tartar for breakfast and went to dinner dressed like a dominatrix. She seemed to be as far from a nice Jewish boy as I could get. But one morning while I sipped my coffee watching her devour a bowl of raw beef, I thought, I want white fish salad on a bagel! Who am I hurting here? The day Heidi asked for Russian dressing on her pastrami sandwich was the day, I knew our days were numbered. Pastrami and mustard are the law. I’m pretty sure it’s written in the Bible somewhere.
I met Shoshanna while she was on line at a Jewish deli. “Chopped liver on rye with mustard and sliced red onion, two half sour pickles on the side, please.” I was overcome with nostalgia. All the Almond Joys and steak tartars in the world couldn’t measure up to one perfect chopped liver sandwich. Shoshanna and I stayed together for almost five years wrapped in the comfort of matzo balls and gefilte fish. We parted friends. She still brings the gefilte fish and horseradish on Passover. People come together for a reason. My reason was probably to find out that working so hard to fight against my mother’s mantra was forcing me to miss what we all want … home.
I’ve been with Lydia for ten years now. She’s an Italian Catholic (non-practicing). She loves matzo balls, haggling with fruit vendors and going to our shul, which has a female rabbi, for the high holidays. Nobody since my mother has kvelled for me like Lydia. She’s not a nice Jewish boy, but she is nice. I don’t have a nighttime mantra anymore. I always fall asleep while Lydia watches Steven Colbert. But if I did, it might go like this. “I pledge allegiance to being true to who I am. I promise to live my life that just so happens to be Jewish and to marry whomever I want, so long as she doesn’t put Russian dressing on her pastrami.”
L’Shanah Tovah Everyone! A sweet, healthy, happy, peaceful New Year. Corona, you are not invited to the new year!