Thursday, January 23, 2003

My uncle Steven Montag is a Messianic Jew—kind of like Jews for Jesus except no handing out pamphlets in airports. He used to be a Christian minister and has just created something called "Living Rivers Ministries" whose slogan is, "Bringing the life and healing of Messiah Yeshua to a hurting world!" The exclamation point is original; what you don't see is the strange pseudo-Hebraic font the name of the ministry appears in—it looks at first glance like Hebrew but is actually English read left-to-right as usual. He is a deeply religious man who is passionate about Christianity while also apparently reaching for his Jewish roots. Both of his parents were Auschwitz survivors and his father, my grandfather Ernest, was an atheist till the day he died (he loved pork chops and so do I). I suppose Judaism has tended generally to disperse into a vague "Jewishness" as the generations grow more distant from the old country—bar mitzvahs and weddings being nearly the only times I've been inside a temple (I myself was never bar mitzvahed), leaving the children of immigrants with little more than a taste for chopped liver and an anxiety for the fate of Israel that, until the latest intifada, I for one was barely conscious of. My grandfather said that he was never particularly religious, but he became a die-hard atheist after the war; I wonder it was like for him to live with his Christian son. My mother rejected what she saw as Judaism's entrenched patriarchy and became a Unitarian Universalist—so I was raised a Unitarian Jew. How much of this religious fallout is due to assimilation and how much a reaction to the Holocaust is difficult for me to determine. As I grow older I become more interested in Judaism, but I lack the sense memories to really bind me to that experience—no Hebrew school, no keeping kosher, no cantor's voice rising and falling. Without that special knowledge, acquired without conscious cognition—a bodily savoir, I don't understand how I might arrive at faith (though one of the most attractive things about Judaism as I understand it is the way doubt and debate are intrinsic to being a Jew). My sense of myself as a Jew is attracted to the history of secular Jews, who were engaged with the larger world and/or the world of art: Marx, Freud, Benjamin, Adorno, Celan, Chagall, Arendt, Jabes....

But as Arlo Guthrie says near the end of "Alice's Restaurant," "That's not what I came here to talk to you about." My uncle the Messianic Jew likes to send jokes, sometimes blue ones, usually bad ones, to his friends and relatives via e-mail. I mostly delete them, but I've just got to share today's batch with my loyal readers:

Notes to the Milkman

"Dear Milkman, I've just had a baby, please leave another one."

"Please leave an extra pint of paralysed milk."

"Please don't leave any more milk. All they do is drink it"

"Milkman please close the gate behind you because the birds
keep pecking the tops off the milk."

"Sorry not to have paid your bill before, but my wife had a
baby and I've been carrying it around in my pocket for weeks."

"Sorry about yesterdays note. I didn't mean one egg and a
dozen pints, but the other way round."

"When you leave my milk knock on my bedroom window and wake
me because I want you 'to give me a hand to turn the mattress."

"Please knock. My TV's broken down and I missed last nights
'Sopranos' . If you saw it, will you tell me what happened."

My daughter says she wants a milkshake. Do you do it
before you deliver or do I have to shake the bottle."

"Please send me a form for cheap milk, for I have a baby
two months old and did not know about it until a neighbour told me."

"Milk is needed for the baby. Father is unable to supply it."

"From now on please leave two pints every other day and one
pint on the days in between, except Wednesdays and Saturdays
when I don't want any milk."

My back door is open. Please put milk in 'fridge, get
money out of cup in drawer and leave change on kitchen
table , because we want to play bingo tonight."

"Please leave no milk today. When I say today, I mean
tomorrow, for I wrote this note yesterday...or is it today?"

"When you come with the milk please put the coal on the boiler,
let dog out and put newspaper inside the screen door.
PS. Don't leave any milk."

"No milk. Please do not leave milk at No. 14 either as he
is dead until further notice."

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