Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Jewish Experience

I am the daughter of a Jewish man. A Jewish man who just barely escaped with his life when Adolph Hitler came into power. My grandmother, seeing the writing on the wall, pressured her husband into leaving Germany, preferring to start life anew in America with their two sons rather than hope things wouldn't get worse in the home of their birth. They left in 1937, the last of the Jews who were able to get out of Germany before they either weren't allowed to leave or no country would accept them. Not all of the Sonnemann family escaped Germany; some suffered in concentration camps and one died in the gas chamber.

As a child, I suffered nightmares from hearing the stories of my family's history. Sometimes when I lay in my bed at night, the door shut to my room, I would hold my breath just in case the air contained gas and not oxygen. My father's cousin showed me the numbers on her arm and sometimes in math class in elementary school when I was multiplying and the sum reach six numbers, I would shudder as if I was tattooing the number on the arm of some soon to be exterminated Jew. Even though I was not there in Nazi Germany when Hitler turned life for Jews into a living hell, no Jew or child of a Jew would ever be free of that legacy even in the United States.

As a daughter of a Jewish man with a Jewish name, children made fun of me in school, calling me Jew girl and Jesus killer. I began to fear going to elementary school in my wealthy New Jersey neighborhood and I was relieved to moved to Virginia at age nine, thinking the racial and religious slurs would end. I was wrong. I moved into an even wealthier town in McLean, Virginia and the tormenting became worse because so few Jews lived in the area where I lived. I struggled through all my school years, an outcast, until I finally graduated a year early and escaped the daily abuse. My Jewish experience growing up was painful and I carried this pain into adulthood.


Not really. Absolutely, not really. Oh, the first paragraph of this blog is absolutely true but everything from then on is a total pack of lies. I haven't a clue to any Jewish experience. In fact, I didn't even know my father was Jewish until I was twelve and we got a Jewish New Year card in the mail. I asked my father about it and he said, "Oh, my side of the family is Jewish." I asked why then did my grandmother always have a big Christmas Eve celebration each year, complete with a candlelit Christmas tree and a yearly rendition of "Silent Night"? He told me my grandfather wanted to be Catholic and return to Germany after the war ended. My grandmother wasn't so keen about the returning to Germany part and when my Grandfather died aboard ship while taking her back to visit Germany (he told her if she didn't like the country and didn't want to move back, they would get divorced and she could continue living in America), she buried him at sea, never got off when the ship docked in Germany, and came back to the US where she remained until her death. I guess she didn't have too much of a problem with the Catholic part.

My father married my mother whose parents sometimes attended a Congregational church in New England. My parents never entered a synagogue and made it to church only a couple of times in my youth. They were lifelong agnostics and religion of any sort was never mentioned in the house. Outside of the few stories about my relatives, I knew nothing of Jews or Judaism. And, in spite of my German name (which could be Jewish or Christian), I don't remember one comment aimed at me during my school days. I was sort of shunned in high school but that was because I wasn't very popular and I got out a year early simply because I wasn't having a good time.

So, I have no Jewish experience at all, in spite of my family history. I now find my family history fascinating and have been learning more and more about it recently, but I am not becoming more Jewish because of it. I would have to actually convert and start living a Jewish life to have any clue to what it is like to be Jewish. I DO have relatives who are very Jewish and know full well what the Jewish experience is in the United States, but, me, I don't even have the tiniest bit of Jewish experience to brag about.

But, if I were a liar and a fraud like Rachel Dolezal, just think, I could have a really great job with the Anti-Defamation League. Maybe I should paint a swastika on my front door and give the police a call.


Annie Haley said...

What a brilliant example of satire to profile this psychopath! She is definitely a liar to the core of her being. If she was to be a representative of a well-known organization such as the NAAPC, she should have done it with honesty and integrity, as I am sure this highly respected organization would want all its chapter Presidents to be. She did not represent herself truthfully and in the process of her deceit and lies, committed fraud against this organization.

AnneGuedes said...

That can't cheat anyone knowing you even a little bit, Pat. Sonnemann, Sunman is a beautiful name.

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The_Editrix said...

Actually, a lot of German Jews used to have Christmas trees and celebrated Christmas (or Easter) as a family holiday without any religious meaning and without ever considering to convert to the Christian faith. The wonderful Schalom Ben-Chorin, (né Fritz Rosenthal, born 1919 in Munich, a renowned scholar of religious studies) describes in his book "Jugend an der Isar" (something like "Boyhood on the Banks of the Isar") how a little Jewish girl told her mother: "Look! The Christians have a Christmas tree as well!" (It works better in German because a Christmas tree is called "Weihnachtsbaum".)

It was Ben-Chorin, I think, who said that the Jews, once the Messiah has arived, will maybe look at the face of Jesus of Nazareth. I find that rather touching.