Originally published at Kveller.
This year I’m working toward a particular type of forgiveness for the High Holidays. I am too hard on myself for not being born a Jew.
As a convert, it’s inevitable that now and then you will get caught red-handed. Something comes up and it’s uncomfortably clear to all parties involved. There are certain facts, for me usually regarding anti-Semitism, that those born Jewish seem to know by osmosis—Hugo Boss manufactured Nazi uniforms, Deutsche Bank lent Hitler the money to construct Auschwitz, etc.
And then there’s some kind of codified list of anti-Semites that every born Jew knows. No matter how much I brush up, I still seem to miss fairly prominent anti-Semites. This not knowing mortifies me.
The most ego-scalding incident happened a few years after I’d converted. My husband and I took a trip to Maui, out to the wild coast of Hana. After relaxing for a day or two, I was curious about activities besides spa-ing and swimming. Lo and behold, Charles Lindbergh was buried in a churchyard a few miles down the road. Going to pay our respects to Mr. Lindbergh for his aviation derring-do seemed like a fun idea. I proposed it to my husband who was like, “Eh.”
Not to out my husband, but he’s a bit of a crank. It’s not unusual for him to nix something for some reason that I may or may not understand. If he doesn’t spell it out when he’s expressing his disinterest, I usually just plow right over him, using my enthusiasm to get him moving toward doing the thing I want. I can only assume this is how we ended up at Lindbergh’s grave.
Lindbergh’s grave rests on one the loveliest places on earth. Palapala Ho’omau Church has been nestled amidst the lush, Hawaiian jungle and bordered by steep cliffs over the Pacific since the 1850s. Lindbergh’s grave marker rests flat to the ground towards the edge of the cemetery. I stood by it saying a silent prayer when I noticed my husband was coming nowhere near. I called to him, asking if he wanted to come see the grave.
Him: “Um, no.”
Me: “Why not?”
Him: “You know Lindbergh was an anti-Semite, right?”
Me, bristling: “No. No. I didn’t know that.”
Embarrassment and shame at having prayerfully fawned over his grave covered me like a wet blanket. Then I got angry and defensive. “What? How can that be? He’s so famous! If Lindbergh was an anti-Semite I’d know.”
My husband replied, “Look it up. I don’t give a shit about Charles Lindbergh.”
You know, the list does exist. Just Google “famous anti-Semites.” Old Lindy is right there, along with Coco Chanel, Winston Churchill, and Walt Disney. I actually check the list every so often to reduce my chances of getting caught again. And, it’s been a while since I’ve had a bout of that shameful feeling.
But, a couple of weeks ago? Oof. A doozy. My husband and I were in the car and drove by an electric red corvette, followed by a vintage Volkswagen Beetle convertible in powder-puff blue. I off-handedly said that I’d rather drive around in the cute VW than the corvette.
My husband sputtered, “You can’t drive a Beetle!”
Me: “What? Why not?”
Him: “That was Hitler’s car.”
Me: “WHAT?! Wait. You owned a Volkswagen.”
Him: “Yeah, but not a Beetle. The Bug was Hitler’s idea, you know. He wanted Volkswagen to make a ‘people’s car’ so that’s what they came up with. There are pictures of him sitting in one.”
Me: “What in the ever-loving #*$&*@!?”
Yet again, something so basic and I was in the dark. I, again, felt humiliated by the convert’s curse. How in the world would I have avoided not knowing that fact? Read more Holocaust and WWII material? Intense Jewish training? Shadow my rabbi?
I’m clearly being ridiculous. I’m holding myself to an impossible standard. I will never have the education of a born Jew. This lack of knowledge doesn’t make me a bad Jew. I need to forgive myself. After all, these “gotcha moments” are chances to learn. How often are we, as adults, shocked by something we don’t know? Not that often. So, I’ll vow to forgive myself and wait for the next time that I’m caught unawares. Given the way things go, it will probably happen before we seal the book on Yom Kippur.