to be a jew

There’s an old Simcosky family legend of which I’m rather fond. It goes there once a shoe cobbler from Poznan named Zimkoske who married a Jewish doctor from Germany. They traveled to America aboard a ship, paying the fare with the young wife’s medical knowledge. It wasn’t until they got to Illinois, that the name was adulterated for the ease of the local teachers.

So the story goes.

It’s this story that led me to the fields of Poland, is enticing me to the kibbutzim of Israel, inspired the Neapolitan sect of the Simcosky clan to celebrate a traditional Shabbat dinner.

Before I left the great snowy North, I sat down with Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe of Harvard’s Chabad House who very quickly made the observation that my story does not entitle me to any claim of Jewish ancestry as it’s from the paternal not maternal side. He also recommended I read Hayim H. Donin’s seminal, To be a Jew.

Following Hayim’s step-by-step instructions I spent the day baking two loaves of challah – to symbolize the two Sabbath commands: observe and remember.  I mother lit two candles 20 minutes before sunset.  We ate brisket and sang Lekha Dodi and Shalom Aleichem.

While there was some sense that we were adopting the language and traditions of an other, the story was familiar. And we couldn’t argue with the value of a relaxed, festive dinner that anticipated the day to come while paying homage to the past.

I think we’re going to do it again this week.

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