A Tough Question From The Menorah Mobile

Around last Christmas I got asked a tough question from a man in the backseat of a Menorah Mobile. If you aren't aware of a Menorah Mobile it might be because you don't live in Los Angeles in a very Jewish neighborhood. And, I'm not sure what I mean by very Jewish. Apparently, to me, a very Jewish neighborhood has handful of nicely dressed people walking to Temple on Saturday mornings, but that's beside the point. Anyway, the Menorah Mobile is simply a car with giant glowing Menorah on the top.

The car pulled up to the intersection and the guy popped his head out his window and asked with a genuine smile, "Hey! Are you Jewish?" It's a simple enough question. I'm not. I'm an agnostic raised in a Christian family. But, in the moment it was a lot more complicated than that. First off, a person in a car never has asked me a question other than directions. And, I'm much more accustomed to people yelling things at me from cars. I grew up in the suburbs, I'm much more versed in dealing with somebody driving by and yelling homophobic epithets. The only times I've been called a "queer" or a "faggot" have been from a car, except for first time in middle school when I was already a broken down has-been waiting in line to exit the gym after an assembly and two other boys -- who were perhaps the most cliche stereotypical gay characters in our class -- yelled down at me, "Hey, Jordan!" And, seeing my make eye contact, confused but hopeful, happy that anyone had even noticed I was alive, they yelled, "you're a faggot," and then let out a chorus of cackling laughter as I looked down at the floor.

One time I was walking home from modest wedding that was a friends house and as a fat person I had to tried in vain to explain why I didn't need to take home any cake. "Thank you so much, but I'm really fine not taking any cake," was responded to with a plead, "take this cake. I can't be left alone with it, YOU MONSTER." So, despite the fact that I was going to have to walk home, I took what is still the largest and most perfect looking slice of cake I've ever had. If you were to draw a piece of cake as a symbol, that was the slice of cake I had. It was so perfectly proportioned that I was walking in the beautiful summer glow of Grayslake street lights with my wife talking about how perfect the slice was as a car drove by and a guy yelled out the window, "NICE CAKE, FAT ASS!" and then drove over the train tracks on Lake St. and disappeared into the night like the perfect mythical hateful piece of shit. My wife asked, "what did he just yell?" I said, "he said, nice cake, fat ass." And, we laughed at how clearly observable the perfection of this slice of cake was. The man had seen the cake from two hundred yards away, lowered his window, and let out a four syllable insult. That's double or quadruple the amount of syllables as normal.

The guy in the Menorah Mobile asked the question and I wondered at that moment if this guy thought I looked Jewish and so I looked behind me at the sidewalk I just walked down after finishing my shift at the mall as though that might give me some insight as to whether or not I was Jewish or maybe if there was somebody more obviously Jewish behind me. I'm not sure why I'm pointing that out but I might be subconsciously racist so I'm not going to rule out the possibility that I was looking for a Hasidic beard or maybe a giant walking Dreidel. But, then I thought maybe they knew from looking at me that my mother's maiden name was Kissinger. And, Henry Kissinger was clearly a cousin.

I thought about my Great Uncle Karl who was short, bald, and spent his life looking in the mirror thinking, "is it just me or do I look Jewish?" to the point where he went off to Pennsylvania to look at the grave stones for the star of David. I mean that probably wasn't the entire point of going through all that research but it was a point of emphasis I asked about and he had been looking specifically for that symbol. He came up empty but found out we may have been recruited by William Penn himself to come to the US sometime around 1637.  

Talking to him at family reunions made consider the idea that I might be Jewish and then I saw the movie "Funny People". In it there is a major character whose last name is "Weiner" and he's Jewish in the movie and they went off on this long tangent about people mispronouncing the name and it was spot on to "Weimer" as well. And, one time when I was ten or so, I had a prescription filled, and when I looked closely at the name it read, "Jordan Weiner." And since I've identified myself as a funny person for most of my life, I watched that movie with the commentary, learned a lot about Jewishness, and compared my experiences and values. Neurosis, family, and excellence. Having listened to Marc Maron's WTF podcast, I have a depth of knowledge about Jewishness that is both very honest and undoubtedly skewed but nonetheless is running through my mind. And as I listened to the commentary for "Funny People", I realized that maybe my parents don't have the same expectations of me as the typical Jewish parents seem to have for their kids. And, I couldn't help but feel some type of envy for never winning approval from my parents because the implication is always that you can do better, as though having supporting parents that would be happy no matter what I do is a handicap. I have this feeling like I'd be closer to being a Nobel Prize winner in comedy, if that was a thing and if my parents had had enough belief that I can do better to be disappointed by my choice to follow my passion in life. 

I also have the fact that I'm German to think about. Both the Kissingers and Weimers are of German descent and for a long time I wondered why other than a basic understanding that I was German, I was given no other cultural artifacts or values that we distinctly German. But, I realized at probably fourteen that being German after the mid-twentieth century must have made German traditions and pride look their self in the mirror and fall away to the side. The atrocities that happened in Germany were so unbelievable that I speculated that my family members just weren't proud any longer. The fact that both families had been in the US for at least two hundred years by the 1930s was still unknown to me but I did take some peace knowing that my Grandfathers were not from Germany and were not guilty of having committed the most heinous crime in the history of mankind. One Grandfather spent the war unloading docks in Whales as a crane operator, and the other was pumping gas at a station he owned with his brother in Indiana. As a kid that gave me peace of mind.

But, now, I wonder if they had been in Germany if the the Nazi's would have snatched us up, and put us to death despite the fact that for at least three hundred years, at this point, we've been verifiably Lutheran. Would those facts have mattered? Uncle Karl said that when he visited a death camp that he found another person's name on the list that was the same as his and that this other Karl Kissinger was born the same year as him but died in 1944. And, I'm left to wonder if I could have been in a gas chamber in 1944. And, worse, I'm still left to wonder if I hadn't been snatched up by the Nazi's and persecuted for being Jewish, if I'd have been the one to throw the switch. 

At fourteen I made a movie and in the end credits I had my production company which was called, "J.E.W. Productions," because those are my initials -- I am Jordan E. Weimer -- and, at fourteen and having little context to frame the extent of anti-Semitic atrocities, I thought this fact was funny in the context of a film production company. I made the mistake of telling a couple people at school about it and they laughed their asses off. And so, from that time on, randomly, I would hear, "Hey, JEW!" yelled at me in the hallway. I felt uncomfortable with that immediately. Even though I didn't quite understand the full context of anti-Semitism, I've always been sensitive to the implications of what symbol people saw in my initials. Public arcades were a source of a major childhood dilemma. Do I put my initials in and risk looking anti-Semitic? Or, do I just put in some arbitrary initials? The good thing was that I only had to speculate about this possible scenario because I never had money or a top score but instead just stood in the entrance to Walmart staring at people playing Mortal Combat rip out the spine of their competitor or do the Friendship fatality. As an adult I've come to accept my initials and I still wonder if nothing else they make me jew-ish.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind in two or three seconds after I looked behind me and I said with regret, "uh... no. I'm not." He looked at me like why the hell did that take so long to respond and then said, "Either way, Shalom," and the car turned right and headed up Santa Monica Blvd. as I suddenly had the thought to reciprocate this act of goodwill and kindness and say, "Shalom," back. But, the car was gone and I was pretty sure I might have just convinced this guy that I was Jewish.