I was sitting with Charlie in the cafeteria of his school last week, eating lunch with him and his friends.
At one point I was telling his friends about Exploding Kittens, a game that Elysha gave me for Father’s Day. I said to his friends, “Charlie and I played Exploding Kittens all day on Sunday. It was great.”
One of his friends squinted his eyes, cocked his head, and asked, “Exploding Kittens? Is that a Jewish thing?”
As far as we know, Clara and Charlie are the only Jewish kids in their school, which means that their classmates probably know very little about the Jewish religion except for what they learn from our kids.
As a result, you can get questions like, “Is Exploding Kittens a Jewish thing?”
I understand this well.
I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, and as far as I know, there weren’t any Jewish kids in my school, either. After high school, I managed McDonald’s restaurants, and as far as I know, I never employed anyone who was Jewish.
Later, I was homeless and then taken off the streets by a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Still no Jews.
There were certainly Jewish students in my classes when I finally made it to college, but by then, I was working a full time job and a part time job while earning degrees at two different colleges - Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University - simultaneously. I was also writing for the school newspaper, working in student government, and launching my DJ company.
I didn’t have time to notice anyone.
It wasn’t until I started teaching in West Hartford that I started to meet anyone who is Jewish. But even though I work in West Hartford, which has a large Jewish population, I work on the south end of town. I often don’t have any Jewish kids in my class.
Oddly enough, Elysha was my first Jewish friend.
Today, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only person in a room who isn’t Jewish, for for the first 30 years of my life, I really didn’t know anyone who was Jewish.
So when that boy asked if Exploding Kittens was Jewish, I understood why. He knows Charlie is Jewish, and since he probably doesn’t know anything about being Jewish, he simply assumed that something entirely foreign to him like Exploding Kittens might be Jewish.
You, for example, probably know very little about Sikhism, which has twice as many followers as Judaism religion worldwide. And you probably know nothing about the Bahá'í faith (unless you read Rainn Wilson’s memoir), which has about half as many followers as the Jewish faith.
Judaism is as foreign to Charlie’s friend as Sikhism and Bahá'í probably are to you, even though millions of people around the world identify with these religions. And since that boy is seven years old, he doesn’t yet possess the context clues and cultural understanding to know that Exploding Kittens is probably not related to religion.
It made for a very funny moment, and it reminded me about all of the times when I was equally confused about Judaism (and sometimes still am).