Five-minute memoir: Jon Bauer recalls growing up thinking he was Jewish

 

Your parents are supposed to lie to you and they're supposed to tell you the truth. The best parents get the balance and timing right. They enchant you with Father Christmas, fill your stocking, then drip feed you truth at a rate that won't make you fill your pants.

Mine told me we were Jewish. I kept it secret at school, probably because Jew was a shortcut for stingy. "Lend us a quid, ya Jew." But it was indiscriminate discrimination, given the school kids said it to everyone.

At home it was the opposite. According to my dad, Jews were a hard-done-by master race. If there was a Jewish haka, our family would have done it every morning. Yet we ate pork, never went to 'gog', and I wasn't offered a Bah Mitzvah nor any insight into its principles. All I knew was: Jews are amazing; we're Jewish (except mum, poor thing); all Jews are rich because they're Jewish; and even my penis had to have a discount. This last fact meant I had to guard my shame in the school changing rooms, lest someone notice my streamlined privates. Although my parents told me that my brother and I were necessarily circumcised, for "medical reasons".

My father was the spearhead of our Jewish fan club but he celebrated Christmas (usually by crying inconsolably at The Fiddler on the Roof) and hedged his bets with a Church of England God. As for the Sabbath, forget Friday nights, we weren't allowed to turn lights on or open the fridge on any day of the week.

Then, when I was about 13, I became ashamed of my shame and ignorance. I replaced my shame with pride, but my dad couldn't really answer my questions about the cultural or religious practices. He went through life with his own code of conduct, amassing a small fortune but taking us on frugal family road trips to France or Yorkshire, often pulling over and vanishing into cornfields and orchards. We'd sit in the car until he skulked back with armfuls of other people's livelihoods.

And he haggled everywhere. Even in restaurants. At family dinners we'd all squirm once he was handed the bill, which he would stare at as if it contained not the cost of the meal but the exact date and nature of his death.

After leaving home I still felt a quiet guilt about my Judaic ignorance but spent my energy worrying if I was Jewish in the first place. (I was only mildly reassured when a friend pointed out that worrying whether I was Jewish proved I was Jewish.) When I mentioned this to my dad he fired back, "You'd be Jewish enough for Hitler!".

Adulthood, if you've got too much time, is a periscope to your childhood. And the more I looked, the more something didn't seem right.

My mum's gone now, leaving dad in charge of propaganda, so over dinner with him, his new wife, and my close friend, I was able to tackle the burning question of my circumcision. I remember he put his wine down a little clumsily. "Well not quite medical reasons."

"So it was because we're Jewish. But how was mum about it, considering she wasn't?"

"It was actually my mother who was against it," he said.

"Granny? Surely a good Jewish woman would..."

"She was neither!"

I choked down a half-chewed mouthful. "Granny wasn't Jewish? But if your mum wasn't Jewish, that means..."

My dad's wife started clearing away our almost-full plates, my friend frantically searching for a dog under the table. There's never a dog when you need one.

"Why did you exaggerate our Jewishness, dad?"

"I like to be different."

I'd been ashamed of being Jewish, then ashamed of my ignorance, and penultimately, unsure I was Jewish at all. But I'd always been sure I wanted to be. How could I not, given the value my dad had placed on it?

Now I felt like an idiot for all that angst, and totally stunned by the Jewectomy he'd just performed on me. It all simply vanished. He had come along like a clumsy ticket inspector and punched a hole in my identity.

I've wondered whether it was his threadbare memory which spilt the truth that day. But actually I think he'd exerted himself so hard, he came to believe it. My father had behaved like an ardent Tottenham Hotspur fan who's never been to a game, doesn't know the rules or any of the songs, but nevertheless will boast about his team to anyone who'll listen.

Your parents are supposed to lie to you and they're supposed to tell you the truth. My dad may have lied about our heritage, but he taught me an important truth about identity, and taking responsibility for my own ignorance.

Jon Bauer's new novel 'Rocks in the Belly' (Serpent's Tail) is shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, announced on Wednesday

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering