It's Easter Sunday. And as most of you are devouring a spiral-cut ham while extended family clad in bow ties and cardigans discuss college basketball brackets, I sit alone at a Panera table — the same pastel-yellow of the plastic eggs hiding in your bushes. And I can guarantee I'm not the only Jew whiling away another Sunday afternoon in New York City — another Sunday afternoon that is just the same as any other.
Growing up in the embrace of my family, most of whom are full-bloodedly Jewish, there were Passover Seders and Chanukah presents and Chinese food on Christmas. I spent many a childhood evening at Hebrew School, learning about the 10 Plagues and Kristallnacht, literally surrounded by miniature Jews, reciting the Alef Bet and sniffing Pixie Sticks (that wasn't part of the intended education, but it was a quick lesson).
A rather formidable six years in southern Florida helped — my elementary and middle schools weren't exactly overflowing with curly-haired, big-nosed kids, but the senior citizen population more than made up for the waspy local neighborhoods. High school in Maryland offered only slight modification. But when I plunked myself into middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania to get a college education, I finally understood just how diverse my world had always been.
Western PA isn't what most would call a hotbed of cultural understanding. At age 19, I was the first Jewish person any of my newfound college friends had ever met. Literally. The first one. They'd surely heard of our existence, of the hardships we've suffered and the revelries we've enjoyed. But like discovering a new species of tree frog, they were curious and prodding.
Of course, as I've long joked (stolen from the hilarious routine of a stand-up comedienne I saw during my first trip to the Big Apple almost a decade ago), I'm really only Jew...ish. So, inquisitions about my people's belief system and traditions were largely directed toward Wikipedia.
For most of my adolescent life, road trips to visit family on Long Island were the closest I got to being regularly immersed in Jewish culture: The deli meat piled high between two slices of rye bread, washed down with a handful of thick, chalky after-dinner mints waiting at the diner register. The synagogues littering the suburban streets like Starbucks and Duane Reade.
As I've grown older, I've become farther removed from the religious life in which I was ensconced for the majority of my first 13 years. At the same time, I have found a new interest in understanding the history and cultural impact of Judaism. I may be hesitant to put my name on the list at the temple only three blocks from my apartment (and mouth-wateringly close to the 24-hour IHOP), mostly because I can't spare the funds to participate in weekly services or monthly singles' events (that sound you hear is the collective sighing of every Jewish mother). But the synagogue's proximity and availability alone are more than any of my former Maryland hometowns could boast for their handful of local Jews.
* * *
INTERIOR: UNION SQUARE PANERA — MID-AFTERNOON A twenty-something woman glares at her male cohort sitting in a booth between two occupied tables. WOMAN Nice choice of the brown polo today. The twenty-something Schlub slouches in his seat. He looks down at his shirt, readjusting it slightly. SCHLUB It felt like a brown sorta day. WOMAN ...It's Easter. Brown is like the opposite of Easter. The Schlub shrugs and stares blankly back at the woman. SCHLUB I'm Jewish. I don't care.
* * *
Spend a few hours in any Frederick eatery, and those words will nary be spoken. Meanwhile, at any given moment in New York City, Jewish jokes are thrown around like a Frisbee in Central Park in late June.
I may have unwittingly worn pink on Easter, but I'm much more comfortable facing this city every day in a brown polo.
Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.