Excerpt: 'Stars of David : Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish' by Abigail Pogrebin

The fact is, I'm curious about all of this because I'm Jewish, but also because I'm not sure how Jewish I am. Judaism wasn't a huge part of my growing up, though I was surrounded by Jews on New York's Upper West Side. I was raised with occasional shabbos, synagogue twice a year, two seders, and eight nights of Hanukkah. My mother, who was raised in a Conservative home in Queens, given an extensive Hebrew school education, and a bat mitzvah, which was unusual for her era, turned her back on formal Judaism at the age of fifteen. This was because when her mother died, she was excluded from the mourners' minyan (at that time, a quorum of ten men) solely because she was female. After she married my father, she maintained a home-based Judaism that involved intermittent Shabbat dinners and the celebrations of every major Jewish holiday -- including the warmest overpopulated Hanukkah party every year, with latkes dipped in sour cream and a gift for every guest. She also helped found a makeshift congregation in Saltaire, Fire Island -- a church was borrowed for the High Holy Days -- where she was the cantor and people worshipped in bare feet.

My father was a Jew without portfolio: no Hebrew school, no synagogue (until he met my mother), and no belief in God. But he was utterly Jewish in his sensibility, sense of humor, tastes in culture and penchant for Talmudic argument.

My siblings and I were not sent to Hebrew School, or given bat or bar mitzvahs, which my mother regrets to this day, especially now that she's a fairly observant, involved Jew again. Eventually, she found her way to a more egalitarian practice that includes women without over-modernizing or abandoning the basics. She writes about Jewish issues and tries to regularly attend Friday night services. But by the time she had her "rebirth," when she was in her late forties, my Jewishness was already formed in its fragmentation and ignorance.

I took Introduction to Hebrew in college because I wanted to try to catch up. My professor taught us vocabulary by having us memorize the Israeli Top 40, which she recorded off a short wave radio. After graduation, I visited Israel and was very popular there because I knew all the latest hits. Now, eighteen years later, I can't put a Hebrew sentence together.

That trip was actually kind of a bust. It was my parents' graduation gift to me and my twin sister, Robin: They booked us on what they thought would be a spirited bus tour. When we arrived at the departure lounge at Kennedy Airport, everyone in our group was geriatric. Somehow the American Jewish Congress had assigned us to the wrong itinerary. Despite our disappointment, we still got on the plane and managed to enjoy the trip. Robin and I became the communal grandchildren, and there was something more poignant about touring the "homeland" with people who remembered its founding and who had lost family in the Holocaust.

I met my husband, David, on a blind date in 1993 and married him the same year on a mountaintop in St. Lucia; we imported our college friend and newly minted rabbi, Mychal Springer, to officiate, and brought our own kosher wine for the vows. It was the first Jewish wedding the Caribbean hotel had ever hosted, and their staff referred to the chuppah -- the traditional wedding canopy -- as the "hooper."

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