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

"A lot of the literature that my mother read, including The New Yorker, had a lot of Jewish writers. I was always very aware of that. I think my mother always said that when she met my father, he reminded her of Philip Roth. They were both Jewish writers from blue-collar families. So from an early age, I had some idea about Jews being cultured intellectuals, Jews being on the correct side politically. I learned later on that Jews can be very right wing and very different from what I understood a Jew to be, and that being Jewish wasn't just about food and culture and art."

Adding to the religious amalgam is Matthew's sister, who is an Episcopal priest, and Parker's older sister, who is an observant Jew. "My sister is Modern Orthodox. She didn't shave her head–you don't have to. She's one of my best friends. And I've learned more from her about the actual practice and ritual of being a Jew than I've ever known before." Parker says her other teacher has been her husband. "Matthew not only identifies as a Jew. I mean, he really is. He knows more about the Bible and the Jewish story. He really sees things through the eyes of a Jew and it's fascinating to me. His perspective in life has very much to do with Hitler and the persecution of Jews. He identifies as a Jew, but it's much more political for him. He's not curious about any other religions. It's not like he's thinking, 'Let's explore Unitarianism, let's explore Buddhism, and let's also explore Judaism as a choice for our child.' He would only think about being a practicing Jew. We're always looking for a seder. This year we drove four and a half hours to go to a Rosh Hashanah dinner. Matthew likes a lot of the rituals -- when he sees them, it's very moving to him. But I don't know that he wants to be an active, religious Jew because I think he finds fault, as we all do, with a lot of religion. For instance, the separation of men and women in services, and some archaic ways of living your life.

"And frankly, for us -- traveling gypsies that we are -- nothing that requires that kind of commitment is appealing. Or sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. But you can't dabble in it. It's not like being into sushi or something. It's a real thing; you can't belittle it. It's too meaningful to people."

She says the crisis in Israel makes them both feel more Jewish. "It makes you identify. I feel much more strongly about the situation there and I feel foolish about it too because I don't know the history. But I do know that I feel defensive when people say, 'How can Israel go in with tanks?' What are they supposed to do? Children are being killed by people willing to strap bombs to their bodies and walk into the public market. So Israel's response to this is to protect its people. I am not an Ariel Sharon fan, but what are the Israelis supposed to do? Just be decent? When you think of Rabin and all these remarkable people who have died, it makes you really much more of a Jew. " She says she has trouble hearing people question Israel's conduct. "To me it's like trying to have a logical argument with a pro-lifer. I can't have the conversation because there's no logic that applies. If you don't understand why Israel has to defend itself.… The extremists want the Jews gone. So why should the Jews feel safe?"

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