I’m the V.P. of the Hillel board at the university where my husband and I teach, but besides that, there isn’t much Jewish for us in this Missouri college town. It isn’t New Jersey. And it sure isn’t my two-plus progressive Zionist years in Israel, including one year in an Arab village.
We used to live on a street here with four interfaith families, but not all of them cared. For now, my Jewish community is my family, the three (almost four) of us, and an older couple who invite us for Shabbat dinner and are my 4-year-old’s local “grandparents.” Langston also loves Hebrew school. He gets a lot of attention because he’s different; he calls himself “light brown.” It’s positive attention now, but that will shift.
Langston sticks out in this town; it definitely feels like a repeat of my childhood in Maine, growing up as “outsider” — if there was going to be Hanukkah, it would be me, I’d have to do it.
My husband’s not being Jewish seems to be working fine; I’m sure more things will come up as Langston gets older. When I was younger I freaked out that David wasn’t Jewish — “What will people think?” — but now the Jewish piece, David’s being African-American, the feminist piece, it all seems more individualistic, it’s about how the pieces come together in different places at different times. David’s race and my feminism intersect interestingly. He can come to me with a critical racial lens on the world because he knows I’m hypercritical of gender stuff.
On Christmas, with David’s mom in New York, Langston checks in on a regular basis: “We’re Jewish and we don’t celebrate Christmas, right? But Grandma is Christian so her house has Christmas.” And I say, “You’re repeating that very well.”
As a demographer who looks at older women’s roles in their households in black communities with a 30% H.I.V. rate [in South Africa], I find that my contribution is definitely feminist. Demography is usually just aggregate numbers, tallying what’s happening in groups. I expose the personal elements, how numbers impact real people. I show how a pension, when a woman turns a certain age, makes a specific difference in older women’s lives; the feminist part has a policy impact.
Langston likes genderbending things; he requested these hand-me-down girls’ tights that are tie-dyed orange and tie-dyed blue. So today he dressed himself for school in orange tights and a red shirt, a tuxedo vest, orange shorts over that, a floor-scraping Kente cloth necktie of David’s, and snazzy “boy” shoes that light up. I dig the look.
“I love that you think you look fabulous,” I tell him.
He knows he’s quirky. Maybe he’s the one who’s making sense of it all, expressing all of our pieces.
As told to Susan Schnur