Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Judging a book by its cover

Filed under : Judaism
On November 15, 2010
At 11:00 pm
Comments : 6

I am not a big reader… of books. You wouldn’t know this from my apartment where an entire wall is made up of bookshelves with actual books on them, but really, I mostly read the Internet. Blogs, forums, newspapers and magazines on the web, etc. I was a voracious reader of books as a child and teen and it took me a long time to realize that I am still that reader, I just read different things. I do have a Kindle, which I bought at a giant discount from an upgrading friend, but it’s mostly for articles in pdf format which I read for school. Lately, though, I’m reading a riveting book of actual fiction on the ereader. I don’t really want to tell you what it is, though. My friend K. is in publishing and starts a book chat thread on our forum now and then. At first I was excited to finally have a real book to mention! And then I decided not to.

The reason I don’t want to tell people about it has something to do with Elizabeth Smart. Not the book, the book has nothing to do with her. At least I don’t think it does but I’m only 83% done (Kindles are good with that percentage thing) so I can’t really be sure. But I doubt it. I have been reading a lot lately about Elizabeth Smart because the trial of her kidnapper is going on and she testified all last week. Also, because I’m a true-crime junkie and the Petit trial ended the week before. When you read about Elizabeth Smart, her ordeal, and “the defendant” as she called him in court, you probably think one of two things: 1. Mormons have weird practices! That guy thought God told him to kidnap this girl and make her his second wife and that he was some kind of prophet! or 2. Mormons have strong faith! I would never have been able to get through that with my psyche intact and she is so composed and impressive on the stand.

This bothers me, even as I sort of do it myself. This guy was a nutjob having nothing to do with religion. If he’d been born in a Hindu community, he’d be a Hindu nutjob, period. On the flip side, maybe she’s just a really strong person who came from a loving family. Somehow, because we (outside Utah, probably) don’t know a lot of LDS people, these two become some sort of representatives of all the faith offers and is.

Recently, I read about the rapper Shyne becoming an Orthodox Jew of the strictest variety. He says it’s because he previously lived a life without boundaries and so he likes all the strict rules. I’ve always wondered why people convert, other than to marry someone. See, I think the things you grow up with are really hard to shake. I just feel when you are raised to see certain things as essential truths, it becomes very difficult to view it another way. But maybe that’s just me. I bring this up because Elizabeth Smart is currently on her mission in Paris and only took a break to come home and testify. I see LDS missionaries in New York all the time. They look very neat in their long skirts or suits and conservative haircuts. Once, after my shift proctoring at the big Orthodox Jewish University, I sat across from two of them on the subway. They looked very, very tired, but still tidy, and they had name tags on. One of them sat a couple of empty seats away from a Latino woman reading a book in Spanish. She started a conversation with the woman, seemingly about the book. I say seemingly because the entire conversation was in Spanish. The Latino woman did not look put out at all and they seemed to have a really nice, friendly, long conversation, which only ended when the woman got off the train.

And this is what I sometimes think: maybe, at first, it’s about the results and not the tenets of the faith. I mean, I would like to be as self-possessed and dignified as Elizabeth Smart and as wholesome and dedicated as the missionaries. And I think that reflects very well on them. I think this is what every person of a minority faith hopes to do, whether they are LDS or Muslim or Jewish: to keep your attention away from the small percentage of freaks or radicals and make you understand that the heart of the faith lies elsewhere. Somehow, though, it’s always the extremists and the fringe beliefs that grab people’s attention and set their opinions.

I write about a lot of great aspects of Judaism here. There are some not so great things about Judaism, as well. I just don’t choose to highlight them. It’s not because I’m perpetrating some great charade, it’s because, well, the world is already full of lots of bad press for Judaism. This is to correct myself and say that I have actually talked about the book I mentioned up top quite a lot. But to other Jews. They already know about our warts and won’t say, “wow! What nutbars those people are! I can’t believe that they do those things or such things go on.” Instead, they say, “it’s natural to do x, y, and z” or for certain things, “man, are those people doing it wrong.” But if you aren’t familiar with the actual rules, it’s hard to understand that.

Beyond what foibles we actually do have, people have these weird beliefs about Judaism and I know that because they search for outrageous things about it which reach this blog. Sometimes I roll my eyes and sometimes I despair. The only thing to do, really, is to highlight the good in a public space like this one and be the best representative of the positive in your faith and people as you can be. Also, to be pretty and blonde, if you can, but we don’t all succeed at that. Second choice is to make good pastry.

So, in conclusion, this was an excellent book and I’m glad I could tell you all about it.

BTW, I don’t even have a category here for Books! I would never have predicted that when I was a teenager. And not just because they didn’t have blogs then.
Simple Minds – Book of Brilliant Things


6 Comments for this post

  1. monnik says:

    Damn. Now I REALLY want to know what book you are reading.

    But I totally get what you mean. I love this post.

  2. Elena says:

    Making good pastry is way more desirable than being pretty and blonde in my book. And speaking of books, you have me really curious what that book you just read was.
    I grew up in a rural area with really small towns around where nearly everyone was Protestant. And I never once heard anything negative about Jews. There were a few in the big town nearby, the merchants, but
    I never knew anything about them, true or myth. I don’t really think the people I grew up with were more tolerant, maybe just more provincial. Which must not be such a bad thing, if I grew up without negative religious stereotypes.

  3. tami says:

    As long as your readers know that Mormons don’t wear bonnets and pinafores NOR condone or practice polygamy, you have done your job.

    I totally “get” this post in a much deeper respect than I think you even realize. Thanks.

  4. Becca says:

    Thanks, Mon. Maybe if you swear to not think bad things, I’ll tell you. 🙂

    Elena, I don’t know. My sister once went on a bus tour with a Jewish group and in one small town, someone asked them, totally serious, where their horns were. But I know lots of provincial places aren’t like that at all.

    Tami, I thought of you a lot when I wrote this post, and not just because you’re pretty and blonde. PS, I never even connected Mormons with bonnets and pinafores until you did the Pioneer dress!

  5. KP says:

    Now I am dying to know the name of the book!

    I have to say though, I loved reading this post even more so not knowing what book prompted it, because it proves my point about books in general. Any book, even a “bad” one, can provoke and inspire and lead you down a path of thought and process that you would not have taken otherwise.
    In a related story, my soon to be blog will probably be focused on books/poetry. I think I even have a name for it, but I’m not telling yet.

  6. Becca says:

    Good luck! Don’t forget to alert the media, I mean, your friends!

Comments are closed.