The DNA test just came back. Big news: I’m Jewish.
Makes no difference that I was baptized at St. John’s Lutheran on Prospect Avenue in Brooklyn, stoutly rendered “Onward, Christian Soldiers” on Sunday School parades to Prospect Park, endured confirmation class with other drowsy churchgoing children, served consecutive terms as president of the Luther League youth group or swooned over a slightly older Lutheran girl named Joanie, who, despite my dreams and devotion, asked Billy Olsen to the prom.
According to Ancestry.com, my Lutheranism now has to be squared with what science has determined: “52 percent European Jewish.”
For guidance, I immediately called my friend Sidney.
“Jewish?” Sidney said. “Wow.”
Sidney collected himself quickly. Services at his temple began at 10 a.m. If I planned to attend, I should be prompt.
At that point, Sidney, a big reader, said he was returning to the study of the famous 17th century Jewish scholar Baruch Spinoza and would offer further guidance as necessary.
“Be not astonished at new ideas,” Spinoza once said, advice still worth taking.
“Mazel tov,” said Sidney, signing off.
When we met a week later, Sidney had a gift bag: yarmulke, “Happy Hanukkah” cup and a dreidel.
The velvet skullcap and coffee mug now take their place next to the Martin Luther bobblehead doll I found on the internet a few years ago. As for the dreidel, I have demonstrated an unusual knack for extended spins. Could it be a sign?
I am not exactly surprised that I am Jewish. Is it coincidental that I loved Jewish writers all the way back to J.D. Salinger and “The Catcher in the Rye”? Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, on and on.
Of course, you don’t have to be 52 percent European Jewish to admire such brilliant people, but, to me it seemed they were speaking directly into my ear.
Furthermore, does it mean nothing that my father, who yearned for the vaudeville stage but ended up driving a truck, often mimicked Henny Youngman, Jack Benny, Myron Cohen and other Jewish stand-up greats during impromptu routines in our little Bay Ridge living room?
“Take my wife — please,” Youngman would say, and so did my father. Dad’s wife, my mother, laughed out loud every time.
Also, ever since boyhood, some of my best friends have been Jewish. Sure, it’s a cliché, but it’s true.
Once, around Rosh Hashanah, my old pal Dave sent us — my wife, Wink, and four kids — a Western Union Mailgram.
“Your names are in the Book of Life,” he said, referring to God’s passenger list of souls bound, one day, for heaven. For laughs, Dave added: “I looked.”
Sad to report Dave died a couple months ago, too soon for my bulletin from Ancestry.com. “Knew it all along,” I can hear him saying.
The history of my Jewish background? No clue.
Grandparents on my mother’s side were German, Irish — and Protestant. My father’s parents — Lutheran, what else? — emigrated from Germany in the late 19th century. If Ancestry.com is correct, someone in the family must have converted. Who knows when?
People say I should find out, dig deep into genealogy, scout down the relatives, but I’m not inclined. The DNA test was Wink’s idea. I didn’t really get the point but spit into the little test tube, anyway.
So it turns out you’re Latvian when all along you thought the ancestors came from Paraguay. What do you want to do about it? I’m more than half European Jewish (and an unspecified mix of British, Irish and Scandinavian), but I’m still just — me.
This surely is a function of advanced age, but lately I have become weirdly aware of that “me-ness” — the person I drag around in this rumpled sack.
It’s sort of an out-of-body thing. I’ll be walking along thinking, “Isn’t it amazing that there is a you — and that this is who you turn out to be?”
At this point, there aren’t many surprises.
That’s what made the word from Ancestry.com such a pleasure.
I’m probably not showing up at Sidney’s temple, but I found out something I didn’t know about myself — the person I thought I knew best.
While we’re at it, there was another bit of unexpected news.
Through the Lutheran grapevine, I heard that Joanie, having pondered the matter for more than a half-century, no longer is sure whom she should have asked to the prom.
All is forgiven. Mazel tov.