Salt On a Robin’s Tail
One Friday afternoon in 1971, I waited for my mother to come home and drive me to a classmate’s bar mitzvah. My mom arrived, clutching a box of canned foods, which she began to unpack. Horrified, I noticed that the cans looked just like the ones my friends—friends I’d see at the bar mitzvah—had donated to our school’s Thanksgiving food drive.
That’s when I anointed myself “the welfare Jew.”
I was the daughter of a single mother whose depression and drinking pitched us into poverty. My stormy life looked nothing like the lives of the Jewish kids whom I’d grown up with, and defied every stereotype that I associated with being Jewish: having an intact family, material wealth, and becoming a bat mitzvah. I felt alienated, ashamed, and ineligible to be Jewish. To counter these feelings, I told myself that I wasn’t Jewish, that I was nothing.
What ensued was lifelong confusion and conflict about being Jewish. I didn’t understand why, given my shame, I felt drawn to other Jews, or instant kinship with anyone who was Jewish; why, given my alienation, I envied friends who celebrated their Jewish tradition; why memories of my mother lighting Yahrtzeit candles on Yom Kippur evoked in me reverence and pride; and, why crises and blessings give me an overwhelming need to connect with God in a Jewish context.
My need to answer these questions began the six-year journey that became this book. Writing it helped me understand—and forgive—the people and circumstances that informed my perception of what it means to be Jewish. Although my shame lingers, sharing my story has allowed me to join a Jewish community that welcomes me to explore the tradition that is my birthright, where struggle has its place.
Salt on a Robin’s Tail: An Unlikely Jewish Journey Through Childhood, Forgiveness and Hope, is a true story of love and loss, struggle and survival, despair and hope. It shatters stereotypes, and inspires reconciliation with painful pasts.