Theory of Relativity (or Red Fish, Pink Fish)

Albert Einstein

Image by afagen via Flickr

Albert Einstein may have authored the Theory of Relativity, but this German Jew has lived it. I have concluded that everything is relative. While I have changed and grown over the years, much about me has remained constant. I tend to be fairly steadfast in my beliefs. When my views change, the process is gradual.

I would argue that what has changed more is how people perceive me. And so, I dislike labels, because they obscure meaning. What does it mean to tell you that I’m politically conservative? Compared to whom? Or that I’m religious? What’s your standard?

You may laugh, but my teenage rebellion was to become more religious. I became kosher. I joined an Orthodox youth group. I wanted to wear floor-length skirts to my diverse public high school. Oy, I drove my parents crazy! Worst – my mother is a great cook, and I boycotted her homemade pesto sauce because she wasn’t making it with kosher cheese. Thankfully, my father was able to negotiate the Great Pesto Compromise of 1993, whereby my mother would now make two batches of pesto sauce, one with her preferred cheese and one with mine.

In the fall of 1996, I arrived at Harvard. I was what some members of my party fondly call a “squish” — pro-choice and gay-friendly. But in the blink of an eye, the campus community dubbed me – the same person – a right-wing nut. I became a regular dissenter on The Crimson’s editorial page. Everything I wrote was within Chuck Schumer’s famous Mainstream, but this was The Crimson. They’d make Arlen Specter look like Pat Buchanan before they were done for the night. Very subtle, those undergraduates.

Two weeks after graduation, I picked up and moved to Austin, Texas. I should have brought a passport — especially coming from New York, where even non-Jews know Yiddish. After all the glares I got telling people I was from New York, I quickly learned to say instead, “I’m from Back East, but I got to Texas as fast I could!”

One day, the nice policeman, who worked at my office, heard that I was Jewish. I was clearly the first Jew he’d ever met. He was eager to know – “Is your life more like ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘The Nanny?’” I said neither. He insisted it had to be one or the other. Huh?

It was also in Austin, that I had my first encounter with the lard aisle. Yes, an entire supermarket aisle dedicated to branded pig fat! I told my new Christian friends: A Jew is a pig’s best friend.

When I landed in Washington in 2001, I thought I was finally home — surrounded by so many Jews and Republicans, I’d finally fit right in. Ha! With a whole new set of Republicans, I encountered skepticism. “You’re from New York, and you went to Harvard? What kind of pinko Communist…?” I couldn’t believe it. After four years of getting the crap kicked out of me in Cambridge, my credentials were being questioned?! Yup. Luckily, I passed the test.

One thing I learned while living in Washington — when I go to a barbeque, I tell my Democratic friends I need the vegetarian option, and my Republican friends I need the kosher option. That keeps everyone smiling, and I end up with the same exact same veggie burger.

Another thing – some people are shocked to hear that I have Democratic friends, secular liberal friends and Christian conservative friends. They were all at my wedding, and I love them all because of who they are, beyond their politics.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if most people are confused by your folk music-loving, anti-fur, National Review-reading ways. When I worked at the State Department, I used to sit outside, reading by Einstein’s statue. And I think Einstein would have agreed that the wisdom of crowds is alright, but it can be better to be the one salmon swimming upstream. Because the most important thing is to be true to yourself, no matter how different that makes you.

April 28, 2009

2 Responses to “Theory of Relativity (or Red Fish, Pink Fish)”
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