I didn’t understand the term "illegitimate," or much else happening at the time, so I decided to look it up in the dictionary: “not authorized by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules: ‘an illegitimate exercise of power by the military;' (of a child) born of parents not lawfully married to each other."
I wasn’t a military exercise and I’d seen the wedding pictures, so I mentally morphed the definition, applying it to my immortal future as “spiritually illegitimate.” Within a week of that event, at age 7, I was told to choose between the two religions as divorce talk in our home got louder.
It was Mission Impossible – asking a child so young to make that choice.
In the Catholic religion I was rapidly approaching the rite of passage known as First Holy Communion. To this day I can’t sort out if my parents actually meant well for what ensued, or if they had made the conscious choice to use me against each other. Now, at age 47, I don’t know, don’t care.
In my case humor has always been my best defense, so we come to the story of what happened the day my father spiritually weaponized me by taking me to visit the Hillel Yeshiva School and St. Mary’s Catholic School, both in New Jersey.
“I told your mother you get to make your own choice about which religion you want to be,” he explained as we drove his old metallic brown Plymouth, first to the Jewish school to see the rabbi. On the way he told me about Solomon and the good parent who chose the child's welfare over her own. He was clearly on the role of "good parent" here and it was pretty clear I was expected to be Jewish at the end of the afternoon. No pressure. (Before we left the house mom reminded me of how many presents I got last Christmas. Again, no pressure. Hanukkah meant eight pairs of socks and Christmas was Barbies.)
I was 7 years old and a New Yorker with a massive vocabulary and attitude, yet I was terrified. When the rabbi asked if I had any questions about his religion, I squared my chubby little shoulders, shook my curly brown hair out of my chubby face and asked, “How do I get into Heaven?”