I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I must have been ten years old, sitting next to my father at my first hockey game; my Philadelphia Flyers hosting the visiting Montreal Canadians, a moment of pure Americana (or “Canadiana” if you will.) When suddenly, the organ plays a familiar tune – slowly at first, but with increasing volume and tempo – it was the all-too-familiar “Hava Nagila” and it seemed so strangely out of place to me. “Dad,” I whispered with wonder “is everyone here – Jewish?” My father smiled a wry smile and said, “No son, just the organ player.”
It was the first moment where my Judaism, an intense, but mostly private experience, and my secular Americanism clashed in stunning Technicolor. That ten-year-old boy simply couldn’t comprehend the depth of valiances in that moment; how something natively Jewish could so seamlessly become a part of irreligious American culture. And as I watched Aly Raisman, a Jewish girl from Needham, Massachusetts, win gold for the U.S. gymnastics team as she performed her floor routine to the ubiquitous tune of Hava Nagila, those questions came rushing back.
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