March 1, 2015

Taxes, Discounts, and Black Sheep Jews

Our conversation started with, "You know, if you have a bunch of these to mail, you can save a dollar on each of them if the address windows are landscape instead of portrait."

I ventured out to mail my tax documents to my accountant, and due to the hour, found myself at a grocery store with a postal substation.  Yes, he's in the same city, and yes, I'm using the postal service instead of dropping them off.  Time, space, speed limits, and laws of physics make it hard to do it otherwise.

I explained to the clerk that this is really the only one, and it's just once a year when I have to worry about it.  To me, it's a sort of convenience tax.  But, I thanked him for telling me since I might need to know that later for something.

I found myself at that particular location  because the store one closer to me doesn't have a postal meter where I can pay for postage.  If metaphysics is your bag, this story might make your chakras tingle.

I rarely carry cash, so in order to pay for my transaction, I ran my debit card.  As my information popped up on the screen for Benjamin, my clerk, to confirm, he paused, looked like he was deciding on whether to say something, and jumped right in.

[Conversation from memory.]

"You wouldn't happen to be Jewish, would you?  Your last name. . ."

I pause, not knowing how to answer.  My claim to Judaism has always been tenuous, and the reasons have changed over the years,  But, he took the risk to ask, I figured it only fair to be honest.

"Kinda.  I have an uncertain path to Judaism.  I was adopted into a Jewish home, and raised a reform Jew.  I believe it means Torah scribe."  (Truth be told, I was Jewish so far as it would get me a day out of school for services, and my folks could sometimes physically drag me to Hebrew school.  We frequently put bacon and schmear on our bagels, and I became the woman I am today thanks to cheeseburgers.)

Benjamin was perhaps the third person to have ever picked up on my name being ethnic who's said anything about it to me, and I told him that.  It's a pleasant surprise to meet someone with an interest in names.

We shared a few stories, and quickly learned that we are polar opposite black sheep.  I came to Judaism through adoption.  He converted, only to later discover he was ethnically Jewish.  He has traveled to Israel, learned to speak Hebrew, and sought a family in the synagogue.  I rebelled against bullies and dreaded every moment I spent at Temple Israel.  In the end though, the results were the same.  Both of us lost our tribe.  Where I had walked away having never looked back, he had been unceremoniously dumped by the local community and left  to wonder why.

We talked about living in our flyover city, our options, and our identities.  What struck me about him as completely awesome was that he made no bones about how he wanted to meet a nice Jewish boy and settle down.  He hesitated about asking my religion, but his identity and self perception never faltered, and he offered not a single apology for himself.  I may be boisterous, but I am not this comfortable in my own skin.  I could take a lesson from Benjamin, and I'm humbled to have the opportunity and ability to listen to the universe.

I will be forever thankful for the odd moments in life, the strangely meaningful conversations with strangers, and the ability to find a lesson in something as mundane as mailing tax forms.  Great to meet you Benjamin!

*Name changed for anonymity.

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