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All I Really Need to Know I Learned Growing Up Jewish

All I Really Need to Know I Learned Growing Up Jewish

Jewish life lessons learned from a Jewish Mother.


Robert Fulghum's book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten," is a bestselling collection of simple thoughts and gentle opinion that struck a deep chord in readers worldwide. Observing our times in his unique way, Robert Fulghum tells us something about ourselves and about how to be the best we are capable of being. He reminds us to share, clean up our own mess, take a nap every afternoon, and be aware of wonder.

This insightful book got me thinking. In this age of specialization, shouldn't there be a Jewish version of these life lessons? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have an equally insightful book tailor-made for those of us who were and are privileged to grow up in a Jewish household -- the few, the proud, the chosen?

The wait is over. Attention, publishers: the hot Jewish book of the year is here! Don't make me beg. I'm calling it "All I Really Need to Know I Learned Growing Up Jewish." If you publish it, you can call it "Bar Mitzvah Boogaloo," for all I care. As long as the check clears. But I can see it in your eyes -- you want excerpts. Here you go. As my mother, who inspired this book, would say as she set a plate of broiled liver and onions in front of my nauseated face, "Enjoy!"


"Can't finish your matzah brei? Better eat it all; children are starving in China." I'd offer to send the remainder of my matzah brei to the starving Chinese children. My mother responded that that's not funny. I agreed with her; I was serious.

Dear Chun Lee, please enjoy my leftover matzah brei, courtesy of my mother, Shirley.

It wasn't hard to envision Federal Express planes carrying tons of ungrateful Jewish children's leftover matzah brei to Shanghai. Perhaps I could even include a note: "Dear Chun Lee, please enjoy my leftover matzah brei, courtesy of my mother, Shirley, who assures me that you will appreciate it far more than some spoiled rotten Jewish children who have no idea how good they have it and would thank their lucky stars they're living in America if they spent even one day in some Third World country where you couldn't even find a box of matzah if your life depended on it. You might want to heat it up a little first. And by the way, next month you can look forward to some nice chopped liver, made from unappreciated liver and onions."


"Do you want to be responsible for the wholesale destruction of the Jewish people? Is that what you want? Would that make you happy? Because it would kill your father and me. What, there aren't enough smart, good-looking, responsible, family-oriented Jewish girls in your synagogue youth group? A shiksa will only want you for your money. And she'll cheat on you, too. Plus, they have no taste. Do you know they eat Wonder Bread with mayonnaise and bologna? Is that the diet you want to have? Is that the diet you want your children to have? And how will you raise your kids? They'll have no identity. The Jews will die out, as a result of your stubborn refusal to date a nice Jewish girl. Is that what you want -- to bring about the end of your people? Very smart. What did I do to deserve this? Haven't I always given you everything you wanted? Let it be on your head. And sit up straight. You want to have back problems when you get older?"


Why do we keep plastic covers on the couch and chairs? "Because they're for company only, not for daily use. If you have to sit during non-company times, choose another couch or chair." Why? "Oh, I don't know – maybe it's because we don't want dog and grape jelly stains all over our fine furniture for our guests, after your father has worked his fingers to the bone earning the money so we'll have a nice home, not that you've noticed. Maybe we don't want springs and stuffing to be poking through. Maybe we'd like to have at least one room in this house that doesn't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger had a riot in it. Maybe we'd like to have one piece of furniture that our pets and kids don't cause to disintegrate. If that makes us mean or weird or unfair, so be it. Now, get off the couch. And go wash up. I made matzah brei."


"Do you realize that you are 13 years old and have wasted the entire day playing that idiotic video game? Do you know that by the time your Uncle Arthur was nine, he was already supporting his family with two jobs, plus going to school and taking care of three sick birds and his paraplegic cousin Rivka. Don't be smart with me, young man. Your asthmatic brother Steven, bless his heart, never opens his mouth to his parents; he knows respect; you should take a lesson. If your Grandpa Morris was alive to see how you behave, it would kill him. Now there's a man who knew the meaning of suffering and sacrifice. I never told you this, but he once fell off a ladder, fractured his hip, and still finished out the work week because he knew his family wouldn't eat if he didn't bring home a paycheck. Are you listening to me?"


"I don't want you eating sushi; that's goyishe food. It is not just like eating lox; lox is smoked. If you insist on bringing sushi home, at least cook the fish first. You have no idea what kinds of tapeworms and parasites you could be letting yourself in for. Next thing you know, you'll be trying to go swimming without waiting half an hour after eating. Your great-uncle Mort almost drowned that way. And if you're at the beach, be sure to wear plenty of sunblock, plus a t-shirt -- and it wouldn't kill you to sit under a beach umbrella, with sunglasses and a hat. No, I don't mind if you go to the party. Just don't drink anything. They spike the punch, you know. Then I'll get a call that you've wrapped the Camry around a tree. And don't have any of the food, either. You never know. Okay, sweetheart. Goodbye. I love you. Have fun. Be home by ten."

September 9, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Roseanne, February 21, 2009 10:34 AM

The end of civilization...

Funny, your thoughts, and playful, thank you. My father, now deceased, was from an Orthodox Jewish family and an only child. He married my mother who is from Italy and Catholic. It definitely was a bad marriage although passionate producing 5 children. His parents were never in our lives, sadly, and I really don't know why since my father passed at an early age of cancer, I was only 2 years old, and I was never raised in his culture, very unfortunately. Funny thing is I identify more with what I know as Jewish culture, more so than Italian/Catholic culture. I named my own son David and have heard many comments from others that they think I am such a Jewish mother, without even knowing whether or not my background. I've even been asked if I was Jewish because of my behavior towards my son. I've always found this rather strange. On a non-funny note, sorry for that, but, I have to say, I miss my father more than anything in this life and world and used to try to make deals with God to bring my dad back to me because I need him. Somehow, it didn't work.

(18) Anonymous, May 10, 2007 11:04 PM

Hilarious! It's not just about Jewish mothers . . .

These comments could have been from my non-Jewish mother-in-law, although her renditions weren't nearly as clever and funny. I laughed out loud!

(17) Anonymous, April 10, 2007 10:49 PM


This one had me laughing out loud, prolongedly.

(16) Beebs, March 17, 2007 11:10 PM

I can't remember when I've laughed so hard

Yes, even though Mark Miller wrote about a male, I totally related as I remembered my own Mother telling me about the starving children in China. This was one of the most enjoyable and tender articles I have read in a long time. It is great when half way through one has to stop to go to the bathroom because of so much laughter. thanks for the great memories.

(15) Anonymous, January 16, 2007 8:47 PM

..are our mothers related

...I was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada...and I can relate to this entire article. Can it be that we are related?
Also I really could identify with your "dating alholic" article. It had me laughing out.

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