There’s an old Jewish saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder … and your Jewish mother work harder to bring you home.” Well, she finally succeeded and I’m back.
Now I begin the work of dispelling the “fake news” built up from 25 years of nachas shepping by my mother in my absence. I fully expect to be recognized on every street corner. “Hey, aren’t you the son who speaks three languages, acted on Broadway, traveled the world and read the entire Torah portion at his bar mitzvah?”
Granted, most of that is not entirely true, and that last bit just doesn’t dazzle the way it did when I was 13 but, believe you me, even though I am 46, she still trots it out any chance she gets. And I love her for it, and I love being back in the D!
Here are the facts. Like many Jewish boys of my generation, I was raised somewhere between Conservative and Reform, what I like to call “Conform” Judaism. I went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvah, eventually married an African American New Yorker who was raised Baptist, had two daughters and became a Humanist. OK, so I strayed from the formula somewhat.
In between all that, I studied and worked in Japan, followed that up with a two-year stint in an improvisational troupe in Moscow, Russia, went on to become an actor in New York and then get an M.B.A. in media management, which I used to make no money producing theater in New York and London.
The last decade and the responsibilities of fatherhood brought me back to the real world and, fortuitously, back into the Jewish world as well.
Most recently, I worked in L.A. for many years as an administrator at a very large Reform temple and then became the programming director for the Savannah (Ga.) Jewish Educational Alliance. Don’t worry, I’ve only touched the surface of my nutty life and still have many crazy stories to share.
This column is called The Wandering Jew because, after having wandered from my hometown of Detroit and from my Jewish roots for so long, I recently returned home to both.
All I know of Detroit in the moment is the horrible reputation it has in L.A. for giving the country Betsy DeVos and Rick Snyder and the great reputation it has in Savannah for giving the country Betsy DeVos and Rick Snyder.
However, after only a few weeks back, I have discovered amazing things I never knew existed, like John K. King books, the Woodward Dream Cruise and Jewish Detroit’s commitment to tikkun olam. I’m pretty impressed so far.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we are having the mildest winter in years to ease me back into living somewhere with an actual change of seasons.
I will use this column to get re-acquainted with Jewish Detroit and, in so doing, shine a spotlight on all aspects of the community. I have deep
mishpachah roots here and was warned to be careful not to write anything that would shock or embarrass them. I don’t plan to follow that advice.
Of course, I want to highlight the bounty of amazing things that make me proud to be a Jewish Detroiter, but I won’t shy away from the tough questions and the controversial topics. I welcome you all to hold on tight and enjoy the ride along with me.
We only just met, but Ben Falik has welcomed me like a brother (minus the nuggie). He is a generous person whom I am lucky to know. Although I can match his Jewfro curl for curl any day, it is with great humility that I accept the honor of following in the footsteps of this smart and witty mentsh’s mentsh.
So, let’s get started … Who is up for a Coney dog with some gribenes and chicken shmaltz on the side?
Joshua Lewis Berg, The Wandering Jew, is a mythical figure whose legend consists of wandering the world in search of the perfect bottle of kosher pop and other revelatory phenomena.