It is a memory that haunts me still.
I believe I was around 5; it was summer camp; we were waiting outside the building for our saviors.
"There's my Daddy!" one girl called out happily.
"'Daddy?'" I had sniffed. "Who calls their father 'Daddy'? You're supposed to call your father 'Tatty.'"
Besides for the fact that today, all the kinfauna call their own fathers "Daddy," I still wince at that narrow, childish (although in my defense, I was a child) view that Judaism possesses only one culture.
When a community is large enough, ironically, that is when they can afford to create sub-groups—schools, shuls, friends can be all alike.
That is what I thought of when I read "A Secret Life With the Misfit Toys" by Lesley Blume. When she was in high school, her parents insisted on a job, thus forcing her to see and meet others beyond her contemporaries.
Eventually it dawned on me that I had begun leading something of a secret life. None of my classmates had such a coterie of characters in their hockey-stick-and-mouth-guard-filled lives. But my toy store colleagues, in a way, were becoming my people. I realized that I was actually more comfortable with them than with many of my own peers. We were all bonded by the undignified fact that we peddled hand puppets and yo-yos and plush pigs in tiaras while wishing that we were doing something else.
But there was more to it than that. Something about my cohort promised that adult life would be more diverse, more interesting, more peculiar than the preppy, homogeneous teenage world I inhabited during school hours. . .
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that three years at Toys in the Attic influenced my disposition, and helped shape my ability to sit in peace with people from all walks of life. Back then, during a stage in life when most young people were vying for sameness and were desperate to blend in, I opted out of the clique and never sought any sort of permanent refuge in sameness again.
I'm still recovering, in some ways. I have also been on the receiving end; it's surprising how Hungarian Jewry still gets stereotypically mocked.
Yet the brilliance of Bnei Yisroel is that we can be one while being many.