At the end of a long, balance-throwing walk down a floating and haphazardly lashed together boardwalk, a friend helped me lift my burdensome cooler onto the boat. The party boat, still tied up to this bobbing dock, was about to set out on the waves of Lake Travis, Austin’s large manmade lake. This party boat had been rented by Mosaic, Austin’s Jewish outdoors group. The people in Mosaic, well-represented at this event, are mostly in their thirties, forties, and fifties. Many are single, some are married couples, and a few bring their kids. I, at the age of eighteen, stand out from the crowd.
Shortly after coming aboard the two-story, flat-bottom, open-air boat, I was accosted by an old acquaintance. For anonymity’s sake, I shall call him Assface. The name fits: He looks and acts the part. I had not seen him in perhaps a year or so. “Hi, David,” he greeted me, unenthusiastically. “Hey, Assface! Been a long time. How’ve you been?” I greeted in return. This part is really just me grasping in the dark for some politeness on my part. I did not give a flying falafel about his wellbeing. It would not bother me too much if he were suddenly pushed over the edge of the boat and drowned right then and there. I tried not to give off this impression, though. “I been alright,” he said.
“Have you gone religious?” he inquired, glancing at my tzitzit.
I should pause here for some exposition. You can read about my first day wearing tzitzit, ten months ago, here. As an added preamble to my response to Assface’s question, I should note that I have never received an outwardly negative response to my tzitzit. Assface is not negative on the idea, just an assface about it.
“I’ve always been religious,” I respond.
He noticed my t-shirt at that moment. It said, “Everybody Loves a Reform Jew.”
“I don’ unnerstand,” he says. “Your shirt says you’re Reform.”
Jumping in, Theressa, a former President of my synagogue, says, “Are religious and reform mutually exclusive?” She and I attempt to explain to assface that Reform Jews make educated choices and that I have made an admittedly uncommon one. The conversation goes on like this for some time, Assface, eventually descending into the complaint that Reform Jews do not even wear kipot. Assface, I should note, was wearing no such thing.