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The Deal Breaker on Being Jewish

December 19, 2014

This year I finally completed my memoir “The Kid in the Kaleidoscope,” and it includes this reposted story from 2012. I painted the illustration for a card company in 1995.




Jonathan Khorman lived three houses down from me. One day while perched in the sycamore tree in his front yard he turned to me and made a startling declaration. “I’m one of the chosen people,” he said.


“Chosen for what?” I asked.


He shifted his weight on the branch he was sitting on. “Chosen to be special.”


“Who chose you?”


“God did.”




“Says so in the Bible. Jews are God’s chosen people.”


I liked Jonathan, but it was hard to imagine God personally selecting him for anything. When it came to team sports at school, Jonathan and I alternated being chosen last.


Later, I asked my mother about it.


“The Khormans are Jewish,” she said. “Jews consider themselves God’s chosen people.”           


I knew the Khormans were Jewish because they celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas. Jonathan and his little sister Ruthie received gifts for eight days instead of one. I didn’t know much about Jews, but they were light years ahead of everyone else when it came to gift-giving.


Then my mother blew my mind with three words: “Jesus was Jewish.”


Even though I was an altar boy, I was surprised to discover that Jesus wasn’t Christian.


“So who was responsible for the crucifixion,” I asked, “the Romans or the Jews?”


“People have been squabbling about that for centuries,” she said. “Opinions vary, depending on who you ask.”


I liked the Khormans and chose to blame the Romans, since I didn’t know any.


The Khorman home wasn’t a popular hangout with us kids, but I remember the time Mrs. Khorman rang up my mother to invite me to a backyard sleepover to celebrate Jonathan’s eleventh birthday. Permission was granted.


Dinner at Jonathan’s house was strange, much of it not to my liking, but I learned a new word—Kosher.


Jonathan opened his presents, most of which were educational toys. We looked at bugs and strands of our hair under Jonathan’s new microscope for awhile, and then we attacked Jonathan’s bright green birthday cake—I’d never had green frosting before.


Then it was time to settle down in the backyard for the night. Just as we were zipping ourselves into our sleeping bags, Mrs. Khorman came to kiss Jonathan goodnight…and hear our prayers.


Jonathan rattled something off that sounded like a record being played backwards. I couldn’t understand a word but I kept my mouth shut about it. When it was my turn I recited The Lord’s Prayer.


When we were alone I asked Jonathan, “What kinda prayer was that you recited? I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.”


“I was speaking Hebrew. It’s the ancient language of the Jewish people.”


As I lay on the grass in Jonathan Khorman’s backyard watching wispy clouds pass in front of a full moon, I realized that this Jewish thing was sounding pretty darn cool: interesting food, eight days of gifts in December, their own secret language. Catholicism was starting to pale in comparison. I considered giving Judaism a try.


“Can anyone become a Jew?” I asked Jonathan.


“I think so. You’d have to go to Hebrew school. In two years I’ll celebrate my Bar Mitzvah, coming of age. I get gifts.”


It sounded a lot like First Holy Communion, which I’d received two years earlier.


“If you became Jewish we could study together.”


And if I celebrated a Bar Mitzvah I could expect more presents. “Is that all there is to becoming a Jew?”


“There is one more thing, the most important of all.”




“You need to be circumcised.”


I frowned at him. “What’s that?”


“It’s a ceremony commanded in the Bible as a sign of participation in Israel’s convent with God.”


Confusing. “Say again?”


“It means you get the tip of your penis cut off while friends and family stand around and watch. This is usually done when a male baby is eight days old, but you’d have to go through it now.”


I was determined to become one of God’s chosen people, but this was a deal breaker if ever there was one.


I’ve never been known for my poker face and the next evening my brother David asked, “Not that I care, but what are you moping about?”


“I was just wondering how much it would hurt to have the tip of my penis cut off.”


He looked at me with more disgust than usual. “You’ve asked some crazy questions in the past, but this tops them all. Here’s the answer: IT WOULD HURT LIKE HELL!”


“That’s what I thought.”


“Why would you ask such a thing?”


“I’m considering becoming Jewish and Jonathan said I’d have to get circumcised before they’d let me in.”


David rolled his eyes. “Have you talked to Mom about this? I’m sure she’d have something interesting to say on the subject.”


“Why? She doesn’t go to church much, only on Christmas and Easter. I doubt she’d care.”


“You’re wrong. Trust me; she’ll care. As for being circumcised, you’re too stupid to know, but you’ve already been circumcised. Boys are supposed to look like their fathers, and you and I were both circumcised at the hospital before Mom and Dad brought us home.”    


“So, Dad was in on this, too?”




I shrugged off the fact that everyone seemed to have kept this a secret. I felt elated, like I’d dodged a bullet. I didn’t need to go through a painful penis whittling ceremony after all. And if circumcision was the most important part of becoming Jewish—as Jonathan claimed—then Jewish or not, I must already be one of God’s chosen people.


I was glad I couldn’t remember the feel of that hospital knife between my legs, but knowing what had happened to me before I was brought home from the hospital made me feel…special, until I found out every boy on our street shared the same “specialness”—except for Ramon Guzman, who’d been born in Guatemala.


When I told Jonathan I’d decided not to become Jewish after all, he looked disappointed.


“Look at the bright side,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “At school during PE class when everyone breaks into teams, nobody wants us. This time we’ve both been chosen.”




Happy Hanukkah by Stephen Hayes 1995








Oh man, I used to get chosen dead last for sports too, didn't know I was Jewish. Happy Hanukkah.
By: Bob on December 19, 2014
Great childhood story and wonderful artwork. CONGRATS on finishing your book!!! I hope it is a roaring success.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 19, 2014
One of the MAJOR perks of being a woman!!
By: fishducky on December 19, 2014
Loved this story before and still do today! Congrats on your book- when can we go the a bookstore and purchase it? Will you go on a book tour? Have a great Christmas! Cheers!
By: Kathe W. on December 19, 2014
All who accept the promise given to Abraham are our Heavenly Father's chosen people. This was first offered to the Hebrews, who are generally known as Jews now, and all true Christians are added to their number.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on December 19, 2014
Thanks for the Hanukah wishes and wonderfully enjoyable story. I laughed a number of times, starting with this line: "I liked the Khormans and chose to blame the Romans, since I didnât know any." Congratulations on finishing your book! Merry Xmas, Stephen.
By: Robyn Engel on December 19, 2014
lucky to be chosen so early, i'd say!
By: TexWisGirl on December 19, 2014
So you were raised on the fires of hell and you have survived that. The best part is that you can make a funny and touching story out of it! Pat yourself on the back for finishing your book.
By: Tabor on December 19, 2014
Eight days of presents, but no one can touch Christmas for a celebration! Well, maybe a Bar Mitzvah but that is a one shot deal. Great story, I'm sure you will announce when the book is available.
By: Cranky on December 19, 2014
I didn't see a penis that hadn't been circumcised till I worked in the nursing home when I was in my thirties. It looked odd. I saw a lot of penises because of that job, and learned they come in all shapes and sizes (and yes, I suppose that's a pun). Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 19, 2014
What a fun post. I could actually relate for in the first grade I asked my parents if I could become Jewish for they had so many holidays.
By: Akansas Patti on December 19, 2014
Congrats on the completion of your memoir. Of course there will be a sequel.
By: Val on December 19, 2014
A blessed Hanukkah to those who celebrate! And yes, i was chosen last in sports, too.
By: mimi on December 19, 2014
To carry on Janie Junebugs thought: I didn't see a penis that HAD been circumcised until I met my ex-husband when I was 19. Great story, and LOL at blaming the Romans.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 19, 2014
Well told through the eyes of a little boy.
By: red on December 19, 2014
That's fantastic on your memoir being completed. I always thought the doctor who performed circumcisions had a great deal. He didn't get paid much, but think of all the tips!
By: Al Penwasser on December 19, 2014
In your eyes at the time I can see where this would be a deal breaker too, just the description made me want to turn and run, Great post my friend I did enjoy it. Congratulations on the completion of your book Stephen.
By: Jimmy on December 19, 2014
Well done on the completion of your memoir. An interesting tale too!
By: John on December 20, 2014
An entertaining tale, as usual! I look forward to reading your memoir! Is it on Kindle?
By: Eva Gallant on December 20, 2014
Love this story - I read it aloud to Dr. M & we both enjoyed it :)
By: The Bug on December 20, 2014
Well...yeah...not a big fan of cutting off one's body parts myself! Congrats on finishing your memoir!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on December 22, 2014
I'm not Jewish and I'll tell you this: that precious bit of skin around the tip of my member is going nowhere!
By: Bryan Jones on December 24, 2014

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