By: Celina, San Rafael, California
I'm approaching my third Hanukkah festival here at my community center - who would have thought back in 1988, when I was being baptized at one of the original mission churches here in California, that one day I would be running Jewish events. I'm not Jewish. Nor am I religious in any way, Catholic or otherwise. At this point, when asked, I like to go for "Jew-ish...", which has become far more often since getting a Hebrew tattoo on my forearm.
When I graduated Summa Cum Laude with three degrees and an honors thesis, worked at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center full-time was never my intention. Truthfully, I had no idea what I wanted do but I didn’t think it would be this. Being a camp supervisor the summer of 2009 seemed innocent enough - I thought, "Sure, it's just a summer job after graduation while I get on my feet and find a "real" job that may or may not be somewhat related to one of my majors." Three months at camp flew by without any promising "real job" leads so I jumped into temping at a class-action claims administrator. I was miserable and overqualified, and luckily by January I was back at the JCC, hired to run a one-time art program for 200+ teens from around the world.
And so I became the goy running the Jewish thing. It was sink or swim in a world of Yiddish and hectares. Incorporating religious content in a teen program is hard enough when you actually know what you're talking about. I faked it until I maked it (or made, if you insist on correct language) and after my program completed successfully the center created a new position for me as the Youth & Family Operations Manager.
On September 1, I celebrated one year in this position, and can't believe how much Judaic knowledge I've managed to learn. Our JCC isn't tremendously religious but the Jewish community has strong cultural norms and ideals that can be foreign to many (including myself circa 2009). Thankfully, my Latino heritage lines up in many ways with the Jews and being able to talk about huge family dinners and argue loudly helps cross cultural chasms. After a year and a half of seders, menorahs and weekly "Shabbat Shaloms" I've managed to blend in quite well (which I also credit in part to my "distinguished" nose).
There are many of us non-Jews here at the JCC but the Christmas decorations and Easter eggs stay at home out of respect for the community here (and because old people complain all the time). I always feel naughty when I bring bacon in my lunch and look over my shoulder if I stub my toe and say "Jesus Christ." However, all jokes and religious comments aside, I'm tremendously lucky to be in a community of people who haven't run me out of the building for pronouncing sufganiyot wrong.