How Do You Know the Word Shlep? You’re Not Jewish!, by Mary K. Bogot, is the story of the author’s life, told in an authentic voice that will find a home with its readers, interweaving empowering themes of personal identity, spiritual growth, and the courage to be different. Bogot’s story chronicles her life, taking us from the time of her youth to becoming a grandparent.
She likens her story to a cloth “woven in numerous colored threads, some being smooth in texture and others rough to the touch.” Her story is one of a woman who had the courage to defy the commonly accepted standards of her day, entering an interfaith relationship in 1956, and making the decision to adopt the Jewish faith.
How Do You Know the Word Shlep begins with her childhood in western Pennsylvania, where “Everyone went to church on Sunday” and “Everyone’s skin was white.” When her family moved to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, she found herself, for the first time, “confronted by contrasts in people, customs, speech, and even terrain.”
As she gets older, her curiosity is piqued by others around her increasingly; she describes meeting Edward, a Jewish boy, as “ the major turning point” in her life, finding that she had many questions that needed answers, answers to which the Christian community was unable to provide her. Bogot is curious about everything to do with her new boyfriend’s faith and the similarities and differences between Christianity and Judaism.
She quickly discovers that despite her enthusiasm, the Jewish community is not as eager to embrace her; when Edward announces their engagement, his family’s rabbi tells them “in no uncertain terms, ‘A Jew has a responsibility to marry another Jew.’” When they have their first child, the duties of the two religions play prominent roles in their lives; eventually, Bogot makes the difficult decision to raise their children in the Jewish faith only and, eventually, adopts the religion herself.
Her transformation is too complete, as she begins to practice Jewish traditions and rituals unfamiliar to her husband; he deems her behavior to be as extreme as that of her Christian fundamentalist sister. By 1967, she and Edward grew apart and divorced, and she marries Howard, who shares in her faith and in the related rituals. As Bogot explores her roles as a daughter, wife, and mother, she is finally able to define and free herself.
How Do You Know the Word Shlep? is a powerful testimony to self-awareness, inner strength, and confidence. No matter what your religious background, Bogot’s story is one that will undoubtedly capture your heart.