Back in 1777, in Dover, Del., my ancestor John Wheeler Meredith enlisted as a private in the American Revolutionary Army. Because Meredith was an original American patriot, and because I can document the eight generations that lead from him to me, I was able to join the Daughters of the American Revolution a year and a half ago.
Not many Jews can trace their ancestry back 250 years in America and, in my case, I can only get away with it because my paternal grandmother converted to Judaism. Her branch of the family tree is endlessly interesting to me, precisely because it’s distinct from the standard Eastern-European Jewish roots that make up the rest of my family. And that was the appeal of joining the DAR, too. Wouldn’t it be hilarious, I thought, if I — a short, loud Jewish girl — joined the blue-blooded ladies who lunch? Hijinks would surely ensue.
But hijinks are nowhere to be found.
My chapter of the DAR meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 11:30 a.m. This is a perfectly reasonable time for the majority of the other women in the chapter. Most of them are retired, or never joined the workplace in the first place. But for me it is bizarre: I run out of the office in the middle of the day, and rush over to the beautiful building, where I sit in a circle with women generations older than I. I’m often asked to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. We talk a lot about the importance of our heritage, and we read a statement about national security. We hear how the chapter’s finances are doing, and we honor longtime members. It’s very sweet and, most of the time, it’s also very boring.
I always end up sitting in the meetings thinking of all the times I’ve been in a room full of saucy, outspoken Jewish women. Lunch with the DAR is nothing like an all-lady Shabbat lunch with my friends, where we talk over each other, pass around heaping platters of food and laugh like fools. To be honest, I much prefer the Shabbat lunches to the “Dutch luncheons” that follow DAR meetings.
I doubt John Wheeler Meredith could ever have imagined that he’d be the great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of a Jewish woman like me, and it’s hard for me to imagine what his life must have been like. But on this Fourth of July weekend, I feel proud — and more than a little amazed — that my family history has both American revolutionaries and rabbis, soldiers and writers like me.