Eric Richard Bittle is Jewish
Tw: mentions of antisemitism
Ok, hear me out. I know there is a lot of evidence pointing to Bitty being a good Southern Christian Gay and like, that is completely plausible and if that’s your jam, great! But because I love projecting and rubbing my Jew-y hands on everything, here is a theory about Bitty being an extremely assimilatory southern Jew who only really gets in touch with his culture and Jewish identity once he gets to college in the North East.
So I did some research and while “phelps” (Bitty’s maternal family name) isn’t the dead ringer that “Birkholtz” or “Zimmermann” is, it still has a history of being a Jewish surname in the Anglo-Saxon region. So to me, Bitty is Jewish on his mom’s side, but his paternal family is very southern Christian and so, really that’s what he grew up with, because being Jewish in the south? Well… that’s a whole thing.
My mom grew up in Atlanta Georgia, and in her high school, she was the only Jewish person by a long shot. My grandfather taught at Emory and so they didn’t belong to a temple, and went to Hillel sometimes during the bug holidays, but for he most part she wasn’t involved in religious affairs because it wasn’t “normal”.
I think something along the same lines happened to Bitty. His Moomah always made Jewish food for their family, but only made Southern food for company. At Chanukah, they would put up a Christmas tree, but put a Jewish star as an ornament and call it a “Chanukah bush.”
Bitty had a friend in second grade named Timmy who came over for a play date one day, only to never come back because his mom saw their mezuzah on the front door and forbid them from hanging out again. “Timmy doesn’t need to be influenced by that kind”
After that, well, Bitty stops asking his mama to make kasha varnishkas for his lunch (someone once told him it looked like he was eating pasta with dirt in it) and he stops going to temple on rosh hashana, and he starts calling his Christmas tree a Christmas tree. When someone tells him he “doesn’t look Jewish” he knows it’s a compliment.
The Monday at school after the Closet Incident, there’s a swastika keyed into his locker.
Because it’s one thing being the gay kid in a small town, it’s a whole other thing to be gay AND Jewish. It’s like he’s had two strikes against him since he was born.
When he moves to Madison he begs his mom not to put up a mezuzah. He can’t understand why she starts crying, but she doesn’t put it up. It’s a fresh start.
The rest of middle school and high school, Bitty secularizes.
When one of his teammates in his coed team tells him he’s acting “like a Jew” when he asks her for money for the team shirts, Bitty bites his tongue so hard he draws blood.
When all the kids in his tenth grade English class throw pennies at Mr. Bloom during his lecture on Eli Wiesel, Bitty stays after and helps pick them up.
Fast forward to freshman year at Samwell, and Bitty is hanging around the haus just before Rosh Hashana.
Holster is talking to Ransom and Jack about putting something together for dinner, maybe picking up some matzo ball soup mix and some ruggies from a deli near by.
Bitty, who shuddered at the though of soup coming out of a box blurted out without thinking “you know, I could whip up some of my grandmas matzo ball soup? And maybe some kugel?”
All three of the other boys look at him with wide eyes.
“I didn’t know you were Jewish Bittle,” Jack quirked a brow in intrigue.
“Well,” Bitty said, face heating up, “I- I’m not JEWISH Jewish. My mom is Jewish. My Moomah is Jewish, but ME? I don’t know.”
Everyone else seemed perplexed by this statement, but Holster’s eyes lowered a bit.
Bitty took that to mean ‘I hate you why would you say that you should just leave’ and promptly scrambled out the door, a whirlwind of “sorry got to go’s”
Later that week, someone knocked on Bitty’s dorm door, and that someone was Adam Jacob Birkholtz, certified Nice Jewish Boy and hulking mass.
“Uh, can we talk?” Holster asked a bit sheepishly.
Bitty agreed and lead them into his room.
Holster sat on his tiny bed and asked, “what did you mean before? When you said your mom and grandma are Jewish but not you?” It was tentative, but Bitty could tell the question wasn’t an accusation.
“Well I mean, I don’t really celebrate anything anymore. For all intents and purposes my house was a secular house all throughout middle school and high school.”
“But bitty,” holster sighed, “just because your half Jewish doesn’t mean you can’t be Jewish. And even if you aren’t practicing that doesn’t mean you can’t be Jewish either. I had a friend in high school that was half Jewish and people at temple would make him feel unwelcome. You don’t have to worry about that here.”
“Oh um, thanks? But it’s not that. Look, I know I’m Jewish. People have been making that clear to me for my whole life.”
“What do you mean?” Holster asked.
Bitty then began to regale all of the things he’s experienced. All of the prejudice, the slurs, the pennies, the swastikas. All of the pain that came with being the Jew in the south.
Holster listened, “Bits, that’s really rough dude. And like, I get it, some things are too painful. But it’s not like that at Samwell. Sure there are assholes everywhere, and it’s not like there’s never any antisemitism but, if you haven’t noticed based on the hockey team already, you aren’t alone here! There’s a whole Jewish community that’s got your back.
"Listen, why don’t you come to Hillel with me for Rosh Hashana, we can make your Moomas soup together! And maybe even Jack will help and not complain. Just, I don’t want you to have to feel like that about yourself.”
Bitty begins to decline the invitation but then something stops him. He remembers being a little kid, dipping apple slices in honey and chasing his mama around the house with sticky fingers.
“Alright I’ll go.”
And he does.
And he loves it.
He starts going to Hillel with Holster after that, and sometimes Jack tags along, sometimes so does Shitty. And in his Sophomore year, Nursey comes along with, and then his junior year comes Tango.
He makes matzo ball soup by the barrel, and re-learns the prayers for the Shabbat candles.
But it’s in his freshman year that he goes home for Winter break and pulls out the old Star of David ornament and puts it on the tree.
He asks his mom if he could help light the Chanukah candles and she looks shocked at first, but then she smiles and says “of course sweetheart.”
Later he hands her a present. It’s a long and thin box wrapped in silver paper with a little blue bow on top.
She takes it from his hand carefully, like its a shard of glass or something.
She opens it and It’s a silver mezuzah cover.
It’s a fresh start.