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identity

Uncategorized December 26, 2012

To Bagel

My husband was on the West Side of Cleveland (where there are very few Jews) for a bris appointment with new parents.  On the way home, he stopped by a pharmacy to pick up a few items.  The man standing behind him in line leaned in and said, with a distinctive New York accent:

“Ya can’t even get a decent knish around here!”

Bingo, husband.  You’ve been bageled.

Bageling is when a person wants an obviously “Jewish” looking Jew (ie, wearing a yarmulke, buying latke mix at the grocery) to know that he, too, is Jewish.  I’ve been bageled numerous times, and I’ve bageled others too (they don’t always appreciate it).  I love it when people bagel me because it gives me the opportunity to connect with a fellow Jew, but more, it shows me that this person is proud of his Judaism and wants to connect too.

My brother was in an airport once and a guy came over to him and simply said, “CHOLENT!”  I’m not kidding you.  That was the bagel.  That guy wanted my obviously Jewish brother to know that he, too, was a fellow member of the tribe.

I was at the Children’s Museum in Baltimore on a Friday afternoon and looked at my watch, motioning to my kids that we were going to get ready to leave.  The woman sitting next to me said, “It’s almost Shabbos – we better get going too!”  It was important to her that I know that she was cognizant and observant of Shabbos.

On the flip side, I was at a bank opening an account, and the the man helping me out was wearing a nametag that read, “Josh Goldstein.”  He asked me, among other things, my mother’s maiden name, which is very Jewish-sounding.  He seemed like a pretty friendly guy, so I told it to him, smiled and said, “Can’t get a more Jewish name than that!”  He seemed a bit uncomfortable with the bagel.  Maybe it felt off to him professionally.

Another bank teller in the branch I always frequent has a very Jewish name.  Before Rosh Hashanah I was in there and I was thinking, “Should I wish him a Happy New Year?”  I spent the whole time in line pondering this question, and when I finally got to the front, mustered up the courage and wished him a Happy New Year.  His face lit up and he wished me one right back.

To bagel or not to bagel?  Do you like being bageled?  Have you ever bageled someone else?  Good or bad results?

Uncategorized December 19, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof: an unfavorite movie

I’ve learned that Fiddler on the Roof is one of those universal “Jewy” references that people love to, well, reference.  In fact, I’ve definitely referenced it a few times right here.  And truth be told, that movie has brought me to tears – tears of deep emotion around our beloved traditions, children coming of age, the inevitable assimilation of some of our children, the endless anti-semitism.  And, too, it has made me laugh so hard I’ve had tears in my eyes (the dream scene!).  The music is absolutely magnificent both thematically and musically.

So why is it my unfavorite movie?

Here’s what I think.  See, my grandmothers, who are (thank God) still alive, remember the shtetl.  But as I suspected all along, and unscientifically “confirmed” in my recent research project on the subject, most Jews in the world do not have a living relative who remembers living in the shtetl.  So for most of them, impressions of the shtetl are largely formed by movies such as Fiddler.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask?

Well, a few things.

1. No one in that movie actually seems to know why anyone is keeping any of the Jewish observances.

The trademark song “Tradition” basically says, we have no idea why we do these things, but it’s our tradition so we’ll do them anyway.  Now, I have no need to romanticize life in the shtetl (just as I have no need to romanticize life as a modern-day Orthodox woman) but I do want the truth as I have experienced it to be told.

In my grandparents’ families, there was a deep education and connection with the meaning of the observances, such that my grandparents still recall and repeat today.  In fact, I feel that the movie disrespects their experience.  Of course I am sure that there were some families who just observed out of habit or social pressure, but an entire village?  Even the rabbi is a little clueless, which brings me to…

2. The rabbi is a fool.

Here are his most brilliant, sparkling lines, full of wisdom, depth and guidance (not).  This is still a problem today.  I see some “shtetl-era” books being issued for Jewish kids today.  Most of the time the rabbi is totally unkempt and stupid.  Again, some rabbis are unkempt and I’m sure that some rabbis don’t have particularly good advice, but for this to be the “shtetl-era” rabbi image emblazoned in the minds of your typical American Jew?  What happened to respect for our scholars and leaders, for our role models, and those more learned?  What kind of message is that for our kids?

My grandparents describe the utter reverence for their holy rabbis; the deep respect accorded them by the parents of the household; how the members of the shtetl would vie for the privilege of caring for their needs, hosting them in their homes, attending their lectures.  Where is any of that?  The question about waiting for the Messiah is a good one; why is no response given?

3. Yentl the matchmaker is a caricature but her impressions remains.

To this day when I tell people about how many in the Orthodox world meet and date they immediately think of Yentl.  Yentl of the ugly wife and the blind husband: a match made in heaven.  Granted, “dating” in the shtetl is not identical to Orthodox dating today, even when a “matchmaker” is employed, but I believe this image has damaged the reputation of the matchmaker, casting him/her in the role of “arranger of marriages” rather than how it really is today, which is “arranger of blind dates.”

I’m sure there’s more, but these are the top three that come to mind.  And lest you all think I’m just a Jewish humor grinch be it known that I love to laugh and think lots of things are funny.  But sometimes, I’ve learned, I think different things are funny or enjoyable than other Jews, because of my Orthodox orientation.  The “Jewish” things I find funny are more like inside Orthodox jokes, whereas I find “typical” Jew jokes corny.

And as far as Fiddler, I will end where I started: it’s a masterpiece and a classic.  And a bit sad, because for many viewers, this, and only this, remains the vision of our rich shtetl era.

Uncategorized August 19, 2012

Hi, I’m a Gentile

Jews:  .18% of world population (that’s POINT 18%)
Blacks:  8% of world population
Hindus:  15% of world population
Muslims:  29% of world population
Christians:  32% of world population
Asians:  60% of world population

Of all these groupings, none of them (that I can think of) has a word to classify anyone who is NOT that class.  There is no word in the English language that means “anyone who is not black”; “anyone who is not Christian”; et cetera.

Yet, the smallest, most minuscule grouping, Jews, yields a word that is universally accepted to mean “anyone who is not a Jew.”  Even though that grouping includes 99.82% of the world and includes the most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse group there is.  The one and only thing everyone in the group has in common, is that he or she is not a Jew.

Does this make any sense to you??

More.

Personally, I don’t use the word Gentile in my common parlance.  I feel that perhaps it would be perceived as somehow exclusionist or elitist and instead employ the more neutral term, “non-Jew.”  Most Jews that I know also prefer the softer term.

But.

Most non-Jews that I know, when telling me that they are not Jewish, seem to be more likely to use the term “Gentile” than Jews.

Hmm.

The term “Gentile” seems to have originally derived from the Hebrew “goy.”  The Hebrew word “goy” means “nation,” and is used many times throughout Torah scripture, never derogatorily.  Sometimes it refers to the Jewish nation and sometimes it refers to the other nations, usually in the context of exhorting the Jewish people to resist the pulls of assimilation and intermarriage and to remain true to its heritage.

Somehow, the term evolved into its common usage, ostensibly by those very non-Jews.  So why did everyone buy into this term?  Do non-Jews feel that “everyone who is not Jewish” somehow shares a common bond?  More than “everyone who is not black”?  More than “everyone who is not Christian”?

Still scratching my head.

Thoughts?

Uncategorized July 4, 2012

JAPs, Jewish Mothers, and Epiphanies at Hallmark

Of course, I always knew what a JAP was.  She was tall, beautiful.  She lived in New York.  Maybe New Jersey.  She had a closet full of designer clothing and accessories that had always been casually purchased just this year.  Her parents redid her room, oh, every so breezy now and then with custom built-ins.  She knew what was in before anyone else did; in fact, it seemed that she created trend by virtue of oh-so-nonchalantly wearing it.

Here’s what I didn’t know: she had a nose job.  And maybe some other, er, “work.”  She was bratty.  Hard to live with.  Uncaring of first-world problems, let alone any other kind.  She threw tantrums well past the age of two.

Here’s what else I didn’t know.  Her father was short and balding.  Nebbish.  Neurotic.  Attached to his mother.  Had a bizarre, schmalty sense of humor.  Couldn’t say no to her if he tried.  Her mother?  More complicated than years of therapy could fix.  Overpowering.  Guilt-inducing.  Helicoptering to the most severe degree.  Had apron strings that made Alcatraz look chilled.  Embarrassingly loud and flamboyant.

See, I hadn’t ever met these people.  No one ever told me they existed.  Until Hallmark.

My friends and I used to frequent the mall that was practically in my backyard pretty much each Sunday afternoon. With our hard-earned babysitting money, we’d shop or just browse.  At Hallmark, my young teen self came across an intriguing book: “The Big Book of Jewish Humor.”  Or something like that.  I figured it would be full of plays-on-words with Hebrew or jokes about latkes.  Alas, I was about to meet My Big Fat Neurotic Jewish Family.

Jokes upon jokes that I didn’t get about Jewish mothers, guilt, nebbish men, and JAPs.  I had no idea who these people were.  Were they my people?  Where did they live?  Where were they hiding?  How come everyone seemed to know about them besides me?

Was it about growing up Orthodox and pretty much shielded from much of the media?  Is there some kind of inversely proportional relationship between growing up amid rich spiritual Judaism and extensive education, and knowledge or identification with classic modern Jewish stereotypes?

My friend Dr. Samantha Baskind authored a fascinating piece on “The Fockerized Jew” – an analysis of the “coolness” of Jews in the media as a fairly recent occurrence, based on the offerings of Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand, Seinfeld, and most recently, the Fockers.  I read the extensive essay with fascination, not just because she is a brilliant writer, but because, well, I never knew Jews were uncool in the first place.

Woody Allen?  Classic Jew?  Are you kidding??

Did you identify with these Jewish stereotypes?  Did they align with real-world Jews you knew?

Uncategorized June 11, 2012

I’m a Jew-ist

I care about our planet
yet I’m not an environmentalist.

I care about animals
but I’m not an activist.

I feel that women are strong, wise, and capable, and have an incredibly important contribution to offer the world
but I’m not a feminist.

I believe that humans have values and concerns that are deeply important
but I wouldn’t be called a humanist.

It is vitally important to me to understand things rationally
but I don’t want you to call me a rationalist.

My observance may seem extreme to some
but I don’t think you’d call me an extremist.

I believe that God has a masterplan
but I’m definitely not a fatalist.

I’m a Jew.
It’s my highest calling.
I wouldn’t dilute it, hyphenate it, or share it with any other identity.
All my other callings fall under its umbrella.
I’m a Jew-ist.