Jew Am I?
Despite my unpronounceable surname, formidable Dukakis-level brow line and decidedly Jewtastic seasonal allergies, I’ve all the time thought of myself a regular, average American. I’ve lived in America for all 50 of my 50 years, if we count Los Angeles as part of America. And a few individuals do. On Friday nights, its not rocket surgery I clear up Blue Bloods murders proper alongside Tom Selleck’s mustache. On Saturday mornings, I am going to watch any college soccer game you place in front of me, even the normal battle between the Devry Institute and Clown Faculty. And on the 4th of July, I not solely root for Joey Chestnutt in the recent Canine Eating contest, but I’ll often eat along with him. You realize, for moral assist. I like my sitcoms with three cameras and my omelettes with three cheeses. I cried at Argo, Sully, Rudy and Miracle. I complain about visitors and Mondays and my back and gridlock in Washington. See? Regular. Average. American.
And then there are occasional days, once i nonetheless really feel like a guest, attempting to “move”. But hey, what are you gonna do?
Not long ago, I used to be at the dentist when their hygienist asked if I used to be Persian. I answered “No, but that is humorous I do get that rather a lot. My grandparents had been Sephardic. From Turkey.” Apparently, I had given the wrong reply. Apparently, I had given essentially the most grievous answer known to man. Turns out my hygienist wasn’t Persian, however Armenian. And she spent the following ten minutes holding me a bit of too liable for the Armenian Genocide, whereas never as soon as removing her finger from my mouth. “I assume perhaps there’s such a factor as a very good Turk” she provided with all of the resolute conviction of somebody studying a ransom notice with an off-digicam Glock pointed at her head. She then made repeated references to “your folks.” My grandparents moved here 100 years ago. My persons are from Encino. As I have been known to say, the only issues they dedicated genocide towards are pound cake and my vanity.
I am unable to say I grew up in a super Jewish dwelling. We were Reform. So reform that our temple had a swimming pool, hence it’s normal appellation because the “shul with a pool.” I went to Nursery and Hebrew School there and had my bar mitzvah there, however we had been largely High Holiday sort of Jews. And even then, these companies had been ceaselessly held in a Presbyterian Church. I did point out this was LA, didn’t I?
The other factor that muddled my Jewish identity was the truth that I used to be half-Sephardic (from Turkey) and half-Ashkenazi (from Poland and Austria). I always considered my dad and mom as simply two Valley Jews. Their nearly matching tennis gear did not belie some cultural chasm to my ten yr-previous eye. But apparently, their union had been the Judeo equal of an inter-marriage. I never actually considered that there was much distinction between my grandparents. But looking again, one aspect, the Bel Air facet, had been close associates with Richard Nixon. On the other side, the Fairfax aspect, I had a grandmother so old country that she didn’t drive, pronounced Seattle as “Seatt-Lee” and would not buy me root beer as a result of a child shouldn’t drink alcohol. And a grandfather who, I swear, had no less than 8 brothers named “Victor.”
I went to a public elementary faculty that was so Jewish, I did not even understand anybody there was Jewish. I simply thought all guys were as bad as me at contact sports activities. And all ladies had frizzy hair and topped out at 5’2.
My first real understanding that not everyone celebrated Shavuot, came after i entered my Episcopalian center faculty. Some of the clues included boys with blond hair, Topsiders, restricted counry clubs, tee times and a group called the Sons of Hitler that drew swastikas on our lockers. I don’t imagine they obtained course credit for his or her hard work. But they didn’t obtain suspensions either. This was again in the day, when “kike” was tossed round as casually and with out consequence as “fag.” And for those who happened to be a delicate Jew, you steadily acquired the day by day double.
I all the time felt I was a guest at another person’s faculty. But by the end of my six years, I began to have fun with it. I used to be tasked with doing the introductions at our annual debate banquet, the place I shared the dais with our college priest and English headmaster. Neither seemed notably overjoyed once i started my feedback with “seated on the bima tonight” after which launched each member of the debate team by their synagogue affiliation. Apart from the one Korean guy each debate group had. He, I stated, was here representing Fromin’s Delicatessen.
In faculty in the Northeast, I undoubtedly went via a part where I did everything I might to pass. Not simply as Gentile, however as Mayflower, previous cash Gentile. I had the Bean Bluchers and the Norwegian fisherman’s sweater and the shiksa girlfriend from Miss Porter’s. I played touch soccer with fraternity brothers overlooking the water in Newport while wearing an Oxford Women’s Cotton Mountain Short Sleeve T Shirts shirt. However this was always an unwell-fitting costume. As they say, you can’t hide the hook. That is my nose. That is what the hook is referring to.
I even once tried dying my hair blond, utilizing a homemade brew of lemon juice, Solar-In and peroxide. Instead of blond, I spent a summer season with a brilliant orange mane wanting like the evil spawn of Danny Bonaduce, Carrot High and Bozo the Clown.
In actuality, it is laborious to pass as a Jamestown colonist or a laconic Wyoming sheriff with the final name “Behar.” My wife and that i used to joke that if our children ever wished its not rocket surgery to run for the Senate, they could drop the “Behar” and run as “Samantha Robins” or “Jack Andrews.” The latter might additionally save the State Division from an impending terrorist assault in a Michael Bay film. Then again, this now appears like a concern from a bygone period. Issues have modified so rapidly on this country that no identify feels extra quintessentially American than “Barack Hussein Obama.”
As an grownup, I’ve embraced my Jewishness if not a deep religiosity. Both my youngsters attend Jewish day college, but I’ve never been to Israel. “But who’s watching my bushes” I ask every time to repeated non-laughter. I name a thousand Island , “Russian dressing” and still see Woody Allen motion pictures mostly out of cultural obligation. I know the V’ahavta by heart (or off-e-book as I call it). However then again, I nonetheless also know the Lord’s Prayer–the present of Tuesday Episcopal chapel that keeps on giving.
We consider ourselves a typical American family. Our final massive journey was to Charleston. Earlier than that, we went to Austin. Super American, right? However then, after a week of eating our means by Texas and nonetheless in a brisket coma, I was pulled out of line at the Austin airport for questioning. For no discernible cause, beyond my swarthy complexion and swarthy outlook.
It’s attainable I am getting extra Jewish as I age. Or the corollary, all previous folks seem Jewish. Final week, I smuggled a baggy of Trader Joe’s lox into my local bagel retailer so I would not should pay full retail. When did I change into everybody’s grandmother?
So what’s the point of all this id navel-gazing. Two thoughts come to mind. The primary is about the Jewish-American experience. And how not everyone’s is the same. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing twentieth century Jewry by the same herring-tinted filter. It’s always Ashknazi. It all the time runs by means of Brooklyn. And it all the time appears to be narrated by the identical speaking heads. We get it, Larry King liked egg creams, stickball and sneaking into Ebbets Area. However my expertise has just as many bumuelas and biscochos as tongue sandwiches on rye. And my expertise has already been supplanted by the new Jewish immigrant stories from Iran, South Africa, Russia and Israel.
My second commentary is how I/we match into the general tapestry of American life. Every immigrant in every group always faces the give and take of full assimilation versus holding on to treasured customs. There are days when I’m effectively conscious that I’m a Jew in a non-Jewish society. Attempt spending a day at Disneyland. (It is also useful if you wish to feel anorexic). However on most days, I simply mix in and do not think about it–a proposition I am effectively aware not all groups get to realize with equal ease. However as I write this closing paragraph in the Northridge Starbucks, the one non-Asian or Latino within the room, I see that we all simply want to be considered American.
its not rocket surgery