Jew Am I?
Despite my unpronounceable surname, formidable Dukakis-degree brow line and decidedly Jewtastic seasonal allergies, I’ve all the time thought-about myself a regular, average American. I’ve lived in America for all 50 of my 50 years, if we count Los Angeles as a part of America. And a few individuals do. On Friday nights, I clear up Blue Bloods murders proper alongside Tom Selleck’s mustache. On Saturday mornings, I am going to watch any school football game you place in front of me, even the standard battle between the Devry Institute and Clown Faculty. And on the 4th of July, I not only root for Joey Chestnutt in the new Canine Consuming contest, however I’ll typically eat together with him. You understand, for ethical 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 again and gridlock in Washington. See? Common. Average. American.
And then there are occasional days, after i nonetheless feel like a guest, attempting to “move”. But hey, what are you gonna do?
Not way back, I used to be on the dentist when their hygienist asked if I was Persian. I answered “No, but that’s funny I do get that lots. My grandparents were Sephardic. From Turkey.” Apparently, I had given the incorrect answer. Apparently, I had given probably the most grievous answer identified to man. Seems my hygienist wasn’t Persian, but Armenian. And she spent the following ten minutes holding me a little too answerable for the Armenian Genocide, while by no means as soon as removing her finger from my mouth. “I assume possibly there’s such a thing as a good Turk” she supplied with all the resolute conviction of someone studying a ransom word with an off-camera Glock pointed at her head. She then made repeated references to “your folks.” My grandparents moved right here 100 years in the past. My people are from Encino. As I have been recognized to say, the only things they committed genocide in opposition to are pound cake and my self-esteem.
I can’t say I grew up in an excellent Jewish home. We had been Reform. So reform that our temple had a swimming pool, hence it’s common appellation because the “shul with a pool.” I went to Nursery and Hebrew School there and had my bar mitzvah there, however we have been mostly Excessive Vacation sort of Jews. And even then, those services had been steadily held in a Presbyterian Church. I did point out this was LA, didn’t I?
The other thing that muddled my Jewish identification was the fact that I was half-Sephardic (from Turkey) and half-Ashkenazi (from Poland and Austria). I always considered my mother and father as just two Valley Jews. Their practically matching tennis gear did not belie some cultural chasm to my ten 12 months-previous eye. However apparently, their union had been the Judeo equivalent of an inter-marriage. I by no means actually considered that there was a lot distinction between my grandparents. But looking again, one aspect, the Bel Air facet, were close buddies with Richard Nixon. On the opposite side, the Fairfax aspect, I had a grandmother so previous country that she didn’t drive, pronounced Seattle as “Seatt-Lee” and wouldn’t buy me root beer because a kid should not drink alcohol. And a grandfather who, I swear, had at the least 8 brothers named “Victor.”
I went to a public elementary best hoddies faculty that was so Jewish, I did not even realize anybody there was Jewish. I simply thought all guys were as dangerous as me at contact sports activities. And all women had frizzy hair and topped out at 5’2.
My first actual 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 instances and a gaggle called the Sons of Hitler that drew swastikas on our lockers. I do not imagine they received course credit score for his or her hard work. But they didn’t receive suspensions both. This was back in the day, when “kike” was tossed round as casually and with out consequence as “fag.” And for those who occurred to be a sensitive best hoddies Jew, you often received the each day double.
I at all times felt I was a visitor at another person’s faculty. But by the tip of my six years, I began to have enjoyable with it. I was tasked with doing the introductions at our annual debate banquet, the place I shared the dais with our college priest and English headmaster. Neither looked particularly overjoyed after i started my comments with “seated on the bima tonight” and then launched every member of the debate group by their synagogue affiliation. Aside from the one Korean guy each debate staff had. He, I said, was right here representing Fromin’s Delicatessen.
In school within the Northeast, I definitely went via a phase where I did every little thing I could to cross. Not simply as Gentile, but as Mayflower, outdated money Gentile. I had the Bean Bluchers and the Norwegian fisherman’s sweater and the shiksa girlfriend from Miss Porter’s. I played contact football with fraternity brothers overlooking the water in Newport whereas sporting an Oxford shirt. But this was all the time an sick-fitting costume. As they say, you cannot cover the hook. That is my nose. That’s what the hook is referring to.
I even as soon as tried dying my hair blond, using a homemade brew of lemon juice, Solar-In and peroxide. As an alternative of blond, I spent a summer season with a vivid orange mane looking like the evil spawn of Danny Bonaduce, Carrot Prime and Bozo the Clown.
In reality, it’s arduous to go as a Jamestown colonist or a laconic Wyoming sheriff with the last identify “Behar.” My spouse and that i used to joke that if our children ever wished to run for the Senate, they might drop the “Behar” and run as “Samantha Robins” or “Jack Andrews.” The latter might also save the State Division from an impending terrorist attack in a Michael Bay movie. Then again, this now looks like a concern from a bygone period. Issues have modified so quickly in this country that no identify feels extra quintessentially American than “Barack Hussein Obama.”
As an adult, I’ve embraced my Jewishness if not a deep religiosity. Both my kids attend Jewish day college, but I’ve by no means been to Israel. “But who’s watching my bushes” I ask each time to repeated non-laughter. I call 1000 Island , “Russian dressing” and nonetheless see Woody Allen motion pictures mostly out of cultural obligation. I do know the V’ahavta by heart (or off-e-book as I name it). But then again, I still additionally know the Lord’s Prayer–the reward of Tuesday Episcopal chapel that retains on giving.
We consider ourselves a typical American family. Our last huge journey was to Charleston. Earlier than that, we went to Austin. Super American, proper? However then, after a week of eating our manner by way of Texas and still in a brisket coma, I used to be pulled out of line on the Austin airport for questioning. For no discernible motive, past my swarthy complexion and swarthy outlook.
It’s attainable I am getting extra Jewish as I age. Or the corollary, all outdated folks appear Jewish. Last week, I smuggled a baggy of Trader Joe’s lox into my native bagel retailer so I would not have to pay full retail. When did I turn into everyone’s grandmother?
So what’s the purpose of all this identity navel-gazing. Two thoughts come to thoughts. The first is about the Jewish-American expertise. And the way not everyone’s is the same. We have grown accustomed to seeing twentieth century Jewry by the identical herring-tinted filter. It is at all times Ashknazi. It all the time runs via Brooklyn. And it all the time appears to be narrated by the identical talking heads. We get it, Larry King favored egg creams, stickball and sneaking into Ebbets Discipline. 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 tales 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 each group at all times 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. Try spending a day at Disneyland. (It is also useful if you wish to feel anorexic). But on most days, I simply mix in and do not think about it–a proposition I am properly aware not all groups get to attain with equal ease. However as I write this final paragraph within the Northridge Starbucks, the only non-Asian or Latino in the room, I see that all of us simply wish to be thought of as American.