Thursday, August 25, 2011

If only spotting other members of the Tribe were that easy

I would wager that for most American Jews, being Jewish is as much a cultural experience and identification as it is a religious one, if not more so.  And I include myself in this generalization.  I am not particularly religious, but I very much identify with being Jewish.  Many of my ancestors came to this country because of their Judaism -- my great-grandparents escaped the pogroms -- and spoke English with a very heavy accent because they mostly spoke Yiddish.*  For my parents, being part of the Jewish community was an essential aspect of growing up in Detroit in the middle of the last century.  Even when my dad went to the University of Virginia, he was in a fraternity that was identified as a Jewish fraternity, because Jews weren't really welcomed in the more established houses. 

So a big part of being Jewish, in response to persecution and prejudice, was to mostly associate and identify with other Jews.**  And even though that kind of prejudice and persecution is not so prevalent today -- when my grandmother asked me if I was rushing Jewish houses when I decided to go through sorority rush in college, I had no idea what she was talking about -- there's still a sense of recognition and kinship in encountering other Jews in everyday life, as well as pride in the accomplishments of other Jews.

But of course, you don't always know who is Jewish and who isn't.

My mom and I were talking on the phone about her recent trip out of the country.

"I met the most wonderful Jewish couple," she said.  "I was talking to the husband and of course I didn't come right out and ask him but some of the things he was saying made me think that he might be Jewish, and that he realized that I might be Jewish.  But it's not like you necessarily can tell right off the bat."

"Right.  We're not required to wear yellow stars on our sleeves anymore."

"Exactly.  I mean, I couldn't just ask him to stick out his penis so I could inspect it."


Because that would be very awkward.

*They called me "Vinda" because there isn't really a "w" sound in Yiddish.  "Vinda, vould you like a gless of meeelk?  Some coookies?  You need to eat, dahlink."

**I recognize this is not a novel or revolutionary observation.  It's true of all minority groups throughout history.

1 comment:

  1. That's so funny we were talking about the exact topic last night, about Jewish being as much of a culture as a religion, for whatever reason - I was at my friends' house where half the couple is Jewish and we were discussing their upcoming baby naming ceremony this Sunday - so excited, it's my first one, and their little girl is only 3 months younger than Jane =).