on being Jewish – not that i would know

so, this is a post that i had written only in my mind for nearly a month now. it is a topic where i, the fool, fears to tread. but, i’ve had one experience after another that seems to be the universe calling for this post. so, here we go.

context: i come from a small town, <13,000 people, that was 97% white when i grew up. wiki indicates it has become more diverse. it is now 96.8% white. until leaving home, and even a few yrs after that, i lived in one  kind of culture where words and phrases were thrown around that would be considered offensive. my grandfather, who i spent much time with and had a great influence on me, used terms for other people that are not appropriate today and were not really appropriate towards the end of his life. but, i honestly believe he used these terms like we use American, Canadian, Russian, etc.

so, i stereotype. there, i admitted it. i generalize groups of people, though not an individual person. i hope i am Chapelleian in this way. you know, like white people can’t dance, Clayton Bigsby and I Know Black People – see pts 1 & 2.

therefore, i am clearly naive and have no idea of what it is like to be Jewish. however, being brought into an Israeli-Jewish family, being exposed to bouts of Hebrew and visiting Israel certainly opens one’s world, unless they are a zombie. for example, i was sitting in an internet cafe the other day and ‘happened’ to overhear two Israelis calling home. my ears were pulled in and i definitely knew more words in their conversation than what i would have expected. strands of Israeli’ness have seeped into my soul.

last night i was listening to a podcast of my favorite radio show. it was recorded on Sukkot, which i just learned a little about the other day. they were discussing how they would celebrate it and that there would be no Jews listening to the show after 6:37 pm. Sukkot and cheating Jews, listening to the show past 6:37 pm, ended up being a running gag for the entire show. [i will not link to that episode as the main topic is really over the line, even for them; i did laugh and laugh].

at one point, the funnyman sidekick said he wasn’t going to celebrate Sukkot with his young children because he hasn’t told them they were Jewish. when prompted, he said he was going to sit them down and tell them when they were at the appropriate age. somewhat related: he also said he tells his children that they do not celebrate “Lunch” in their house.

of course not telling your children that they are Jewish is a joke. of course. except when it is not.

in fact, this summer i learned that the family of one of my friends only learned a decade or so ago that they were Jewish. it seems that Grandma fled Europe just as Hitler was rising to power [40 other family members perish]. she told NO ONE that she was Jewish.

call me wickedly naive, but this is, um, un-American to me. this is something, when i was younger i guess, that i discussed often with people, especially when i left my home region and met people of all kinds of races. i was fascinated. but, this is a fairly common topic of discussion in America – heritage. so, i was stunned  to hear of this lack of disclosure. but, more and more these days, i understand it.

the first event that helped me understand this was the Forest of Martyrs:

of course i can identify with that. it is less abstract. and when you allow yourself to think about it, it is overwhelming.

next, while in Mongolia, i was reading “Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”. when the Mongolian army first wreaked havoc in eastern Europe, Europeans were so ignorant of who these people were that they concluded this was the lost black tribe of Jews. they had left Europe (for good reason perhaps?), became evil and returned with a vengeance, as a good action movie voice-over would say. the Euros blamed the Jews.

later in that same book it was noted  that the Mongolians introduced, accidently?, black plague to Europe. it seems to have derived in marmot burrows; marmots are the favorite wild food of Mongolians and they were pretty tied to this animal. of course, as the plague started to sweep Europe, you know who they blamed, correct? they went to their homes and villages and started burning them. it was how to keep the plague at bay, according to their hypothesis.

we all know what Hitler did. we all generally know that the Jews have been persecuted for 2000 yrs or so. given these new details, my in-laws did not know of these specific events, it puts Hitler in a greater perspective. he did nothing new, really. he just did it on a larger scale and recorded it. i mean, recorded it for the mass media for all to see. to be preserved outside of the Jewish culture forever.

wow, i’m really starting to get it. if i were Jewish, i would be careful about being in Europe. i do not want to be a scapegoat for anything.


coming back to stereotypes: they are dangerous and offensive. but, they also contain a certain grain of truth for larger cultures. more and more evidence is suggesting that natural selection plays a role in the development of culture. if this holds true, then we might think of culture as something like blondes in Scandinavia or coarse-haired Italians – it is partly shaped by our DNA and there is a common pattern among people within a culture.


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