the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Jewish Blogger


Sophia and I picked up her mother and step-father.  We were going to go out for dinner.  We always go out for Chinese, so Sophia thought we should try something new.

"How would you like to try Canter’s Deli?" she asked.

Sophia’s mother made a face showing her disinterest.    Too salty and too sweet. 

Now my parents, being New York-bred Jews, were raised on deli food.  My father, in particular, loved to eat stuff like corned beef sandwiches and stuff cabbage — even when my mother wouldn’t let him touch the cholesterol-laden stuff for the last ten years.    This deli food is usually thought of as "Jewish" (even though it is probably originally Polish, Romanian, or Hungarian food).

My grandparents come from a small village in Russia/Poland, pretty much the same area that Sophia’s grandparents came from.  The big difference is that my family came to America and her family stayed behind.  And when you hear stories of the awful Soviet Regime — it’s pretty clear why Sophia is a Republican today.

I find the differences in our mothers quite interesting.  It makes me think of the old nature or nurture argument.   Can one generation in different countries really make that big of a difference? 

My mother is so "American" in her likes and dislikes.  Sophia’s mother is so "Russian."  Although both are Jewish and have roots in the same area of Eastern Europe, they’re completely different culturally. 

Maybe this means nurture is more important than nature.   Where you grow up really does "make the man." I know some people leave the big city when they have children, so they can grow up in a "better environment."  But are the suburbs really a better environment?  Does growing up in Los Angeles make you a vain narcissist, more so than growing up in Kansas? 

On some level, I think these cultural differences are disappearing.  Anyone in the country can get cable or read any book just by ordering it on Amazon.   I read blogs from people all over the place, and bloggers from New York or Boston don’t necessarily write anything more intellectual or compelling than someone from a small town.  I guess anyone can read the New York Times online.

I know being Jewish is also part of my identity.  American Jews, including myself, are always trying to draw the right line between being American and keeping in touch with their heritage.    I’m pretty secular so I have an easier time than those who keep kosher.   But keeping connected with your group is not something only Jews do.  I see it blacks, Asians, even French-born people living in the States.  I don’t see anything wrong with it.  Life would be pretty boring if all the world was the same, all eating the same Big Macs.  It would be like living in Orange County.

Sometimes I’m not sure how "Jewish" I am.   I have a couple of readers who are "Jewish bloggers."  I recently asked one of them, "What makes your blog so Jewish?  You hardly write about anything Jewish."

"Aren’t you a Jewish blogger?"

"Not really."

"Sure you are.  You write more about Jewish things than other Jewish bloggers."

"I also write about my penis and I’m not  "a Penis blogger."

Maybe I just don’t want to be categorized. 

Last weekend, I was trying to categorize my blogroll.  First, I separated everyone by gender — but it was embarrassing that I had so many more women than men.  Then, I started separating everyone geographically, but I got stuck figuring out where to put Leesa (Montana) and I wasn’t sure if Brooke (in Florida) was "East Coast" or "South."  Next, I thought of arranging everyone by "personality type" — humorous, poetic, dramatic, spicy, etc.   But I had a feeling that many of you would hate being categorized with one word, like casting directors do with actors:

"Bring me the funny-looking one!"

I know I hate being categorized.    I guess I’m a Jewish blogger.   A Penis blogger.   A "talk about Sophia" a lot blogger.   Do you categorize your own blog? 

If someone asked you to describe your content, could you?

UPDATE:   Terrific short film at Sundance 2006 which explores some of the issues of being Jewish in America.  It is called "The Tribe," and it has a very clever twist — it humorously  tells the history of both the Barbie doll (created by a Jewish mother) and the Jewish people – from Biblical times to present day.    You can watch it here.   Thanks, Hanan at Grow a Brain, for the link. 


  1. chantel

    No. No matter what I write or how I write it someone else will see it another way. I don’t like categories or boxes or generalizations; so I try to stay away from them.

  2. Mata Hari

    I prefer not to categorize my blog. I write whatever I feel like writing. ok – so it just so happens that all my readers seem to be jewish. oh – and maybe some of the posts have some religious overtones or jewish phrases in them. But I’d be delighted if someone from Kansas who’s not jewish read my stuff. I’m writing because I like to write. And I like to connect with people. And this venue is a lot of fun.

  3. Richard

    Like Hawaii and Alaska, Florida is so geographically and culturally separated from the rest of America that it has a persona all its own. Kinda like Texas.

  4. Neil

    Richard — My geographical areas were going to be East, West, North, South, and abroad. But is California really West? And should Paris and Hong Kong really be in the same category? And what about someone who’s French, but happens to live in Idaho? I literally spent half a day re-arranging things, until I just gave up.

  5. The Retropolitan

    File me under: RETRO. Come on, it’s right there in the name.

    Or: “Bad Jokes”. They both work.

  6. Pearl

    I like to be known as a Witty & Wise Blogger.

  7. ashbloem

    I defy categorization.

    Unless you have a “Good boobs” category. Then you can put me there.

  8. Nance

    One referrer calls me a “culture critic”; another calls me “well-written and sometimes political (Democrat)”, and I’m not sure that’s even a bonafide category. Another calls my blog an English teacher blog though I rarely refer to my job or classes. Maybe I should run a contest for the best description of my blog…!

  9. Heather B.

    I can’t stand when people tell me that I’m not “black enough”. Like obviously all black people should act a certain way or be from a certain geographical area. The best was when a cab driver asked where I was from and I told him upstate NY and he said “oh, well you don’t have an accent, you’re very well spoken for a black girl”. And then I shot him..ok I didn’t. My point is that I hate sweeping generalizations about race or ethnicity. And I’m not about to start acting a certain way in real life or on my blog.

  10. Neil

    Nance — I would stick with “culture critic” — that makes you sound the smartest.

    Ashbloem — Why so modest? “Good” doesn’t do you justice. And I already have that, uh, category on my Bloglines — now you know which group of bloggers I read every day, no matter what. I just don’t feel comfortable displaying that list on my blog.

    Heather — Jews have it easy in the way they can choose to be or not to be identified as Jewish (Ralph Lauren comes to mind). It must be a pain in the ass sometimes to be the only black or Asian in a group. I’ve written about a friend who is a teacher in an exclusive private school — and because he is black, all the other teachers look at him like he’s the “black expert” in matters such as where to hang up the Martin Luther King poster.

    Safe — flattery will get you…

  11. better safe than sorry

    i thought this was a penis blog, that’s why i keep coming back.

  12. cruisin-mom

    Neil, here’s how I categorize you. A Jewish, American, thoughtful, sensitive, inquisitive, a little too obsessed with his penis, humorist blogger.(not necessarily in that order)
    I categorize my blog as “I’m 50 and I can’t seem to shut-up”.

  13. AWE

    I would have to be categorized as “Under the Influence” or “Drunk and Pissed”.

  14. JordanBaker

    I once got name dropped in an item on “dating blogs”. . .at a point when I hadn’t been on a date in months. Awesome.

  15. cherchezlafemme

    I am a “me” blogger which depending on the time of the day and my mood can be anything from witty to pedantic, self-absorbed to compassionate and balanced to neurotic. The problem with categorizations is the assumption of consistency in people and almost everybody, no matter how consistent or unidimensional, breaks the boundaries at some point. As you point out, why bother?

  16. Neil

    Jordan, wasn’t that me? Or I think what I wrote about you was much worse. You know what I’m talking about…

  17. Leesa

    Hmmm, my description? The diary of a girl living in the mountains like a hermit with way too many pets and too much time on her hands 🙂

  18. LisaBinDaCity

    Yum, Canter’s Deli. I miss it.

  19. JordanBaker

    Oh, nononono–this was on dcist back in june or july. Oddly, I was much more comfortable with people knowing I was finally gettin’ some than with people coming to my blog expecting to see “here’s how to meet guys in DC,” and instead getting a lengthy rant about. . .I don’t know, waxing or gay roommates or whatever.

  20. Edgy Mama

    I’m listed in several spots as a “Mommy” blog, though I rarely write about being one. I think I would be best described as a “flirty” blogger. That is why we blog, isn’t it, Neilochka?

  21. erin

    I guess my blog is a “Meme” blog. It’s the only place where I can start every sentence with, “I” and not feel bad about it. 🙂

  22. communicatrix

    I like this post a lot. It meanders. I like your meandering posts and the ones where you are slightly mean.

    Ergo, I say you are a meandering sonofabitch blogger. There. Now you have cards you can get printed up for SXSW.

  23. Neil

    Awe — That’s a very common category for bloggers, I think.

    Leesa — How about hot photographer? Did you give up on those HNT photos?

    LisaB — Canter’s is OK, but there’s better stuff in NY.

    Jordan — I’m glad my first post back then on Blogebrity wasn’t the problem. So, have you gotten lucky again since then?

    Edgy — You are so NOT a Mommy blog.

    Erin — I’m not sure exactly why, but that was about the most clever and amusing comment I’ve read in a while. And for most of us, absolutely true.

    Communicatrix — I’m trying to add ‘being mean’ to my repertoire. Pretty soon, I will be transforming this blog into a constant rant against women, liberals, and Muslims in hope of drawing in the Fox News crowd. By the way, I had a lot of trouble categorizing your blog. I thought about “Obsessive over Lists,” but that would have put you in your own category.

  24. MA

    I am a “I blather about whatever I can think of” blog.

  25. pia

    I’ve had the fox news crowd; ain’t fun. Then again neither are the “if you were really Jewish you would___” fill in the blank crowds.

    I’m really Jewish! Is being Jewish somewhat akin to the James Frey make it more dramatic school?

    But my blog isn’t about being Jewish, political, adopted, or any of the things people try to make it into.

    It’s about me, moi, and I, and I like it, I do!

  26. Neil

    Pia — I don’t really care as much what other people think about me, as I do in understanding myself. By choosing certain topics to write about, blogging is teaching me about myself and my interests. I think whether I like it or not, I’m probably a Jewish blogger just because i’m interested in the subject. Look at all the passion I had today in writing about the Muslim world and their anti-Semitic cartoons. You don’t usually see me getting all revved up about other subjects. Each of us is more interested in some subjects more than others. We just don’t want to be ONLY known for one thing.

    In a way I like the fact that we’re hidden. A puerto Rican girl from the Bronx can indulge her interest in NASCAR racing without having her friends tell her she’s crazy.

    So, categorizing yourself a little bit is not all bad. I think it only helps you understand where you’re coming from. And, readers, feel free to mock any of my beliefs — at least in a nice way. I’m a big believer in freedom of blogging.

  27. Doctor Bean

    I loved the short film. Thanks for the link.

  28. Harry Yemma

    Read the very funny Jewish book SWAP by Sam Moffie. You will love it!

  29. Dr. Michael D. Evans

    It’s funny why you’re labeled a Jewish blogger. It’s okay man. People can be really keen on sorting. I had fun reading the article by the way.

  30. Michael Pecoriello

    Happy Thanksgivukkah!

  31. Michael Pecoriello

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