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?"
"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.