Oct 4, 2010

The J-unification of America


The other day, in the Lucky supermarket in East Oakland, I saw an elderly black woman purchase a bottle of Manischewitz wine.

There are not words to articulate the joy this gave me.

Of course, it’s possible that this woman was one of the few black Jews residing in the Bay Area. Perhaps she was a Felasha woman purchasing the bottle for a traditional Shabbat dinner. Indeed, the PC Bay Area-ite in me wants to acknowledge the possibilities in that regard, to resist the urge to laugh at what might very well be the sacred beliefs of another.  Alas, restraint is not my style, and such acknowledgment would make the whole thing—while of undeniable cultural interest—less satisfying on an comedic level than if this were just a nice black lady about to enjoy a glass of cloyingly sweet cough syrup wine with her pineapple-glazed Virginia ham dinner later that evening.  And thus, it is the ham scenario I choose to believe.

There is something indescribable that affects Jews on a supreme level when we see small elements of our culture accepted, even adopted or co-opted by our gentile brothers and sisters.

I think this is especially true for those of us who grew up in communities with few Jews.   I'm speaking about those of us who sang every Christmas carol known to man in elementary school holiday festivals, while year after year performing the same tedious arrangement of Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, conducted by our music teacher (and neighborhood pastor’s wife), Mrs. McGinnes. To this day, I cannot look at a dreidel without a momentary fantasy of what it would have been like to cram a big one down Mrs. McGinnes’ whiny, soprano-pitched throat.

Indeed, for some of us, our culture was so rarely represented outside of our homes, that when we do see it in the context of the gentile world, it evokes a sort primal giddiness generally reserved only for the most delicious of surprises, like loud farts in the public library, or a dog fucking a duck

One time, when we were at my grandfather’s house having a Sunday breakfast of schmaltz herring, smoked whitefish, lox, bagels, and bialys, my dad made his usual joke about inviting a few of my Irish Catholic friends over for a nice slice of herring. Again, this was not a new routine, but nonetheless one which was met with uproarious laughter every time. Go figure. The idea of a small Christian child gnawing on a stinky slab of fatty brined fish was a bit of humor that never seemed to get old in my family. However, my grandfather, for whom herring was a thing of such profound beauty that he actually wrote a novella entitled Speaking of Herring, this time responded somewhat seriously:

“Give it time. Just look at all the publicity bagels have gotten, thanks to those meshugana Lender brothers and their little frozen hockey pucks. The goyim love bagels. Someday, herring will make the big time, too.”

Sadly, decades later, my grandfather's prediction has not come to fruition , although, as a nation, I believe we've become Jewier than even he might ever have predicted. Indeed, schmaltz herring still hasn’t made the big time, but what we have instead is Andy Cohen  sitting on his sofa next to NeNe Leakes, hawking MAZEL shirts on Bravo TV. And meanwhile--speaking of mazels--Fergie and Will I. Am are shouting, Mazel Tov! and  L’Chaim!, as fans of the worst band ever raise their pimp cups in fist-pumping celebration. 

Is Jewspeak the new Ebonics? Is meshuggah the new hyphy? Maybe not, but WTF?  I even heard the word "tuchis" the other day on a Kohler faucet advertisement. 

And while it may not be as satisfying as a shiksa chowing down on stinky, salty, schmaltzy goodness,  I think my grandfather would still get a kick out of the fact that you can now get Bacon and Cheddar Egg Mit Bagel at any one of the many Noah’s Bagels retailers throughout the country.   Good for the Jews?  Debatable.  Good for a laugh?  Definitely.

Also, speaking of herring, if anyone knows where I can score a schmaltz herring in the San Francisco Bay Area, please message me. Thanks.
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The Lazy Paperboy said...

count my gentile ass in on the herring. not in a long while, but when i was growing up, my swedish grandmother and her sister broke it out big time on new year's day ... mazel skol!

tsada kay said...

Yeah, the Scandinavians definitely get the herring thing. Regardless, I can't dig that dubious Ikea herring I've seen. Furniture and herring? Dude...

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