Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Now Even More "Goyish"!

As a follow-up to my last post, in which I talked about what was considered "goyish" in my house growing up, I want to ask my readers:

What did YOUR family consider goyish?

I am especially interested in what may be outside the normal stereotypes (those stereotypes would include playing football and eating bologna on white bread with mayonnaise).

So, is there anything weird in your "goyish" past?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I have been wanting to write this post for a long time. Now that we are approaching Dec. 25 I actually have some time, plus what better time for it than the week of Christmas?

When I was growing up, my mom had very specific views of what was "goyish." This term is a little hard to translate, but I'm going to go with "culturally non-Jewish," or "of, or relating to, modern American Protestant culture," which I realize is inadequate. It was only upon making friends with whom I was comfortable talking about this that I realized that not everyone's Jewish mother had these ideas. Here are some things that were considered "goyish" in my house when I was a kid:

--creamed spinach (or creamed anything; we ate fleishiks [chicken, turkey, or beef] most nights, so all of our sides had to be pareve [neither meat nor dairy]).
--butter (see above--it later turned out that both my dad and I are lactose intolerant, so we obviously weren't clamoring for the stuff anyway)
--Hanukkah cards (an imitation of Christmas cards)
--Rosh HaShanah cards (same)
--going to friends' Christmas parties (duh), although there was an exception for a Catholic friend of my mom's who had a cookie bake-off every year towards the middle of December. We decorated cookies.
--saying "Happy holidays" in December. I am really surprised to see that TH does this. I didn't know it bothered me until now.
--football and hockey
--keeping furry domesticated animals, especially dogs (my mom got many of these ideas from her father, whose parents were not long off the boat when they had him; I once asked my dad why Grandpa hated dogs so much. He said, "In Europe, Jews didn't have dogs; goyim had dogs, which they turned on the Jews." My dad almost never says "goyim").
--not knowing how to dress--I was very amused when I made a Chareidi friend who basically thought the same thing. My mom thought that the reason Talbots existed was to provide solid-colored separates for hapless WASP women who otherwise could not match fabrics. Having lived in a WASPy area for more than a few years, I don't really disagree.

I'm not writing this post to make fun of my mom. Well, I'm making fun of my mom a little, but more than that I am reflecting on how a set of beliefs I believed to be totally normative in childhood and early adulthood turned out to be extremely relative, pun only sort of intended.

My brother has also pointed out that it was easy for our immediate family to think everything was "goyish" because we had very few non-Jewish friends, or even non-Jewish colleagues. My father is a Reform rabbi, and many of my parents' friends are friends of theirs from when when my dad was in rabinnical school. My brother and I went to (Conservative) day school, so our school friends and their parents were all Jewish. Other than my mom's office parties, there were no Christmas parties for us to be invited to anyway.

All this meant that--and I know this is really unusual for a Reform home in the suburbs--we didn't have to grapple so much with the meaning of living in a mixed society in which Jews are, of course, a minority. (I did feel quite left out, and then resentful, of all the Christmas lights and Santas when I was a kid, but I got over it). Being married to TH, I will have to grapple with real life much more. HIs parents and SIL love Christmas stuff, and his parents consider their participation in same to be an emblem of how wonderfully liberal and tolerant their neighborhood is. I think that Jews with kids should remain separate, not in the creamed spinach or hockey areas, but in matters Christmas, to the extent possible, to avoid confusing the kids. MIL was SO unhappy when I mentioned this, so it has been dropped, but, God-willing, we will have kids sooner rather than later (but not within the next nine months or anything), and then I guess it will be an issue. Oh, well. It's part of growing up, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thanks, guys

To My Readers:

Thank you so much for your supportive comments on my Hanukkah sucked post. They really did help me feel better. As I was telling a friend, I think that I got all wrapped up in this being TH and my first Hanukkah together and how it had to be perfect. When real life (surprise!) intruded, I got all upset, and then I got cranky about a lot of other stuff I couldn't control. Now that Hanukkah is over, I am feeling less stressed, and the lesson for next year is to CHILL OUT and enjoy the good stuff.

Plus, the sex-scandal article didn't get to the Times (yet)--just the Post, and who reads that? Ok, everyone, but they have three sex scandals a day, so it can't be that salient to readers. And they found the sign. And the little girl in Boro Park is doing better, as you can see from the second link in my response to Off the Derech. I can't believe Off the Derech reads my blog. Cool.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why My Hanukkah Kind of Sucked

I know that married life, even in a new city, is supposed to be unremittingly perfect, as is Hanukkah, but I feel that Hanukkah kind of sucked this year, and not only for me. Here are a few gems:

--TH had to work late (didn't get home until 9:00 or 10:00) almost every night this week. On our first Hanukkah as a married couple, we lit candles together only three times. We will not light candles together tonight, either.
--I was allergic to my Hanukkah present from my parents, because it contained wool (but I was fortunate in that the store took it back, and I ordered something else, and my folks were very nice about it).
--My husband's aunt, who is very nice but not Jewish, and who threw a lovely Hanukkah party for the family this year, hung Buddhist good luck charms from her Hanukkiah and told us about it. I thought I might be halakhically required to leave the room, but since she doesn't actually believe in Buddha, I think it was fine from that perspective. But, seriously?
--On a related note, DOES NO ONE UNDERSTAND that Hanukkah is (or at least was, historically) about anti-assimilationism? Does anyone else think it ironic that this is the holiday so many Jews are so keen to turn into a goyish extravaganza?
-- More than a couple of Jews I know either told me directly or posted on Facebook that they were not lighting candles this year because: 1) they are two busy; and/or 2) they forgot to buy candles. Really, Jews? Hanukkah is pretty much the least demanding holiday on the Jewish calendar, and you can't even do that?
--A Hanukkiah (8 branches, plus shamash) is NOT the same thing as a menorah (6 branches, plus shamash). Learn it!
--Some super-frum idiots in Flatbush left their Hanukkiah burning in a house without smoke detectors, and now their little girl is severely burned and fighting for her life. This is not the only story of Hanukkiah-caused fires in New York's ultra-Orthodox community this year. So some genius rabbeim had the great idea to issue a p'sak that you CAN extinguish your Hanukkiah when you leave your house, as long as the candles have burned for 30 minutes. If you're so infallible, rabbis, why didn't you issue this p'sak BEFORE all these accidents happened?
--A major Jewish sex scandal is about to break in The New York Times tomorrow. How awesome for the Jews.
--Someone stole the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from Auschwitz this morning. To paraphrase something my father said in 1972 about the terror at the Munich Olympics, We remember at time when there was pretty good security at that camp.

Friday, December 11, 2009

(Not?) Eating Animals

Does anyone else out there feel guilty about eating kosher meat?

I do.

It's not kosher meat per se that is a problem. It is factory-farmed chicken and beef in general, which you know if you have read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Jonathan Safran Foer's more-recent Eating Animals, or any of the 72,000 book reviews and imitations of same. The conditions in which most large-scale-farmed chickens and both meat and dairy cows (that sounds funny) are kept are truly appalling. If I did not keep kosher, I think I would buy free-range chicken, like Michael Pollan does. But as far as I know, you can't really get humanely-treated kosher meat, unless you live on a farm and schecht (kosher slaughter) it yourself, or live near people who do and are willing to sell you some.

Now, I'm not one of these Communist, vegetarian, Animal Liberation reading, hemp-wearing weirdos. I believe that human beings have rights that animals don't. We're at the top of the food chain, after all, and if the situation were reversed, the cows would eat us without a second thought. From a Jewish perspective, it is hard, if not impossible, to argue that killing animals is completely bad. About a third of the Torah discusses animal sacrifice. In fact, I think that kashrut originally was much kinder to animals than non-kosher slaughter. (Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). The rabbis considered causing pain to animals (tza'ar ba'alei hayyim), for example by ripping the limb off a live one, to be so terrible that the seven Noahide laws prohibit it.

But the reality today is different. We live in a country in which most animals that we eat are treated horribly in order to make it possible for us to have cheap meat (yes, kosher meat could cost more, much more) and for meat companies to make huge profits. As we know from the Rubashkin's scandal, kosher factory farming is not really any different, and sometimes may even be worse, than regular factory farming.

But I can't give up meat.

That is not to say that I eat a lot of meat. I eat meat, at most, three times a week--at Shabbat dinner, Shabbat lunch, and once during the rest of the week (usually Shabbat leftovers). In a typical week, it is closer to twice. Meat (I include beef and chicken) is also a very effective protein-delivery system that happens to taste great. There are so many things one cannot eat as a person who keeps kosher that it is just really hard of me to deprive myself of a major food group with significant dietary benefits. I DO refuse to eat veal, and if there were kosher fois gras, which I'm not sure there is, I wouldn't eat that either. But it is beyond depressing to me (because so ironic) that keeping kosher may mean that I am responsible for animals being treated much more inhumanely than I would be if I could buy free-range at a NYC specialty market.

I also want to note that not a single major halakhic authority that I know of has come out in favor of vegetarianism/against eating meat because to do so is to transgress the law against tza'ar ba'alei hayyim. Part of trying to live a halakhic life of some sort--and as a Conservadox person with a Reform upbringing, I do not follow halakhot that I don't think make any sense and are not meaningful to me--is looking to rabbis for guidance. Am I really responsible for going so above and beyond what the major halakhic consensus about eating meat is?

So, loyal readers, what is a kosher gal like me to do?