I suspect that most of the mocking responses to yesterday’s Jewish WASP piece, in which I said that despite my English-German heritage I feel like I’m a “member of the tribe” by way of manner and temperament, were about fears of social-cultural dilution. If you’re part a close-knit tribe you don’t want any Anglo Saxon dilletantes messing things up, even if they identify with and admire said manners and temperaments. All I know is that I’ve always felt more urban Jewish than suburban WASP…a lot more. I mean that sincerely and reverently.
Anyway, the following letter from Las Vegas Review-Journal staffer Carol Cling (who used to be the movie critic there) is fairly written:
“I was somewhat taken aback by your comments about Drew Barrymore‘s conversion to Judaism and your own characterization of yourself as a ‘Jewish WASP.’ Sorry, but you’re confusing cultural stereotypes with something that can (and, for some of us tribe members, should) be much more.
“For some Jews (whom you described), Judaism is nothing more than an ethnic background. For others, it’s a way of life. It’s a personal decision either way.
“For most of my life, as a nice Jewish girl who’s not from New York, not a JAP and not from a family that argued and yelled all the time, I’ve had to put up with people telling me ‘You don’t act Jewish.’ (I once had a deskmate from Brooklyn who used to say, ‘You know how Jewish families are,’ and I always had to remind him, ‘Maybe your family’s like that, Dave, but mine isn’t.’)
“Also, we also never drank Mott’s Apple Juice. My sister was addicted to Welch’s grape juice, though.
“There are many Jews who fit your description and many others who don’t. But for you to presume that ‘being Jewish is a matter of blood and to some degree conviction, but I feel it’s also a matter of personality — how you think, act and behave’ is the very definition of chutzpah.
“Besides, when it comes to Jewish behavior, being a mensch is the most important thing…and I don’t know that a mensch would be so quick to generalize about something he doesn’t know from direct experience. (It would be like me telling a Christian what Christmas is all about when I’ve never celebrated it and have only observed others doing so.)
“Anyway, just wanted to share my thoughts. Best, Carol.
“P.S. Thanks for posting the vintage Siskel-and-Ebert clip. Gene was my mentor (I met him in 1971 through his niece, who was a fellow ‘cherub’ at Northwestern’s summer journalism workshop) and he was the walking, talking definition of a mensch.”
Wells to Cling: I know from direct experience. Having quite a few Jewish friends in the TriState area over the last 35 years counts for some kind of direct link, I think. I generally know Jewish culture by growing up in New Jersey and living in Manhattan for several years. And from being fairly close with Jewish girlfriends. And from absorbing the wit and wisdom of my old-time Jewish showbiz and literary heroes (Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, Phillip Roth, etc.) I look at what urban and suburban Jews seem to be about temperamentally and personality-wise and I look at what many Connecticut WASPs are like, and I don’t even have to think about it — except for the food and the wine and all the religious-faith stuff I feel much more at home with the Hebes.
“But twice when I was younger I was told in no uncertain terms that the parents of my Jewish friends don’t feel this same closeness. I attended a large wedding reception in Bridgeport for a close Jewish pal in ’80 or thereabouts, and the goyim (myself plus two or three other non-Jewish chums) were all given seating at a table that was right next to the kitchen door, which swung open at least 200 times during the luncheon and the toasts. I also was close to a Jewish girlfriend in ’79. My memory’s a little foggy but her parents tasted some kind of Holocaust-related trauma during World War II, and she once told me there was no way she could ever introduce me to them.
“Did that give me pause? Of course not. My friends felt one way, their parents another. I am and always will feel, for what it’s worth, like an honorary member of the tribe.”