Culture, Global

Lone Stars of David

I’ve posted here on Jewschool once before, but this is my first post as a regular contributor. I also have my own blog, The Reform Shuckle.
lone stars of david
This post is a response of sorts to Justin’s post from a couple of weeks ago.
I grew up in Austin, Texas, the greatest city on Earth. Well, it’s at least the greatest city in the South. I grew up in a strong Jewish community where I learned to have a strong Jewish identity. I went to a Jewish summer camp in Texas and I went to a nice, mid-size synagogue.
I grew up thinking there was something normal about going out for barbeque after davening on Shabat morning. I didn’t know what whitefish salad was until I moved to New Jersey for college. The imaginary old Jewish lady in my head doesn’t have a Yiddish or a New York accent; she has a good ol’ Central Texas drawl.

And as glad as I am to now live in New York City’s sphere of Jewish influence and as aware as I am that my future career will probably keep me in this area for life, I maintain that I’m a Jew by birth, but a Texan by the grace of God.
There is something that grates on me more and more, the longer I live up East, about people who don’t speak a lick of Yiddish adopting random Yiddish words into their vocabulary and assume that if y’all is in your vocabulary, you’re not Jewish.
The next time someone says, “Texas? I didn’t know they had Jews down there!” I just might vomit. I am glad I grew up in a town where no one looked down on conversion and where Orthodox, Reform and Conservative congregations get together for a Purim carnival and all the Rabbis in town, regardless of denomination, have a weekly lunch get-together.
Can you imagine such a thing in a town in North Jersey or a neighborhood in Brooklyn? I sure as hell can’t.
So as glad I am to live in the vibrant Jewish world of New York, I die a little a bit inside every time I spread whitefish salad on a bagel instead of going down to a barbeque joint for Shabat lunch.
Shalom, y’all.

27 thoughts on “Lone Stars of David

  1. The problem is not that folks who don’t know Yiddish sprinkle some Yiddish words into their vocabulary — it’s that they often misuse them. (Prime example that grates on me — mitzvah when they mean m’chayeh. This is the m’chayeh that means pleasure, not the one that means resurrectionor revival.)
    And I do know of at least one town in New Jersey where the clergy of all Jewish streams meet together.
    What you have not shared is whether that vaunted barbecue is beef or chazer. And I will share that whitefish salad may be a big deal in NY/NJ, but it’s not a big deal in the midwest.
    Congratulations on your new online venue. Don’t let it keep you away from your familiar haunts on iWorship and!

  2. When people ask where I’m from I always get the “I didn’t know they have Jews in Oklahoma.” Sheesh. It’s one of the reasons that I dislike small-talk so very much.

  3. Well, Larry you prove me wrong (as you often do) about the NJ rabbis.
    But, Larry, I think I’m speaking in some sense for the midwest here too. I’m speaking for everywhere that’s not the northeast. Everywhere that doesn’t believe it has the monopoly on the form of Jewish cultural life in America.
    And, yeah Ahava, I hate saying “I’m from Texas” to Jews in NJ. Not because I’m not proud of it, but just because I don’t want to have to explain that my life as a young Jew in Texas was not devoid of true Jewish community.

  4. I don’t know if I would blame the whole Northeast for metropolitan New York insularity. When my wife moved as a teen-ager from a small town in Iowa to Westchester County, her two “favorite” questions were
    1. Did you get to California often? (as if it were right next door)
    2. Did you see a lot of Indians? (More Native American Indians in upstate New York than in all the midwestern states combined)
    Interesting that in a 24 hour period both you and Bill Berkson (on the RJ blog) are calling attention to the difference between NY and the rest of the country. In looking at the Jewish world, we once looked at Israel and the Diaspora. In more recent years, there has been a sense of Israel, the US, and the Diaspora. Are we now to start looking at Israel, NY, US, and Diaspora?

  5. Ah, how refreshing to hear from another Jewish Texan in the northeast who shares my sentiments! As a native Dallasite currently at school in Boston, there’s something about the Texan community that, though smaller, I really miss (though admittedly, Dallas’s community is a bit larger than Austin’s…and the faces when I tell Boston natives that not only are there Jews in Texas, but they even have more kosher restaurants than Boston…).
    I mean, really, where in the northeast can you find anything even remotely resembling a Kosher Chili Cookoff ( that actually brings together every Jew in the city, whether secular or Reform or Orthodox or Chabad, under the banner of our delicious Texan heritage? Nah, nothing up here can compare. Give me the Texan drawls and friendly “y’alls” any day.

  6. Not to mention it’s only in places like Texas that one can most accurately translate parts of the Torah accurately…like the beginning of Parashat Netzavim, for instance, which is properly translated: “Y’all who are standing here today — all y’all — before the Lord….”

  7. David-
    Welcome to Jewschool! I’m glad you’re here. Did I get down on the south? I don’t think I did… Not only am I not NY-centric (I grew up in Chicago, live in LA and am now staying in Jerusalem) And the east coast Jewish community I was a part of was in a rural farm town. Also, Austin is not quite Texans’ Texas, you know? Now, if you came from a place like Amarillo, your Jewish community may have been different, no? Likewise, I imagine a place like Dothan, AL is not quite the same as a southern city like Atlanta or Savannah. The point of my post wasn’t that Jews shouldn’t live in the south. Simply that it seems weird to pay us to live places. I think that, ultimately, it makes sense most of the Jewish-American experience revolves around NY, it’s where most of us are. There are more Jews in NY than Tel Aviv!

  8. Well, maybe it’s just New York and New Jersey then. I live and grew up in *Maryland* for God’s sake (Eastern Seaboard, sixth largest Jewish pop if you combine Baltimore and DC populations, not exactly an out of the way place – you know near the nation’s capital?) and my New York relatives used to think I was quaint and had a sweet southern accent – I mean, seriously folks, Maryland accents did used to be distinctive (as opposed to the accent of New Yorkers who moved to Maryland, of which there are a lot) but seriously, thinking Maryland is a quaint southern state is just…ignorant. Below the Mason-Dixon yes. Full of rednecks – depends where (yes where I grew up despite it being the suburbs) but um, that’s just weird.
    OTOH, when I moved to CA, and people would ask me where I was from, if I said back east, I’d get, “Chicago?”

  9. When my wife moved as a teen-ager from a small town in Iowa to Westchester County, her two “favorite” questions were
    1. Did you get to California often? (as if it were right next door)

    I grew up in Chicago and live in New York. A number of years ago, I was going to California to interview for a job, and my east-coast friends said “That’s great! You can be closer to Chicago that way.”
    (Even people who don’t think this still think that Chicago is halfway between the two coasts. Look at a map!)

  10. Larry, let’s not make this bigger than it is. I’m just bitching, I’m not making any points about the Diaspora. Unless you’re talking about the Dixie Diaspora, of course.
    Dimi, thanks.
    Benjamin E., Amen and Selah to that! (Especially with regards to y’all.)
    Justin, I didn’t mean to make this an attack on your post. That’s why I called it a response of sorts, rather than an actual response. Your post was more of a jumping off point than anything else.
    Kol Ra’ash Gadol, haha.
    BZ, NYers don’t look at maps. My grandfather z”l used to say that NYers are the biggest hicks in the world. NY is the center of the universe right?

  11. We New Yorkers are quite provincial, it’s true. But then again, so would you be if you had what we have.
    Now personally, I think my friends from the neighborhood in Brooklyn who’ve never left the 5 Boroughs are missing out, and I don’t believe you can really appreciate a place til you’ve really lived elsewhere — but I can’t really blame them for not moving to another city like I did, or not going to college out in the sticks. They have everything they can ever imagine needing within easy access, both Jewishly and generally.
    And unlike the folks clogging the byways of my latest home town, at least they know how to drive effectively. 😉

  12. In my native texan experience, true texas barbeque is beef, not pork.
    re: chillul Who–“they have everything they can ever imagine needing within easy access”
    I think the key phrase here is “they can ever imagine needing.”
    Perhaps the problem is lack of imagination?

  13. Here in Arizona, where a lot of us are transplants, not born-and-raised, I’ve heard people refer to New York as “the Old Country.”

  14. Hey now, just because NYC is the center of the world, that doesn’t mean all of us assume there’s no Jewish life outside of it, or that we can’t use a map to discern Chicago is closer to NY than Chicago. 🙂
    Now, David, if you were up for starting up a Kosher beef bbq restaurant in the Texas style I’d be all over that. Real BBQ brisket is so awesome and a hekhshered version is something NYC Jews are missing out on.

  15. The word mitzvah is colloquially used to mean something giving pleasure all over the place, including Israel. It’s a pretty standard convention.

  16. My grandmother was born in Galveston; if I could figure out a way to factor it in, I’d mention that in a job interview I have coming up in Dallas.

  17. Shalom y’all,
    New Yorkers do have a distorted sense of the rest of the US (see the famous New Yorker cover and later poster). My first NYC roommate, before you were born, grew up in Pharr and McAllen. That is a place you can say “I didn’t know there were Jews there.” In fact he said when they moved from Pharr to McAllen, Pharr became yudenrein.
    I would be glad to check out you Texas bbq place, though I would love your educated opinion of the kosher bbq place in Teaneck.

  18. Here in Arizona, where a lot of us are transplants, not born-and-raised, I’ve heard people refer to New York as “the Old Country.”
    Heck, here in New York, I refer to Chicago as “the old country”.

  19. David, I’m surprised to see you here. Thanks.
    Josh L, there used to be tons of Jews in Galveston, which was once also the largest city in Texas. Galveston was a big port of entry for immigrants. My Dad’s family came in through Galveston.
    Jeff, Kosher bbq in Teaneck!? That sounds dubious at best.
    BZ, I may have to start calling TX that!

  20. NYers don’t look at maps. My grandfather z”l used to say that NYers are the biggest hicks in the world. NY is the center of the universe right?
    so true! Ha ha. It’s so funny, NYers often get bent out of shape when one points out that the very definition of provincialism is…. the general attitude of NYCers to that city (not that it’s not a great city, I just wouldn’t want to live there. But go there to buy books, sure! and BTW, NYers, kosher food -except for Darna- is better in LA, not so overcooked)

  21. Thank you for the post!
    I wish there were more of you in NY (or alternately, I wish I could graduate more quickly and leave NY for a more culturally diverse corner of the Jewish world).

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