Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"I No Longer Practice Anything Except Reciting Yizkor and Lighting Yahrzeit Candles for My Parents"



My parents spoke Yiddish, and the one thing I resent about my upbringing is that they did not teach me Yiddish. In fact, they spoke it when they wanted me not to understand what they were saying. I believe it’s important to keep the language alive and am a contributor to the National Yiddish Book Center.

I was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and moved to _____ when I was five, and spent my formative years, until my first year in college, in _____, a suburb of the capital. It was a mostly Jewish neighborhood, and my friends were mostly Jewish, though not entirely.


I was brought up in a Conservative home and went to a “Conserva-dox” synagogue and was bat mitzvahed. We lived down the street from the rabbi and walked to and from shul with him on shabbos. The rabbi was a jovial man large of build and kind spirited. His wife was the consummate rebbitzen and made us kids feel at home whenever we visited and was a happy presence at synagogue.


I enjoyed how the family celebrated the traditional holidays and have always been proud of my heritage, though I no longer practice anything but reciting yitzkor and lighting yahrzeit candles for my parents.


My mother was a wonderful cook and baker, having learned from her mother. I remember visiting Philadelphia and watching my grandmother (who came to America in 1905 from Odessa) make kishka from scratch and gefilte fish and blintzes.


Mom used to make ruggelach and absolutely fabulous sponge cake and nut cake and wonderful little Passover rolls and delicious kugels and excellent chicken soup and vegetable-pea soup. As you see, Jewish food was an important part of my life! I hardly bother to cook or bake such things now, as I live alone and have basically become a calory- and fat-watching (though overweight) vegetarian.


From my early childhood I was made very aware of Jewish identity. My mom lit Shabbos candles every Friday night, as did my grandmothers, and we had a delicious Shabbos dinner, from homemade chicken soup with knedlach or noodles, to roast chicken or roast beef with vegetables, and of course challah.


My cousin and I went to Hebrew school two or three days a week after regular school. On Friday afternoons we often stopped at Elaine’s grandmother’s. Baba Sara made her own challah every week, and we helped her braid the bread and apply the egg wash before it went into the oven. I realized what we were doing was part of being a Jew.


My dad, who was president of the synagogue for several years, was extremely proud of our Jewish heritage. You could almost see his chest swell when he pointed out--actually kvelled at how many Jews there are in the arts (considering our small representation in the total population).


Again, my dad was quick to point out how many Jewish actors and directors and studio heads there are in film, and I too am proud of our impact on the arts. The most obvious Jewish character in film, to me, is Woody Allen, whose early movies I found hilarious. However, the schlemeil character has been overdone. Moreover, I must say I wasn’t pleased to hear he married his stepdaughter.


Though proud of our impact on the arts, I share the current extreme distaste that the Hollywood (and Detroit) moguls are offering such trash to youngsters in the form of gangsta rap and violence and sex in video games, on TV and in the movies. If we used to take pride in the impact of Jews in the arts and entertainment, then we ought to be ashamed if it is they who are presenting such ugliness. In fact, I think that fewer movie chains would go out of business if the film industry would present excellent movies for the public.


Of course, I was proud that Lieberman was selected to run for vice president, though it was an obvious ploy by Gore to separate himself from the sinful Clinton. I clipped from The New York Times Lieberman’s address in Congress when he was the first Democrat to condemn the President for his reprehensible behavior, though he wisely did not believe it to be an impeachable offense.


I admit feeling slightly uncomfortable when Lieberman injects so much religion into his stump speeches. But who knows if our society wouldn’t improve if people truly adopted their religion’s precepts and became more tolerant and caring instead of so intent on accumulating more wealth and stuff? Then again, religion may not be the path to tolerance and caring. Look at what’s happening in the Middle East now. Look at Yugoslavia. Look at Iran. Look at how religion has led the call for wars throughout history.


Informant was 57, was from New York, and was living in Georgia


"To Chew Someone Down" Bieganski Interview #1

"Poles are Inherently Comic Janitors" Bieganski Interview # 2

"My Father Began to Conceal His Jewish Origins" Bieganski Interview # 3

They Worked Like Moles Their Whole Lives Bieganski Interview # 4

"She Never, and I Mean Never, Threw Anything Away" Bieganski Interview # 5

"They Always Kept One Token Jew" Bieganski Interview # 6

"White Privilege? I Laugh" Bieganski Interview # 7

"Stalin Died and I Was Set Free" #8

"The Jew is Clever. The Pole is Obnoxious, Loud, and Stupid." #9

"My Grandfather Let Anastasia Escape" #10

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Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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