A bit more

Voice Card  -  Volume 21  -  Stuart Card Number 5  -  Tue, Jul 30, 1991 10:54 AM

This is a response to VC 20 Yumi 6 ("A little bit about me")...

Yumi, I must say, you sound like a lovely person: gentle, sweet, sensitive, warm, caring, and. . . well, you get the point. It's nice to know you! And welcome to Archipelago

OK, in answer to your question, a bit about my family background: I am a second generation American of Jewish Russian immigrants. Three of my four grandparents were from Russia, specifically, the so-called "Pale of Settlement," the area of Russia in which Jews were made to live during the times of the Czars. Throughout the late 1800's up through the Russian Revolution, my various grandparents came to this country to escape persecution in the old country and to find opportunity in the new world.

For some reason, my family ended up, not in New York's Lower East Side, like so many of the Jewish immigrants in the early part of the century, but in Philadelphia. My mother's father was a pharmacist, and my father's father sold fruit from a cart. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, but they made sure my parents grew up in kosher Orthodox Jewish households.

On my father's side, my grandparents barely spoke English. They spoke, not Russian, but Yiddish. My parents learned Yiddish, too, and when I was growing up, when they didn't want my sister and I to understand what they were saying, such as when they were discussing what birthday presents they might buy us, they would speak Yiddish with each other.

Like many children of immigrants assimilating in the great American melting pot or salad bowl, my parents loosened some of the old ties and ways as they grew accustomed to their new way of life. They became Reform Jews, for instance, a type of Judiasm whose practice lent itself better to the modern ways of the new land. For example, I didn't grow up in a Kosher household, and I think nothing of doing such things as turning on a light or driving a car on the Sabbath, things which are not permitted in Orthodox Judiasm.

Though not as pernicious as the hostility that was directed towards other minority groups in this country, my parents did experience some forms of prejudice as Jews. There were of course the epithets hurled at them, there were Jewish quotas in the universities limiting the number of Jews who could attend, and of course many private clubs were closed to Jews.

My father used to tell a story of seeing his career counselor in high school. Upon being told that my father wanted to be a history professor, the counselor strenuously objected, on the grounds that a Jew would have a hard time living and coping in a small university town outside the big East Coast population centers, and he gave the Midwest as an example of a place that might present problems for him. My father, like a dope, listened to that counselor and never became a professor (he ended up as a salesman). It's ironic that his son, however, did end up as a professor in one of those small university towns in the Midwest!

Like you, I, too feel a need to retain a sense of my past and my roots. It's sometimes easy to forget, so I am grateful to you, Yumi, for bring up the subject.