Bicultural Delights

I’m always on the lookout for projects that combine Jewish culture with other cultures. I know people in interfaith families are sometimes delighted seeing the two or more cultures they share in their family blend together in works of art or on stage. (Or in cookbooks, I know you agree that cookbooks are a great place for cultural blending!) It also helps reinforce the idea that Jewish people can come from a lot of places in the world and have more than one kind of experience and still be connected to each other.

All of which is my excuse for sharing my excitement about Lorin Sklamberg’s joint project with Susan McKeown, called Saints and Tzadiks. Sklamberg sings and plays with the Klezmatics, and McKeown, an Irish singer from Dublin, has a solo career in the Celtic music revival. She’s also sung with the Klezmatics before, on some of my favorite tracks I find. On Saints and Tzadiks, the two sing in both Yiddish and Irish. It sounds great and I have got to get a recording, yesterday!

Oh yeah, and, this was recorded in the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albequerque as part of a world music festival.

Cooking Up New Traditions

My husband found this blog, Sephardic Food, where culinary expert Janet Amateau posts Sephardi  cultural lore and recipes. Some of the blog posts are in Spanish because Amateau lives in Spain. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it, because I know a lot of our readers want Sephardi recipes, and these are great–with great explanations.

When I wrote the Jewish Food Cheat Sheet, which defined dozens of Ashkenazi Jewish food terms, it came with an introduction, Understanding Jewish Food Traditions, which placed Ashkenazi Jewish food in a more global Jewish context, with Sephardi, Mizrachi and other Jewish cultures.

The truth is, all the Jews in the US aren’t all Eastern European, and even those of us who are Ashkenazi Jews love Jewish food traditions from elsewhere. Interfaith families are totally part of this. If you’re married to someone Italian who isn’t Jewish, it’s pretty cool to read Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edna Servi Machlin, just as an example. If you’re a Jew by choice, it’s nice to find ways to incorporate your old food traditions into new kosher rules.

In my overwhelmingly vegetarian, mainly Ashkenazi community, there are great fans of Olive Trees and Honey. I am still cooking my way through Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, though my copy is falling apart.

I am always looking for ways to include recipes on the site, so if your family has kosher-ized some of the recipes from the non-Jewish side, or has revved up an Ashkenazi dish with the spices of another culinary tradition, or done any tasty sort of thing with food and culture, contact me.

Race and the Future of Jewishness

In the January 11 Newsweek, which published on the web yesterday, Ellis Cose has a piece called Race: The Future of Whiteness in America. It’s a complex piece, about more than one thing of interest to me in my work here: the shifting definitions of who is white, the increase in intermarriage between groups that previously didn’t mix, the complexity of articulating a mixed identity on the U.S. Census.

Cose highlights the shifting nature of racism in the United States by picking out Jews as an example. He cites Karen Brodkin Sach’s How Did Jews Become White Folks? and discusses how Ashkenazi Jews, who now consider ourselves, and are considered by others, to be white, used to be categorized as non-white in the United States. (In some people’s minds, we still are.) It reminds me of the first time I read Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew where he describes a three-way dance between Jews, anti-Semites and liberals–the target of discrimination, who is defined by it, the racist, and bystanders. I had a revelation about the way racism was working in the United States in my lifetime when I read Sartre’s Second World War insights into French anti-Semitism. People get defined as people of color not based on their physical characteristics, exactly, but on whether their current society considers those characteristics real signs of difference.

Of course, there are problems with this model. Jews don’t only exist as a group because of anti-Semites, but because of our shared history, religion and culture. Blackness in the United States isn’t only the condition of being discriminated against because of being Black–it’s also the culture that comes out of that experience. I should also add there are already many Jews in North America who would be recognized as people of color even in our current set of social definitions.

What it means for interfaith families is there are definitely going to be more Jews of mixed heritage as we get older, and the Jewish community is going to have to relax about it. At the same time, everyone else is going to be facing the same problem we are–how to hang on to our distinctive subculture as society opens up.

I’m not worried (worried?) that anti-Semitism is going to disappear. We don’t have the FBI’s Hate Crimes statistics for 2009 yet, but for 2008 they reported that of 1,732 religious hate crimes, 66.1 percent were against Jews. Racial violence, which like all hate crimes may be under-reported, was even higher–more than half of single-bias hate crimes were motivated by racism. We’re not moving rapidly to a society where former targets of bias are suddenly handed the task of self-definition as all hatred evaporates instantly. (I know, that kind of trouble you could handle.)

But for all of us, the picture is gradually changing. It’s going to be increasingly normal to be a person of mixed heritage, and more people are going to be able to relate to the desire to preserve more than one culture. It would be great if we all could have our differences in common.