December 19, 2010
So, Hanukkah is long since over, and there's nothin' coming up in the immediate future that those of us not so inclined to celebrate the mainstream holidays can get fired up about... but memories of the tasty latkes consumed within the last few weeks, the warmth of the Hanukkah candles and dozens of poorly played Dreidel games leaving me with scant gelt can linger on...
Which leads me to this most shocking (or not so shocking if you're the kind of person who likes to read books and learn things) revelation. I was struck full-force when dining with my husband's family at a German restaurant last week how very much Ashkenazic Jewish culture absorbed from the German culture. To put it bluntly, pretty much every incidental (that is, cultural, not religious) tradition.
All the good food, baby... Potato latkes, erstwhile "Reibekuchen" consumed with apple sauce and/or sour cream. German.
Hamantaschen, eaten at purim, find their roots in German pastries like Quarktaschen, a cheese pocket pastry (my favorite in my time in Munich).
Even Lox, that staple of the Jewish diet for shul-attending and secular alike, is SO German... they even used the word before us: "Lachs"
So much tastiness we got from them Germans, with the exception of some of the less edible Ashkenazic foods, like the dread Gefilte Fish, which everyone wants to see on their plate come Pesach but no one actually wants to eat... The original Ghetto Food.
"My Yiddishe Mama, you've got eighteen children and only two fish! What kind of fish-and-loaves caliber miracle do you expect to work that you should be able to feed them all??"
"!אין בעיה מותק, you take zeh fish and you make it into zeh loaf!!!... Fish-Loaf!!"
And don't get me started on the Dreidel game! I grew up imagining Maccabees spinning tops to keep their Torah learnin's secret from the Greek Gestapo... Then, to my dismay I was informed by a well-meaning educator that it was a direct rip-off of a German spinning top game. Instead of Nes Gadol Haya Sham, try Nichts Ganz Halb Stell, words that are merely instructions on how to play the game.
And yet... it doesn't really bother me all that much now to see how much of our own culture was absorbed from a people group that began as friendly enough neighbors who allowed us to flourish in their society, then eventually began to strangle, choke and attempt to annihilate our very spark of life, then in recent years has bathed themselves in tears of guilt and shame and emerged to become one of the primary fiscal supporters of the nation of Israel.
I can still imagine Maccabees gambling in the woods to cover for their Holy book-love, I can enjoy the world-flavored foods of my people without lamenting it's un-originality; rather, revel in it's diversity. The Jews have always been a melting-pot of cultures ever since the mixed multitude came out of Egypt. It kind of challenges one as a Jew to see beyond the boundaries of your own dang race and recognize the common ground of all people, which is a sport I like to engage in most of the time.
My awesome brother-in-law might posit that all of these traditions actually originated with the Jews and were absorbed by the surrounding culture instead of the other way around.... Dude, I love you, but you're crazy. :P
So... Merry Festivus, Happy Christmas, Sweet Kwanzaa, Wish It Were Still Hanukkah and a Good Gregorian New Year, people.