Monday, September 7, 2009

Like Everyone Else But Different: The Paradoxical Success of Canadian Jews

I had seen this book in a lot of reference sections and been very attracted to the title (obviously, right?). Anyways, it nearly inspired a topic for a paper that I had to write but was discouraged from writing it when I was told by my professor that Jews generally do not succeed any more than any other immigrant/minority group (I’d at least argue that the jury is still out on that one, at least). None of that is super important though. This fantastic book is written by Dr. Morton Weinfeld, a sociology professor and my academic hero (let's be fair: one of my academic heroes). I eventually checked the U of C library for it and checked it out. After I fell in love with this out-of-print book in the first few pages, I bought a used copy on amazon and now I'm falling more in love with it every page.

I didn't really take any notes the first few chapters (I'm on chapter 5 now), but I wanted to share a few of my favourite things about this book.

Firstly, it's written so that anyone could understand it (I think so, at least). I loaned it to my dad and I'm not really sure if he cared to read it or not, but I know he could if he felt like it. [An aside: Linda always said that her trick to understanding something was that she would visualize explaining it to her dad. Her dad, like mine, did not have a university degree. I have always been able to relate to that because it is a lot of my theory about teaching things. I fell into being a math tutor because when I was in Junior and Senior High, people would come to me sometimes for help with something in math and explaining it to them always helped me understand it more deeply.] I feel like making sociology accessible to more (“regular”) people is a beautiful way to share passion for the discipline. It would also be nice if a few more people knew what sociology is when I tell them that’s what my degree is in. Sometimes I imagine writing a newspaper column called "Everyday Sociology" (or something a little catchier) where I get to share my sociological thoughts about every day things. That's one of the most wonderful things about sociology: you get to do it anytime, in reference to anything. It'd be all about things that make me go "hmmm".

Second, the book feels so overwhelmingly comfortable. It's like a warm sweater on a cold day, watching the snow fall in the backyard with a cup of tea (or something a little less cliché), you know? I love how, especially in the introduction, he talks about so many things that I can completely relate to thinking about. For instance, anyone who knows me knows that I cannot handle hearing about how Madonna practices Kabbalah. Dr. Weinfeld says "If Auschwitz was not the end of the line, neither will be Madonna dabbling in Kabbalah" (5). Which is very true, according to all maturity and logic. And it makes me feel better about the whole thing. I understand, after reading that, that my outrageous hatred for something as stupid as Madonna wearing a red ribbon on her wrist is totally unwarranted. Who cares if she wants a little piece of this great puzzle for herself. That's something else I love about this book: it makes me challenge myself, both academically and personally. It not only teaches me facts about Jewish immigration to Canada, early anti-Semitism, Jewish demography (past and present), earnings, relationships, culture, religion, Israel (the list goes on and on); but it also tells me that some of my personal beliefs, thoughts and feelings need to be adjusted or at least reviewed. When I read that quote I thought "he's right, how can that hurt" and it took my unnecessary anger away.

Another great part in the introduction that I fell in love with was Dr. Weinfeld's Personal Biases

"Not for one second do I think that my brand of Jewishness has a monopoly on virtue. It just happens to suit me" (9). If only more people could feel this way. I feel that people should be free to choose a belief system that suits them and stick to it as something that just happens to work for them. When people start raving about [insert phrase here] as the one true [religion/God/you name it], that's where we start getting into trouble. I just love that quote. I think it's fabulous.

"I eat cheeseburgers, as well as bacon and pork spareribs, but refuse to eat ham, shrimp, and lobster, and gag at the thought of a glass of milk with a salami sandwich...I will even schlep a box of matzo to the university Faculty Club so I can have it during Passover along with the unkosher lunch I buy there" (9-10). The thing that I related to the very most about this quote was the part about the milk with a salami sandwich. I'm not eating meat right now, but a corned beef sandwich is one of my very favourite Winnipeg delicacies. In Calgary, there's a great, charming, delicious place called Keith's deli. Natalie, my very best friend, and I used to go there a lot in highschool for lunch. She'd always order turkey and I'd get a corned beef sandwich. Of course, it's nothing like Winnipeg corned beef but pretty good anyways. The first time I ordered it, however, I realized that they put something a little unorthodox (pun intended?) on it. CHEESE. I'm still raving about it five or seven years later.

From the introduction alone and the feeling of the rest of the book, I have already learned a great deal about myself and about Judaism (and about my place, or lack thereof, in Judaism). In Stars of Davidother people thought of me as a Jew, and I had to come to terms with what that meant" (171). That also means something incredibly personal to me. According to my lifestyle, I am not a Jew. I don’t light Shabbat candles, eat kosher, make a habit of fasting on Yom Kippur, speak Hebrew (or Yiddish, with the exception of a few common words), look Jewish, have many Jewish friends, or other things. I still feel a little stung when people say they “got Jewed” or make other mean racial jokes, feel sick in Holocaust movies, laugh extra hard when people say Yiddish words I know in movies and feel the need to point out people who are Jewish (what is that about anyways?). This means a lot to me. I find Jewish identity so fascinating, complex, complicated and controversial and I just can’t stay away. section. It's a mini-biography. I'm definitely a member of the "sociologist as a subjective participant" camp. I don't believe for one second that any sociologist can come into a study without personal bias. To read a little bit of how Dr. Weinfeld got "here" is greatly enlightening and valuable to me. From this too-short section; I get a picture of him as a self aware, interesting, humourous, fascinating, outrageously intelligent, passionate person (who happens to be, as he says, a "committed Jew"). I have to share a little bit of this section: by Abigail Pogrebin, Nora Ephron says "I suddenly realized that whether I thought of myself as a Jew or not,

That’s part of the reason I’m dying to go to McGill. People who get to study the stuff in which they’re interested as their JOB are so lucky. I feel like I could be one of those lucky people. I think I have the passion, the smarts, the skills and the interest to do so.

Wow. I had really good intentions of writing about Chapter 4 today but this is a pretty long blog post so I should probably give it a rest now. I have so many things running through my brain that I’d love to ramble about (Woody Allen, for instance), but I think I best call it a day.

Thanks for reading,

Your friendly neighbourhood grad-student-wannabe

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