Your Description Essay
Very briefly describe yourself (age, birthplace, social class and status when you were growing up, current cultural orientation, etc.). I was born in San Francisco in 1985 to two young Israeli immigrants. I am the oldest of three and the only daughter. My family was Jewish but very secular, and our stance on religion and politics was liberal. I grew up in a middle to upper middle class suburb in the Bay Area where most of my friends were Catholic or Protestant. My current ideals have not strayed very much from my liberal upbringing, and I think that I lived somewhat of a sheltered, privileged life. However, the only thing that I may have lacked was growing up with an extended family nearby.
B. Background of Parents/Grandparents/Great Grandparents
Describe what you know about your mother, father, maternal and paternal grandparents and great grandparents and so on. How did your ancestors enter the United States (e.g., were they voluntary immigrants, involuntary through conquest, time of entry, etc.)? My mother grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Jerusalem, and my father was from a poorer family in the suburb of Haifa. They met during my mother’s army service, and, after she was released, they traveled around Europe for a few years. They began to feel cramped by Israel’s small borders and grew weary of the constant conflict that seemed to dominate its society. My mother inherited her US citizenship from my grandparents and had some family that still lived in California, so my mother and father immigrated to San Francisco in the late 70’s. My mother attended a master’s program at SF State, and my father worked as a maintenance engineer in one of the high-rises in the city. When my mother graduated from her program, they moved from a poor, predominantly black, neighborhood in the city to Walnut Creek to raise my brothers and me.
My mother’s father was originally from Germany and escaped persecution during WWII by coming to the states with his family. In Germany, his household employed servants that took care of all the domestic work so that his mother never had to work. Her life consisted of having coffee with her friends in the morning and entertaining rich friends and businessmen at dinner parties. When Hitler came to power in Germany, they lost all their assets and immigrated penniless to the US. They settled in Chicago where they had relatives, and for the first time in her life, his mother had to work. She had no formal education or professional skills but was happy to get a job in the garment industry as a seamstress. His dad got a job as a door-to-door salesman, and my grandfather, who was a teenager at the time, had to work in odd jobs to help the family. My aunt Ruth was too young to work at the time, so she went to the middle school in the area.
My grandmother, the younger of the two sisters, lived in a very poor neighborhood in the Bronx during the depression. Her father worked as a garbage collector for the city, and her mother was a housewife. From what I recall, my grandmother’s parents moved to the states as immigrants from Poland and Russia during the pogroms after WWI. My grandparents were a part of a Zionist youth movement and met in Israel on a Kibbutz that they helped build. They were one of the first generations to move to Israel in 1948. They briefly raised their children under the socialist Ideals of Kibbutz Sasa before moving to Jerusalem, and my grandfather became the regional manager of a very successful jewelry company. I know far less history in regard to my father’s side of the family. From the information made available to me, his parents were Romanian and immigrated to Israel with very little family. They settled in Haifa where my grandfather worked in construction.
My father suffered a large amount of physical abuse at the hands of my grandfather and ran away from home when he was 14. He stayed with his mother’s sister on a kibbutz in the north. When my father immigrated to the US, his parents stayed in Israel. C. Experiences with Anglo Conformity and Factors Affecting Inclusion By the standards of Anglo Conformity, were your relatives included or excluded in American society? How did they avoid/attempt/achieve assimilation and integration? What role did social class and social power play in their experiences? Even though my mother’s parents came from somewhat different backgrounds, both my grandparents grew up living in a city amongst those of a similar background or class.
My grandmother’s neighborhood was comprised of mostly Jews and African Americans, and, while she was somewhat fearful of the black people there because, as she said, “they might mug you,” she felt safe and accepted by her surrounding community. During WWII, her grandparents were still in Europe, and she remembers her childhood being more impacted by the war overseas than any discrimination in America that may have been in place. However, she was aware that in other more “WASP” neighborhoods outside of the city she lived, Jewish people were excluded. During the depression, there was major competition for jobs, and Jewish people were scape-goated. Also at that time, schools in other areas than where she lived would only accept a finite number of Jewish children. My mother’s father also lived in a tight-knit Jewish community in the city and did not mix with the rest of the community at first.
However, as he learned English and began to go to school and work, he began to feel more integrated. Unlike my grandfather and her parents, my grandmother was born in the US and did not have a language barrier to overcome. Like most second generation immigrants, she was able to assimilate with the general public, and, because she already looked European, it was easier to blend in with many other communities. However, there was some judgment from her own community when she befriended children of different backgrounds, and she often heard statements such as, “Don’t be friendly with the goyium! God forbid you marry one of them,” she was six at the time. My mother considers herself an Israeli American. Since she did not grow up here, she lacks the cultural experiences that others who did grow up in America may have.
She speaks Hebrew with her Israeli friends, but also has a lot of American friends. Her English has always been good, and she never had much of an accent. She continues to relate to Israeli folk songs and dances and Jewish holidays and traditions although she does not practice religion seriously. She identifies as Caucasian with middle class values of culture, education, social equality and justice. All things being equal, I think my mother assimilated into the dominant society pretty well. My father had a harder time coming into the states and assimilating from the beginning. He had a thicker accent than my mother and did not have much of an educational background. He also suffered more anti-Semitism at his blue collar job, at which he interacted primarily with less educated, lower middle class people. To this day, his friends and the people he surrounds himself with are primarily Israeli, Jewish, family, or people he knew from his days in Israel.
What conclusions do you draw about your own status of assimilation based on your ethnic roots, socialization, and personal experiences? There was always a very long plane ride that separated me from most of my extended family. As a consequence of being so disconnected with my roots and removed from relatives, I feel that I may have lost a lot of what makes me Jewish, and, during my years of assimilation and blending with the dominant Protestant culture of my neighborhood, I have become very Americanized. My mother and father would continue to speak Hebrew in the household, however, while my parents tried to teach me, I never learned how to speak it myself. We did not go to synagogue, so, while we continued to celebrate high holidays (the important Jewish holidays), the tradition of what they meant to the Jewish religion was lost on us. These holidays were instead mainly a way for family and/or friends to get together once in a while.
My slight ambivalence or naivety regarding the effects of any cultural differences between my cultural upbringing and that of the dominant culture are most likely due to the fact that these particular differences were more subtle than the stark cultural differences of other cultures. Being an Ashkenazi Jew, I did not bare any physical markings of any particular minority, and I could blend in with the rest of the dominant white culture of my neighborhood. As I grew up and made friends in school, I began to notice that most did not have menorahs in their houses or barmitzva parties, and traditional holidays were not celebrated the same. While I acknowledged that these things were different, I do not think I was ashamed of them perhaps because, while they were not practiced by the majority of the people I associated with, being Jewish was mostly accepted by the majority of people. However, my experience may have been different if my skin was darker or if I had practiced my religion more seriously.
However, for the most part, religion or background did not warrant discussion unless it was purposefully brought up or mentioned. On the other hand, while being Jewish may not have been shameful for me, it remained something that set me apart from others, and it was something I had to explain when a friend asked why I did not have a Christmas tree or about my father’s heavy accent. However, unlike my grandparents and great grandparents who had their Jewish communities, I also did not have a community nearby where I felt the same. My family was secular and non-religious, so we did not have any connections through the synagogue, and our extended family was in Israel. In consequence, I always felt a little left out, or like I did not belong exactly to any one place.