Monthly Archives: August 2010

When is a religion not a religion?

It came up during dinner conversation the other night that the fatal disease, Tay-Sachs, is more likely to be found in Jews than other ethnic groups. My daughter thought (since we’re Jewish) that I was expressing some bizarre form of reverse bigotry, making a gross generalization. I explained that no, Jews had a genetic predisposition to the disease.

She pointed out that we have good friends who are Jews-by-choice, so they’re not more likely to carry Tay-Sachs than non-Jews, ergo, being Jewish had nothing to do with it. I allowed as how converted Jews probably didn’t carry the genes, but it didn’t change the fact that Jews by birth were at higher risk than the general population.

I explained that all ethnic groups have some genetic predispositions when it comes to diseases (not that I can name any, other than maybe hemophilia for descendants of European royalty) and that Jews were no different. It was clear that even post-Bat Mitzvah, my fourteen-year old still hadn’t fully groked the fact that we’re not just Jewish by religion, but by dint of our ethnic group. (What did she think the Nazis were going on about?)

The knowledge that Jews, as a group, share genetic traits, should help explain why there are so many Jews who are also atheists: there’s more to being Jewish than the religion. For many of us, the cultural identity far outweighs the religious aspect, and for some, the whole g-d part is irrelevant, if not moot. (I’m not admitting to my own beliefs one way or the other, but let’s just say I’m starting to appreciate the wisdom of the old saying, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’.)

I always wondered why Jews were the only religion that carried the -ish suffix. Christians are Christian, Muslims are Muslim, but Jews are Jewish. The suffix can mean (among other things) being, as in British (of Britain), or inclined or liable to, as in bookish. That supports my contention that I am part of an ethnic group (Jewish) and inclined toward the religion (Jewish).

I recently found out that Ashkenazi Jews are also slightly more prone to breast and ovarian cancer. As a matter of fact, it turns out there are a whole host of Jewish genetic diseases I didn’t know about. It’s enough to make me want to convert, until I remember that it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s in my DNA.


Where have all the station wagons gone?

I’ve never paid much attention to fashion; not for clothes or hairstyles. I’m not particularly mindful of trends when it comes to restaurants, or music, or vacation spots. And I’m only vaguely aware of what’s on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I shouldn’t be surprised then, that when I set out to buy a new station wagon it turned out I’d missed an automotive trend.

I was still driving a station wagon, a 1998 Subaru Legacy. The fact that it needed struts, at twelve years old, was compelling enough to convince us to finally replace it. There was spirited discussion about whether or not we needed a station wagon (if we ever truly did). When we bought the Subaru we didn’t know how many kids we’d have, or what kind of sports they’d be into. It seemed logical, if not inevitable, that we add a station wagon to our transportation mix. Now here we were, twelve years later, parents of an only child whose soccer cleats never required more than the space her feet occupied. Nonetheless, we couldn’t ignore the desire to have a car with enough room to bring home purchases from the occasional trip to Ikea.

Our other car is a Prius. During its peak cruising season it can hit fifty miles per gallon. The only way to get that kind of mileage in a second car was to purchase another Prius. We agreed that our second car should have more cargo capacity than the Prius, with the best possible mileage. I subscribed to Consumer Reports online (a blog post for another day) so I could research our options. Searching for good gas mileage and cargo capacity, for under $25,000, produced a short list with nothing that they considered “station wagons.” As a result, we are now the somewhat abashed owners of a 2011 Subaru Outback Crossover Wagon.

A crossover wagon is, apparently, more than a station wagon, but not quite an SUV (a trend I couldn’t have missed if I were blind). The industry can call it what they want, but when we stood in our garage, trying to admire our new Outback, my husband looked at me and said, “I think we just bought an SUV.” We’re vaguely embarrassed, and a little ashamed of our new car. We drive our Prius proudly and feel a little hangdog in the Outback. However, on our recent trip to Lake Placid, the Outback averaged 33 miles per gallon, which is better than some of the smaller cars that Consumers liked. It’s a good thing, because we’ll be driving that Outback for a long time.

My father taught me that a car should be driven until it dies under you. And even then, there can be life after death. When the engine went on my old Chevy (oh, pardon me, Chevrolet) Duster on the Mass Pike, it wasn’t dead enough for my dad. He insisted it would be fine once we had a new, used engine put in it. I let him manage that, and subsequently sold it to my younger sister for a grand, so I could move up to a used Toyota Tercel.

My father is still driving his beloved 1988 station wagon. I don’t remember the make or model. It doesn’t really matter because whatever it is, they don’t make it anymore.

Everyone’s a little bit snobby

I’m just back from a vacation in Lake Placid with my husband’s entire family. The weather was wonderful and the hiking was fun. And while I’m sure my mother-in-law is waiting with bated breath to see what I’ll write about the week, I’ve decided that what happens in Lake Placid, stays in Lake Placid. There was, however, one interesting discussion that bears further exploration; the difference between being a snob, and an elitist. We did not reach consensus (or perhaps we did, and I can’t recall it because I was besotted, thanks to a 1983 Chateau d’Yquem Sauterne with which we were toasting our gathering). Strangely, though there were half a dozen iPhones in the group, and as many laptops, at the time, no one thought to look up the meanings of those words.

According to my trusty paperback edition of The Merriam Webster Dictionary (circa 1994) a snob is, “one who seeks association with persons of higher social position and looks down on those considered inferior,” and elite means, “the choice part; a superior group” (and “a typewriter type providing 12 characters to the inch,” which has no bearing on the discussion, but I’ve thrown it in to see if you’re paying attention). It seems clear from those definitions that if one feels no pressing need to associate with those higher up the class food chain, then they may well be the elite, which does not, however, preclude them from looking down on those they consider inferior, hence they are also snobs.

I embrace the philosophy originally espoused by Groucho Marx (though often incorrectly attributed to Woody Allen) that I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. I guess that makes me a snob. But then, I maintain that we are all snobs; we all look down on those we consider inferior to us. If we consider them inferior, then we must, by definition, be looking down on them.

One of my favorite modern musicals, Avenue Q, has a song called, Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist. I encourage you to read the lyrics for yourself, as a quote taken out of context here might cause a flap, but the point I’m making is, it might just as well be called, Everyone’s A Little Bit Snobby.

There’s no doubt that the word snob has horrible connotations. Most people accused of being a snob would probably object strenuously, while glancing around to make sure no one overheard the accusation. Instead, maybe we should just embrace our inner snobs and comfort them with the knowledge that there’s always someone who is snobbier than we are, thereby making us look positively well-adjusted.

Cat people will understand

Cats are limited in their ability to express affection for us. Mainly, they rub their bodies against ours, particularly their cheeks where their ‘happy’ pheromones are produced (or exuded; I don’t claim to know much about cat physiology). They knead their paws on us, with claws extended, and sometimes, in their excitement, they nip. In none of those instances do they mean to hurt us, but if you aren’t trimming their nails regularly, and they still have their teeth, both of those signs of affection can be a tad painful. Leaving aside the obvious sophomoric human parallels to the above, that’s pretty much it for a cat’s ability to express affection for a human.

Some of you are lucky enough to have cats who will let you pick them up and snuggle them. I’m terribly jealous of you. Of our two cats, one will tolerate being picked up if it’s necessary to be moved from point A to point B, but the other will run if he even suspects that’s what we have in mind. Since he’s usually wrong about our intent, it’s also difficult to pet him, unless he initiates contact.

That cat, the male, is at his most loving when we’re in the bathroom. He loudly demands attention when we are either sitting on the pot, or have just stepped out of the shower and are dripping wet. Personally, I’d rather pet him while sitting down than immediately post-shower when his fur will get stuck all over me. Despite my aversion to cat fur on my wet skin, however, whenever my cats ask for attention, I am prone to drop everything and respond. (Cat people will understand.) Imagine then, how painful it must be to have to give up your cats, for whatever reason, to the uncertain future of a shelter.

A woman I know was recently forced, by medical circumstances, to take her two cats to a shelter, after she had tried, unsuccessfully, to find a home for them. After a week or so, she contacted the shelter to find out how they were, and if they had been placed with a new family. They told her that one of the cats had had a horrible time adjusting, stopped eating and drinking, and cried constantly. After several days, she’d apparently made herself so sick that they’d had no choice but to put her to sleep. I know the shelter in question, and they’re wonderful people, so I’m sure they did what they felt they had to do. The woman, however, was horrified, and promptly returned to the shelter to retrieve the remaining cat.

My heart breaks thinking about that poor woman. She is never going to forgive herself for what she will always think of as being responsible for killing her cat. Instead she’ll spend her days coughing and trying to catch her breath, while her remaining cat rubs against her asking for attention, which she will be unable to resist providing, thereby exacerbating her inability to breathe. Cat people will understand.