Tag Archives: jewish

The Jewish-American Quarter Life Crisis

The oh-so lovable Asian-Jew duo, Amy Chua and her sidekick husband Jed Rubenfield, are at it again. This time, they are on a mission to motivate the next generation of great Americans. How? Tiger Parent our country back to a golden empire. Make sure that as a culture and individuals we obtain this ever-important trifecta of highly-depressing traits: a superiority complex, an inferiority complex, and, last but not least, impulse control.

The superior inferior, impulsefully-controlled pairing believe these are the elements of building a culture that is, well, superior. Their argument stems from research about different cultural groups that have been more successful financially and fame-wise than others. To some, this is the new racism, not much different than the old. However, there is some merit to the argument, which at least removes genetics from the equation (ala my father’s favorite explanation of racial superiority borrowed from The Bell Curve.)

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We Were Immigrants, We Are American

As much as my father has a talent for upsetting me, one of the parts of our relationship that I enjoy the most is hearing about our family’s past. I know bits and pieces of both sides of my family, but every time I see my dad a new piece of the story is revealed.

What is incredible about my father’s family of 6 – five brothers and one sister, with my father being the oldest, is that the entire family was filled with successful engineers and mathematicians, despite their parents, both from immigrant families, never having finished high school.

My grandfather was a typical hot-headed Italian, the son of a Slavic Catholic woman who spoke broken English, and an Italian man who disappeared after he was born for unknown reasons. He married my Grandmother when she was very young. My Grandmother, whose parents were Jewish Hungarian and Jewish Polish (I think?) grew up in slightly better circumstances — her parents stayed together, and they lived in the Bronx in a nice apartment, until my father was born and they moved to the suburbs of New Jersey to raise the family.

The story goes, they never had a lot of money, but had many children, likely by accident after the first few. My father came first, then three more sons, a daughter, and one final son. My grandfather worked in a factory building pocketbooks, at some point my grandmother worked as as secretary. My grandmother, always my role model as a very level headed, intelligent woman, put up with a lot from my grandfather — his temper was just one of the issues — there were others, some I know about, some I don’t — and one big gambling problem that almost tore the family apart.

Regardless, the kids went on to varying levels of success. My father was valedictorian of his high school, studied physics for undergrad on scholarship. His brothers and sister became computer engineers, computer scientists, and accountants. He isn’t sure how that happened, as his parents, again, both without high school degrees, certainly didn’t push the kids to do well in school in the same way, say, an Asian Tiger Mom would. These kids figured it out for themselves that in order to have a better life, they needed to take charge of their futures. Perhaps part of it was the baby boomer midset, that the American Dream is possible, and at the time it was. At least for the kids of immigrant families.

The stories of each of the siblings didn’t all turn out perfect. Notably one, the risk taker of the bunch, made his millions and lost them through a variety of business decisions that left him divorced and nearly bankrupt. Others have their own struggles, but I don’t know the half of the stories. Most live in nice houses on the east coast throughout the tri-state area, and have been able to put their children through college.

My mother’s family is a different story, but they also grew up in the lower middle class. I’ll write about her family some other time. It’s my father’s family that fascinates me the most, however, because they were a true immigrant family (well, children of the children of immigrants) — a mix of working class backgrounds — Italian-Slavic Catholic meets Eastern European Jew. In other words, our family were true Americans of that time, representative of those in New York and New Jersey building a better life for themselves.

What do you know about your family’s history? Were they working class, middle class or upper class? If you’re American, when did they come over to the states?

Cousin Gifting

The gift-giving went over well today. Being as I’m obsessed with finding the perfect gift, I should have left myself more time to wander around Target before I had to make the hour-long drive up to my aunt & uncle’s house in the North Bay. But, alas, I never leave myself enough time to do anything (and that’s why I’m up at 3:30am finishing up freelance projects and taking a break to blog and wake myself up a bit).

So I was late to dinner, but I think I made up for my tardiness with the gifts. I got my cousins (age 4 and 6) a kid’s acoustic guitar and a keyboard. They were not too expensive, about $35 each with tax, and they actually seemed to be of fairly decent quality for kid’s toy instruments.

I was really anxious about my aunt hating the gifts. She’s the one who told me that the kids “have everything” and that she doesn’t want any gifts that would be annoying to clean up (or, I assume, make a lot of noise.)

But being that she’s a musical-type, I figured I couldn’t go too wrong with musical instruments. And lucky for me, she loved the gifts. The kids seemed pretty excited about them too, though I forgot to get batteries for the keyboard (doh).

A few minutes after I gave the kids the gifts, my aunt handed me my “belated birthday gift” — a check for $50. I really didn’t want to take it. I mean, I can use the cash, of course, but it almost felt like I was being reimbursed for buying her kids gifts.

I wish I came from a family that gave actual gifts. The check is fine, money is good, but… it’d be nice to get a gift certificate for a spa or something… so I’d be forced to spend the money and not put it away into savings.

Wait… that’s bad logic.

Gift Giving and Buying

Growing up, I had a really unhealthy perception of the meaning of gifts. First off, I felt like I ‘deserved’ some amazing gift just because my parents got me everything I wanted that wasn’t completely amazing, and they’d never get me what I really wanted – a keyboard, an expensive designer barbie doll, voice lessons, etc. Rarely did I get these things as gifts (from family, friends), but every other gift seemed like a bore.

When it came to gift giving, I needed to give the biggest (or at the least the best.) Let me back-phrase this by noting I was a huge loner up until high school… more because I was a bit hyperactive and curious and no one my age knew what to do with me (except for my somewhat abusive “friend,” but that’s another story). In Middle School, for some reason I decided that I had to buy gifts for dozens upon dozens of people who were more or less acquaintances. I had a lot of acquaintances due to being involved with chorus and the school play. So I went to Claires (the accessories shop) and spent about $7 a gift (of my parent’s money). $7 a gift for 60 people… adds up fast.

Back then, a part of me felt like I might be able to buy the chance at a friendship. Not only did I just buy these people gifts, but I thought long and hard about what they’d like and picked out the perfect size and shape of jewelery for them. That was one of the most fulfilling moments of all my childhood – buying gifts, with my parents money, for people who either didn’t care about me or found me to be annoying.

Years later, my whole perception on gift giving has changed. I’ve realized that gifts are definitely more about the ‘thought,’ and that people understand you can’t buy every single person you’ve ever met a holiday gift.

It’s hard to figure out how much to spend on gifts, though. I have a few good friends… and they deserve zillion dollar gifts, with airfare, but alas, I’m no richie. I also am a bit of a miser, as I hate spending money. My money. Part of that is reasonable (I have $25k in savings thanks to a broken arm lawsuit from 6th grade, which is a lot, and yet not that much… because I’m freelancing and health care is expensive and I really want to go back to grad school to study design which will cost me something like $100k and I want to save up for that BEFORE I go if at all possible)… and part of that is me not really understanding money.

My boyfriend and I often exchange expensive gifts. I didn’t expect for that to be the case, but in our relationship my birthday came up first and he got me an iPod… and dinner. He likes spending money on other people… and one day when he has a substantial amount I’m sure his gifts would be even more impressive. He’s a total 180 from my last boyfriend, who… with a salary of 135k a year (he’s an attorney… and he finished law school with $0 in loans, thanks to a little bit of savings and mostly his parents), wouldn’t think to buy me a gift any more expensive than what I might be able to afford for him.

I wonder how much religion and culture plays into all of this. Jews are stereotyped as “stingy,” and I think that might be true. I’m Jewish, culturally, and my ex was also Jewish. My current boyfriend is pretty much agnostic, although he was raised somewhat Christian.

In any case, gift giving is so different these days. I can handle exchanging gifts with my boyfriend but even that causes such anxiety. After he bought me the ipod, I knew I had to top it. (See, why did I HAVE to “TOP” it?) So I bought him a Nintendo Wii (which I had every intention of playing.) This year, he’s revamped the expensive gift tradition, buying me a Wacom tablet. Now, I wouldn’t have bought this graphic design tool for myself, although it’s really wonderful to have for my job and hobby. His birthday is coming up in march, wtf do I get him?

Meanwhile, today I have to buy gifts for my two cousins that live locally. My mom is supposedly reimbursing me for these gifts, since they’re from her. But I’d like to get the kidlets gifts as well. They have just about everything, according to their mother, so I don’t know what to get them. Right now they’re young enough that they just enjoy opening gifts and quickly forget what it is they’ve received. But being me… I want to get them a brilliant gift, something that will encourage creativity and/or help grow their young minds.

Therefore, today will be spent freaking out about finding the perfect gift for my cousins. I also have to buy a $50 gift for one of my cousins in New Jersey, as I’m part of this giant Hannukah gift exchange that will take place at a party on Dec 15 that I won’t be able to attend. I have no clue what to get him.

I really think that when it comes to gifts, it is the thought that counts. I sometimes wish my boyfriend was a bit more creative in his gift-ing (although I do love my iPod and tablet) because I end up telling him I really want these things for weeks before my birthday and then he gets them for me. It’s kind of weird. I’m not used to that. I guess a lot of guys do that for their girlfriends? I’m too much of an unlabeled feminist to let that be one way, though.

Well, it’s time to go gift shopping.