1 August 2011
The View from the Hudson, from a Jew Near the Hudson
Being Jewish in America is a little like being Italian. Wait. Hear me out.
I don’t mean that Italian Americans and Jewish Americans are alike ethnically. That’s something you hear a lot here in the U.S., but mostly from Jews rather than Italians.
What I mean is that Jews are a tiny population with an outsized impact on the world, as are Italians. In the United States, Jews comprise less than two percent of the population, but make up a third of the Supreme Court. We enjoy bragging that nearly a quarter of the Nobel Prize recipients are “members of the tribe.”
Italy, with its 60 million citizens, are a tiny minority in a world of nearly 7 billion. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the impact Italians have had. I was in Paris recently and from the amount of restaurants serving pizza and panini, it’s easy to argue that Italy has a disproportionate role. And every time a Japanese violin student learns the adjectives pertaining to the dynamics of music or a rookie opera singer studies Italian, the language gets a new lease on life.
In America, the contributions of both Italian Americans and Jewish Americans go way beyond what one would expect given their numbers.
I remember having a conversation with my wife on a subway in New York. She refused to believe that Jews were such a tiny minority in the U.S. “Look around!” she said, “A quarter of the people on this train must be Jewish.” I said, “America isn’t New York.”
So as a New York Jew, I’m proud to be blogging on a website with its roots in Milan. It seems fitting.
There’s a stereotype of the Upper West Side Jew, derived from the heavy concentration Semitic influence on the northwest side of Manhattan Island. The reputation is that residents of this neighborhood are uniformly ultra-Liberal, more affluent than most, and extremely politically active. Of course, start talking to the real people who live there, and you’ll find a wide array of people – even a Republican or two. But clichés and stereotypes exist because there’s some truth buried somewhere.
I live due north of that neighborhood and I fit the stereotype almost perfectly (except the parts about being affluent and extremely politically active).
The editors of Linkiesta thought it would be interesting to add a voice like mine to the mix of commentators – the ruminations of a typical American Jewish Liberal. And though I wear the label proudly, I do not represent any group. I have no official affiliation with any organization beyond attending a synagogue, which is itself not aligned with any particular movement of Judaism, and being a member of the Democratic party.
It’s going to be a fulfilling journey. I hope you will find time to take it with me.