It doesn't necessarily help having grown up in a place. Places change, and so do people. My high school campus (complete with full-size theater football field, Olympic-size pool, science complex) is on par with some Israel college campuses. Everything is big. Huge. I was in an "upscale" supermarket on Thursday (they have a kosher fish section of their regular butcher department). I don't remember the aisles being so wide, and so long. One aisle was entirely shelved with crackers on one side, cookies on the other. This was certainly an anomaly to me, with all the hysteria over carb consumption. Everything is low-fat, except the people.
What surprised me the most? All the plastic bags. In Israel people have really started acclimatizing (pun intended -- forgive me) to bringing those semi-permanent, reusable shopping bags when they visit the supermarket. Here in California they just haven't gotten there, though the bags are readily available.
Stepping outside the house around five in the afternoon, onto the perfectly manicured public grounds surrounding the neighborhood, we find a gathering of dogs and their owners, representatives of both species perfectly groomed (the canines, perhaps, more so than their owners). One owner informs me that his dog is receiving chemo and radiation for osteosarcoma. Really. I've heard so much about Americans without medical insurance, I cannot figure out how to classify the concept of a dog on chemo. And I'm an animal lover, really.
(Speaking of worries over other questionable division of resources in America, apparently I'm not alone. See Ima Shalom's recent post for this note:
I got upset on the 4th of July when I thought about how much money was being spent on this ostentatious display of fireworks when it could go to feed starving children in Africa.
Ima Shalom, I don't know about the Africa part, but starving American children, definitely).
Even the toilet seat is lower... I keep falling down onto it. And I keep banging my head into the glass shower door because I don't see a shower curtain and assume it's open.
This past Shabbat fell into a category of its own. My brother and his wife were also in from out of state, and a flurry of friends and relatives (some Jewish, some not, none Shomrei Shabbat) were streaming through the house throughout the day.
As the last of them drove away Shabbat afternoon, my eldest (nine-years old) turned to me and said, Mommy, it doesn't feel like Shabbat. Everyone is driving and taking pictures and doing everything else! It's hard.
I felt the same way. I told her that this was how I grew up, surrounded by people who do not keep Shabbat, cars going by, everyone going about their weekend. I told her I had to walk a long way to my synagogue to be with other Jews who were keeping Shabbat together, since it really does take a community. (That idea in itself got me thinking a lot about Shabbat and community... more later).
Her response floored me: But Mommy, what made you choose to be like that? Why did you choose to be different?
Whoa, what a question.
I told her I couldn't answer that one on such short notice, though I did have lots of good reasons, and I know what they are. Since those days, some of them have probably changed. As That Guy I Married pointed out (not completely accurately, but I know what he means), we don't always get back to the kids with thorough answers to such monumental questions. Meanwhile, almost a week has gone by and my daughter's still waiting to hear from me. I'd better get working on my answer.
Keep the balance,
Addendum: I have gotten some family feedback that I am generalizing in this post, that not all of America is like this. I am just reporting on what I see... there is much that I don't see, and I leave that to others, for the time being.