It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Culture Shock

The kids and I are barely over jet-lag (Israel to California = 10 time zones), but now I think we're still in culture-lag.  

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.


ProfK said...

I am not making light of the fact that children are starving in Africa, and everywhere else around the globe. But the correlation between huge supermarkets with multiple products available such as the one you visited in California and that starvation world wide is not there. We could cut down on our consumption to subsistence level and send all our extra products to those who are starving and we still would not have solved the problem of starvation.

The question to ask is what do the countries where the citizens are starving need to do so that they can feed their citizens? What education are they missing? What skills and attitudes are missing?

It's that old saying that applies: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

A Living Nadneyda said...


Don't worry - I know you're not making light of the situation. Now that the Western World has absolutely no excuses, we see the images and hear the stories all the time, and with them comes a feeling of obligation to help improve the situation.

Meanwhile we still have our own lives to deal with. The collective impact can be overwhelming, especially, I would thing, for us women, because we constantly feel obligated to take on new responsibilities and to help others.

I completely agree with your note about skills... I think one of the greatest things about the U.S., in terms of human resources, is the high value placed on innovation and development (Israel too, in some circles), if we were to concentrate these resources we could help the rest of the world in really significant ways. Bill Gates is one atypical example (atypical in terms of wealth and resources), but I think he's set a good example in this.

At the same time, it's really important to know what we can do realistically, and what our limitations are, and to feel good about what we can do I think this is what Stephen Covey means when he refers to circles of influence.

Shabbat shalom,