Thursday, October 06, 2022

“Litvaks!” commented a friend on Facebook in response to a meme I’d posted making fun of people with no sense of humor.

“Watch it, Galitz,” I shot back, and then neither of us ever said another word about it. 

There was no need.

I knew he must have been mortified at his unintended gaffe, and knew also, that it was not his intention to insult me. In fact, he meant it as a compliment. A Litvak was one of the worst things he could imagine and he never imagined, therefore, that I could be one. 

I actually felt bad for him because who hasn’t made a similar faux pas—really stepped in it—in a social context? Friends look the other way when stuff like this happens, and that’s what we are, my Galicianer friend and I, despite the Gefilte Fish Line that divides our ancestors into those who liked their food sweet (his), and those who decidedly, did not (mine)!

This was not the first time that someone had assumed I could not possibly be one of those (gadzooks!) Litvaks. Once, during an important negotiation, the man sitting across from me said, “Let’s not be like one of those Litvaks who fight over the price of every leg of every chair and table,” words which caused me to kick my negotiating partner under the table—in the shin—hard.

That’s okay. Because as I am sure you well know, these things work both ways. For example, when I first became aware at the age of 13 or so that there was something called a “Galicianer,” I went to the one who knew all regarding these things—my mother—and asked her, “Mom? What’s a Galicianer?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “But Grandma said never to marry one.”

Later, when I became consumed for a time with family research, I learned a great deal about the communities and countries that comprise the wanderings of the Ashkenazi Jew in Europe. I became so aware of the distinctions between these regions and communities that I could often surprise someone by guessing where their ancestors were from, just from the way they pronounced “kugel.” I had a good laugh when one of my siblings married a lovely someone of Hungarian ancestry. My mother embraced this new family member wholeheartedly, having absolutely no clue that Hungary was in that unimaginable (to her) European region from whom spousal connections were proscribed by my Grandma, may she rest in peace.

Many years ago, a driver we hired to take me to the hospital to have yet another one of my babies got to talking about family roots. When he mentioned the town in Poland from whence his grandparents came, I said, “Ah, Galicianers!” to encourage him to tell me more—I love hearing about Jewish roots.

“Yup,” he said, “In my family, the men went out in the morning with a rope, and came back at night with a horse!”

My husband and I busted out laughing (which wasn’t so great for my contractions). Our driver had touched on the very thing that people not from Galicia (i.e. Litvaks—though never MY family) say about Galicianers, but NEVER to their faces: “Galicianers are horse thieves.”

Bully for our driver. These distinctions: do they really matter anymore? We have (both his family and ours) all come home to Israel—we can laugh at the prejudices that once kept our communities distinct throughout our long sojourn in the Diaspora. The poverty stricken Jews of Galicia had to be canny to make a living in order to survive. They had to have something to keep their spirits up, which they found in Chassidus. They lived in a land of sugar beets, so they put sugar in their food.

The “kalte” (cold) Litvaks, on the other hand, survived Europe (but in most cases didn’t survive at all—94% of Lithuania's Jews were wiped out by the Holocaust) by remaining dryly unemotional, rejecting Chassidus, and burying their heads in their books. It’s difficult to pinpoint how these ancestral survival behaviors  manifest in either community today, but I often catch myself doing something particularly “Litvish,” something my mother or grandma might have done, too.

My mother used to say that if my grandma entered a home and there was something she didn’t like about the house—I dunno, maybe she saw a sock on the floor in the hall—she wouldn’t let anything pass her lips, nary a drop of water or bit of biscuit. Grandma’s lips stayed sealed shut, and she would not said why.

Mom had her own way of expressing her inner Litvak. Growing up, we were expected to pass things at the dinner table without being asked. My beloved late mother would literally have starved before saying, “Could you please pass the potatoes?”

She would sit, head held high, not looking at you, yet you knew you were guilty of something. Eventually it would occur to you, “Oh, she wants the potatoes.”

With me, it’s the stupid things like netiquette that make me revert to ancestral traits perceived by some as common to the Lithuanian shtetl. If, for example, you send a mass email and put every email address—including my own—in the CC line instead of obscuring them in the BCC line, it burns me up. It literally makes steam come out of my ears—though I work hard on myself.

When someone did this to me (note: did this to ME—exposed MY address to 15 strangers) only recently, I said to my husband, “I can just feel the Litvak coming off me when this stuff happens,” and he laughed.

Nu. Dov can laugh. He has no skin in the game.

After all, his family's Prussian.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 18 years and 38,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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