Jul 25 2010

Family

You can pick your nose.
And you can pick your friends.
But you can’t pick your friends’ nose.
That rhyme has rattled around in my head ever since I was a little kid. I don’t know why. So much other stuff doesn’t seem to be able to stay in there but that little ditty does. I always thought it was funny for some reason. The idea of picking one’s friends. It’s not the same with family. You can’t pick your family. They become attached to you the moment you are born. And they follow you for the rest of their lives. When I was much, much younger I used to wish that we could also pick family. One goes through a certain period of one’s life when FAMILY is either embarrassing, annoying or just plain irritating. It isn’t until you move far away from them that you realize just how important FAMILY really is.
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Mar 2 2010

In foreign lands

I’m sitting in a small one-bedroom guest apartment in Monroe Village, the independent living place that my mom moved to, two years ago. I’m here visiting her for 2 weeks with my husband and son.

Monroe Village is in the wilds of middle Jersey, a place where once all you saw were fields and fields of farmlands – corn fields, potato fields, vegetables and even dairy farms – a landscape that probably contributed to New Jersey being called the Garden State. Its February and still winter, one of the worst and snowiest in a very long time. Snow is still lying on the ground though the roads and walkways here are clear. We picked up our rental car upon landing at Newark airport. We knew we would need a car here in the land of turnpikes, highways and roads of all sorts. My husband drives, my son mans the Tom Tom and I sit in the back seat watching the landscape pass by my window.

new_cover_house
Everywhere we drive, the farms are being replaced by brand new housing developments. They are incredible to look at. The houses are huge! And the styles – a weird mix of fake stone fronts with vinyl siding on the sides and backs. Large fake Greek columns on the front porches. Steeped roofs sometimes with dormer windows. And did I say HUGE!? Who lives in these horrible homes of bad taste – the everyman mansions of our times. Families don’t have 10 kids anymore. How much space do you need? I would love to visit a model home just to see what the insides of these monstrosities look like. But I don’t really.

Spaced between the housing tracts are small white houses from the late 1800s or early 1900s with white clapboard siding and the classic American front porches. These houses sit right next to the highways. They were there first. Some have been lovingly renovated and others look like they haven’t seen a coat of paint in 50 years. There are also strip malls scattered around, so named because they had to differentiate themselves from the large covered malls that also are around. Along the highways are small buildings of every sort, home to law firms, plumbing supplies stores, hairdressers, pizza parlors, ice cream shops, and all the other types of places necessary to give the locals the services they need to live here. This is my “home country” – not this neighborhood specifically but I grew up in NJ. But as we drive around, I feel like I am traveling through a completely alien country. As I walk around the local Stop and Shop supermarket I look at all the varieties of stuff to buy. What should I pick? What is good? What is the difference between brands? We have a lot of the same brands in Stockholm – Kellogs, Planters, General Mills, Liptons, Pepsi, on and on. But not the diversification. Does one need to have 40 different varieties of cold cuts? Not to mention the varieties of breakfast cereal. I feel like a Russian immigrant landing on the shores of American for the first time. And the TV! We don’t have advanced cable in our little guest apartment, just the regular stuff. But its like a solid wall of sound. I can’t filter it.

When I wrote on Facebook that I was heading to the States, I got a lot of “welcome home” messages, but I’m a stranger in a strange land. While I spend time with my mom, I’m waiting to return home, to Stockholm.


Dec 5 2009

Being Jewish in Swedish

Once again this is something I wrote awhile ago, around 2004. In the years that have passed, my son has had his Bar Mitzvah and I now sit on the board of an organization called Progressive Judendom i Stockholm. We are working to bring Reform Judiasm to Stockholm. And the group of J.A.P.S. that formed all those years ago still (with some comings and goings) meet for holidays and other times. Our children are like cousins to each other and the adults in the group are more than just friends. They have become family.

An American Jew in Stockholm

It’s funny how things change the older one gets – one’s sense of immortality, one’s idea of how to live a good life, the color of one’s hair, the list of things that are important.

I’ve spent a long time living here in Stockholm. I’ve spent an even longer time being Jewish – pretty much from birth, actually. My parents were Jewish. Both sets of grandparents were also Jewish. All my family and the relatives around me were Jewish. But I didn’t grow up in a Jewish neighborhood. From the time I was 4 years old till I was 18, I lived in a small town in the middle of northern New Jersey. All through grammar school I was the only Jewish kid in my class. And if there were any Jewish kids in the large regional high school I attended, I didn’t know them. I always had to get special permission to be absent from school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I then had to explain to my friends why I wasn’t in class. Getting permission wasn’t a problem and the explanations finally became routine but having to go through that process did contribute to making me feel different from all the rest.

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