Things I Want My Son To Know #10 ~ Respect Your Heritage

You have a complicated heritage. Your are adopted so there is a part of your heritage that you may never know much about. We do know that part of the heritage of your birth family is Native American. Since it is what we know, and it is special, hold it close and cherish it. This is a particularly spiritual and compassionate heritage and someday you may want to know more about it. I wish I could tell you more but that is all we know and all we have been able to find out.

But… you have the heritage of your family as well. That is us. Your maternal grandmother is, if anything, a Unitarian (religious preference). More importantly she is descended from early colonists and English missionaries to Hawaii. She was born into the Daughters of the American Revolution, as I understand it, but was drummed out for marrying a Jew (I think they are slightly more liberal now). There are two things important about this, first that she is descended of those revolutionaries in America and second that she experienced discrimination against Jews (something you should never forget). There is a history of her family among my books.

Your maternal grandfather is a Russian/Polish Jew whose grandmother fled Russia with her eight children and no husband and no English as a result of discrimination and poverty. Her story is an amazing one and your great grandmother described their journey to your Uncle Dan who wrote it out. This precious piece of writing is saved for you too (of course).

Your paternal grandfather was Irish through and through, and Catholic by upbringing; there is little we know about his ancestry but despite your father’s stubborness there is a little magic there.

Your paternal grandmother is, I believe, English and German. If this is wrong, I will let your dad post a correction! She is the toughest woman I have ever met and she is the only one in the whole family that is really good at handling and saving money. You could take a page out of her book on this one.

Finally, although you are many things, you are a Jew. You were raised as a Jew with Jewish values. Your dad was raised as a Catholic but chose to be a Jew because he believed in the values and principles of Judaism, he believed in Judaism as a way of life. And he chose it with no input from me. The Jewish heritage is a rich and vital one. It is a heritage of learning, knowledge, charity, spirituality, community service and kindness. The rituals are beautiful and many of them revolve around the home, rather than the house of worship, making them even more special; the candles, the seder, havdallah, chanukkiah (menorah).

It is important to respect that at least on two counts, your ancestors would have experienced terrible discrimination and physical violence merely for being who they were. If for this reason alone, you should be proud to be who you are, a Jewish man with Native American roots (among other things). You should wear your star proudly and never be ashamed of it. The Jews historically fought for civil rights in this country, side by side with African Americans seeking equal rights because they knew what discrimination was. You should always stand up not only for yourself but for those who are treated as lesser.

Whatever you think of religion ultimately, light the candles in your home; light a chanukkiah; conduct a seder with your children and re-tell the story of our liberation from slavery. It will make you feel proud and good; it will make you feel closer to your ancestors.

have a seder with your children you will feel closer to those who are gone.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #7 ~ Cook With Your Children

Whipping up recipes long held in your family can whip up fond memories as well.

Cook your family recipes; some things should be kept alive. In ethnic families there are rituals, usually tied to the religious, that are important and become part of the legacy and memories. In most families, eating together is a ritual that preserves legacy and memory. Even more, there are foods, cooked and eaten at particular times or times of year, prepared in a particular way, by particular people that especially preserve legacy and memory.

There are things you need to know. How to make the letter cookies your great grandmother, and then I, made when each of us in succeeding generations were small. How to make the cherry filled cookies that your great grandmother made for your grandfather and which are his very favorite. How to make your grandfather’s chopped liver (yes, the secret is in the schmaltz) and your grandma Joan’s lemon meringue pie which is too good to put in a pie, just make a double filling and eat it. I don’t know how you came to dislike brisket but you should still know how to make the best brisket on the planet, and the best potato latkes (you will always have friends at chanukah, guaranteed).

Whether you choose to be an observant or participating Jew, you should know how to make a seder. It is important to pass our story on to our children, year after year. The food is part of it, it is the glue that helps to bind our memories together, it keeps them real. The food is the taste and smell of the past and a path to the future. You know, being who I am, that I will have collected the recipes for you, and bound them in some kind of book for you to keep. But a book on a shelf isn’t enough. A few times a year, you need to take it down, make something yummy, and think of me, of your dad, of your grandparents, and the times we cooked and ate those foods together. And when your children are little, cook with them, and tell them the stories of the food and the memories… and they will live on.

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