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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Jewish Redneck

I've had this story for over two years. I have enjoyed it more and more each time I read it. I hope you will too.





Jewish Redneck


By Diane Goldberg

Why would a nice Jewish girl scream, "Oh, sweet Jesus," when she
comes? Because there's no escaping Jesus in the South.

Being a Jewish Southerner is an obscure identity; it has put me at
odds with myself. And yet it is a strangely harmonious experience,
too. Southern belles and Jewish American Princesses both have great
nails and a love-hate relationship with hairdressers. A JAP-belle is a
hybrid of Monica Lewinsky and Scarlett O'Hara – if the costume changes
don't kill me, the conflicting mythos will. Between the redneck
foreplay jokes and Jewish blow-job jokes, my scrambled psyche doesn't
know whether to redecorate or indulge in arson.

The combination of Jewish and Southern is lethal – particularly for
the woman living it. Both belles and JAPs are classic hysterics.
That's the payoff and the curse of my dual heritage. Scarlett chucking
the vase at Rhett and the Jewish princess having a neurotic episode
are female archetypes. With our flushed cheeks and incoherent ranting,
we are out of control and therefore good in bed.

Not all of the folks on Springer are from the South. It just seems
that way. No guest on Springer is Jewish. We've yet to see a show on
"Hassids in leather" or "yentas who do their grandkids." Still, most
of America knows about Jews ... we're loud, we exclude others, and
we're arrogant. We're as obnoxious as rednecks.

When Dale Earnhardt went into the wall at Daytona, I wanted to run to
the speedway and recite kaddish. The first time I got drunk, it was on
Mogen David wine. The second time was on a concoction, reminiscent of
Jonestown Kool-Aid and liniment, called Purple Jesus. I'm a Jewish
redneck.

Jews and Southerners share Judah P. Benjamin, odd accents, and
cholesterol-rich diets. We also share a sense of marginalization –
having, yet not having, a country. We are Americans; sure, we are, as
long as we stay in our suburbs or trailer parks. White Southerners are
the only Americans who feel they've lost a war. And somewhere in our
ancestry, we might have the DNA of a slave owner. Most of us have the
DNA of slaves as well, but that doesn't give us any victim cred. The
African DNA indicates that we are the offspring of rapist slave
owners.

The children of Auschwitz survivors have no victim cred. The world is
tired of hearing about the Holocaust. Particularly since the onset of
the current Intifada proved that the grandchildren of those dead
shtetl Jews refuse to invite Oprah to mediate the Mideast into a
hugfest.

I've been to Masada, and I have been to Appomattox – one is the site
of surrender, and one is the site of no surrender, yet they are
somehow similar. They are both part of my heritage, and neither of
them makes sense in a postmodern world without honor. Yet honor still
has meaning in the South and among Jews. It's still possible to crash
and burn for unfashionable concepts like manhood or mensch-hood.

When I was a teen, I migrated to the liberal North, believing that New
York City was the promised land. I could wear bohemian black and be
delivered from Deliverance. I sought the sanctuary of coffeehouses and
the company of other black-clad depressives who disdained NASCAR.
Nowhere did I encounter the beauty and grace, the Götterdämmerung, the
aching loss of classicism that is inbred in the South and infused in
the chicken soup of being Jewish outside a Jewish enclave. Long Island
Jews have no sense of being strangers in a strange land.

Both Southerners and Jews know how to weep, how to mourn, and, most of
all, how nothing lasts forever. Yankees drip naïveté: they seem to
believe that things once fixed are fixed, that that which Abe Lincoln
joined together we cannot rip asunder.

Southerners and Jews know defeat. It doesn't make us cynics – it makes
us poets. In the building-bound North I missed the mildew and decay
hanging off the eaves of wedding-cake houses inhabited by slightly mad
old ladies. I missed the speck on the horizon of sun-baked fields
bordering on swampland. I hungered for a homeland that is not mine.

I returned to Carolina, away from the delis that sold chopped liver to
the land of pickled pigs feet. I drove down steaming asphalt in an old
Pontiac, a crotch-warmed beer between my thighs, my sunburned
shoulders contrasting with my pale Jewish face. Kudzu covered
abandoned cars. Strip-mall stores sold porn videos on the rack next to
pork skins.

A story, repeated by numerous rabbis, tells of a small Southern town
with one Jewish family. Somewhere in the South, a solitary Jewish
family managed nicely next to Holy Roller neighbors. A second Jew
moved into town. Jew number two opened his business on Saturday. The
town was appalled. He was shunned on the streets. Bankruptcy
threatened. Then the sheriff came calling and said, "Pardon me, Mr.
Solomon, but round here we like our Jews to keep the Sabbath."

The South still lurks beneath banking, azaleas, ex-pat Midwesterners
driving SUVs, and chain restaurants. It's rooted in history. When I
grew up here, Jews could not live in particular sections of town or
join country clubs or do a hundred other things that violated the
unspoken rules of knowing your place. But, within our place, we
managed.

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