The Thinker: Rich Galen


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On Being Jewish

Rich Galen

Monday October 29, 2018

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  • I promise not to wear you out with this.

  • I am Jewish. I've never made any secret of that, I've referred to being Jewish over the years, but I've tried not to dwell on it, or make my Jewishness a pivot point in how I view the world.

  • When I type "I am Jewish" I mean Jewish. According to the AncestryDNA website (associated with the Mormons) I am "European Jewish 100%" and my family (or, at least my DNA) hustled out of the Poland, Belarus, Lithuania area of Eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th Century.

  • I've never been particularly observant. When my mom was still alive my siblings and I would try and spend the High Holy Days with her. When I was young, I was the soloist in the Synagogue choir for the High Holy Days until my voice changed which, if memory serves, occurred during the afternoon of Yom Kipper (Jewish humor).

  • My family was not from Western Europe and they decided that leaving for America over 100 years ago to escape the Tsarist pogroms was a better bet than waiting for the Nazis to invade 30+ years later.

  • Having been born in 1946 I have been at the leading edge of the "Baby Boomer" generation. Our fathers - many of them - had been somewhere other than the continental United States prior to our getting started and we have been the population bubble for most of our lives.

  • Mine is also the first generation, I believe, where being Jewish was not an automatic disqualification for housing, jobs, or whatever.

  • When I was in college some fraternities (and sororities) had "White, Christian" clauses to exclude Blacks, Jews, etc., but those rules were losing their grip and, indeed, such a fraternity offered to buck "national" and offered me a bid.

  • I did not become a member, but I remain friends with those fraternal contemporaries to this day.

  • I remember going to look for houses with my mom and dad when we were moving from New York to New Jersey. We looked at what now would be called a "gated community." My dad asked the salesman if any Jews owned homes in the development.

  • I remember clearly the salesman trying to size up my dad to see if he was pro- or anti- but decided to punt and said "If there are, they are not practicing."

  • Back in the car my mom and dad discussed the code the salesman had implied: "Don't press it. pal."

  • As noted above, my forebears came to America in the early years of the 20th century. I know it was before 1918 because my mom would occasionally tell the story of how excited her father had been when he joined the U.S. Army, and how disappointed he was when the war ended before he could be shipped overseas and fight for America.

  • I know there were (and probably still are) clubs and professional firms that are not open to me. I don't miss them. And I guarantee they don't miss me. With all that, being Jewish in America has not been the burden for my generation that being Black in America has been, and continues to be.

  • My family settled in New York City. They were shopkeepers on my dad's side and makers of slip covers on my mom's. Retail was not necessarily in the DNA of Jewish immigrants, but self-reliance was.

  • Like the immigrants from Ireland, Italy and other nations, a Jewish family from Eastern Europe would often send the oldest boy to America. He would get a job and send money home until there was enough to send another family member. Then the two would send enough to continue the "invasion" until as many of the family that chose to take their chances in the New World came over.

  • Sound familiar? Chain migration.

  • This past weekend a man armed to the teeth burst into a Shul in Pittsburg, shouted "All Jews must die." and killed 11. They died for the crime of being Jewish.

  • This type of attack is, alas, not unique to Jews. People have been shot for being Black worshiping in a Black church, for being Gay and celebrating in a Gay club, for being in the wrong movie theater at the wrong time and, the saddest of all, for the crime of sitting in a school classroom.

  • According to, about 6,775 people die in the U.S. every day. To everyone who is mourning every one of those losses we say:
    Meen hah-shah-MAH-yeem teh-noo-KHAH-moo

    May you be comforted from above.

    NOTE: The Subscription Drive is still going on. I chose not to break up the flow of today's essay, but the instructions follow. Please take a moment and subscribe.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to a discussion of the Jewish High Holy Days (from a Catholic website), to the Wikipedia entry for the waves of immigration to the U.S. , and to the definition of the word Shul.

    The Mullfoto is my U.S. Army National Guard Dog Tag.


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