Monday, October 12, 2009

A Jew At Oktoberfest

A Jew walks into Oktoberfest and... well.. how is a Jew supposed to feel about Oktoberfest?

Amongst the many things happening this past weekend, Soulard held its annual Oktoberfest celebration, with tributes to German food, music, and of course, beer.

We went to check out the festivities, mostly for the beer, and we couldn't help feel a bit weird. 60 years after the wholesale murder of 10 million people by the Nazis, 6 million of whom were killed for being Jewish, and here we are at a festival celebrating German culture. It's hard not to think about it.

We went through the whole, 'this could never happen to us here, though, so it's all good." Then remembered, oh yea, that's how they felt back then, too.

Did it stop me from sampling some cold locally brewed beer? No. But it did make me stop and think about the source of my discomfort.

In the middle of the American Melting Pot, at a time in which we see more representations of Jews in movies and on television than ever before, when we critically deconstruct our Zionism, and when we focus so heavily on food as markers of our culture (even as we let Jewish delis fade away), it is hard not to be confused about who we are or what Jewish cultures means.

Instead of learning our history, from the destruction of the second temple throughout our diaspora, we are fed the Holocaust as our raison d'etre for staying Jewish, for supporting Israel. They say there's no business like Shoah-business and we've reached the point that Obama indicated that the Holocaust was the justification for the creation of the state of Israel, ignoring not only constant Jewish presence there, early haluztim, but also the centrality of Israel (the geographical and not political Israel) and particularly Jerusalem in all Jewish prayer, theology, and tradition.

What culture we have kept from assimilation has become so homogenized that we have lost many of the most interesting traditions from the many generations we call Sephardim or Mizrachim. One Israeli friend who just moved to St. Louis asked where he could find a synagogue which practiced those traditions. "Not in St. Louis," I had to tell him, "Maybe Brooklyn or LA."

As the culture becomes more vanilla, there is less to separate it from mainstream culture, and fewer reasons why anyone would want to hold on to the traditions, the culture, and the label. We got ourselves a ticket on the bus, but what did it cost?

How long until we don't even look at the potato pancakes at Oktoberfest and think, "you can't fool me, those are latkes?"

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