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Confronting their Family's Love/Hate Relationship with Judaism
"There were times when I still feel that I just got off the boat, that I’m an immigrant." - Avrom
Sitting outside of a Starbucks on a sunny Sunday morning, siblings Avrom Freida* discuss growing up in St. Louis Park. Across the boulevard, one can just make out a sign for Elijah’s Cup, Prime Deli, and Kosher Spot, popular shopping places for the Orthodox Jewish community. Avrom, a 53-year-old man with a Hebrew tattoo on his arm, wildly curly hair, a beard and mustache, and thick circular glasses, is quick to call himself Jewish but not religious. He mentions, though, that he sometimes still feels like an immigrant, like he just “got off the boat,” even though he’s lived in Minnesota his whole life, and it was his grandparents who emigrated from Eastern Europe in the 1920’s.
When asked why he feels like that, he closes his eyes and grimaces, trying to rack his brain. Finally, he mentions getting teased for his Jewish identity as a child. He grew up in the Second Alphabet of St. Louis Park, a lower-middle class neighborhood with few Jews, and he said that he felt looked down upon by the wealthier, more assimilated Jews of the First Alphabet. The fact that their mother and grandparents spoke Yiddish didn’t help.
“My bubbie and zeyde from Lithuania, they still spoke Yiddish. My mom speaks Yiddish, so that kind of makes us an anomaly. I know that my mom’s mother took English lessons, and I know that neither of them particularly liked the Old Country and wanted to come here, but for whatever reason we could never quite fit in as close to American as Jews can be.”
He asks Freida about their family’s love/hate relationship with Judaism. She remembers that her grandfather would often say “kish mir in tuchus” about his old village in Lithuania. This is Yiddish for “kiss my behind,” implying that he didn’t want anything to do with the Old Country and the Orthodox Judaism that came with it. Their grandparents, instead, leaned towards socialism, though they would still go to Shul for High Holidays and hold Passover seders.
Freida and Avrom’s parents were also conflicted about their Judaism. They moved to St. Louis Park from North Minneapolis when Freida was six. Though they didn’t go to Shul and often made fun of the more religious Jews, their parents made Avrom have a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Israel, the reform synagogue in Minneapolis. He often wonders why. Freida, who would have gone to a conservative synagogue if it wasn’t for her ex-husband, asks herself why she had her three kids get Bar and Bat Mitzvahed, also at Temple Israel. Finally, she says, “I felt like they should know at least what their roots were, and then they could decide afterwards what they wanted to do.”
Both Frieda and Avrom raised their kids at least partly in St. Louis Park, though not intentionally. In fact, in high school she and her friends had a saying: “I didn’t want to die in St. Louis Park.” Freida moved to South Minneapolis when her children grew up.
* * *
An hour or so into their conversation, they are interrupted by two women walking into Starbucks. “Diane,” Avrom yells to one of them. As it turns out, Diane, and her friend Shelly both grew up in St. Louis Park and now live there. All four of them went to St. Louis Park High School, though at different times, and they all identify as culturally Jewish. The four spend the next hour going over names and making connections: “Oh Merna, I know who that is;” “I know Mindy;” “I know Richard...he lives in his building.” "They call it Jewish geography," Freida explains "and I'm terrible at it."
This interaction shows the complexity of the Jewish experience in Minnesota. In some ways, Freida and Avrom still feel like outsiders, like "immigrants." But, in other ways, they are part of an intense culturally Jewish community, many of whom they met while growing up, and now still run into. 1
The next section looks at Avrom's son's feelings about his Jewish Identity and currently living in St. Louis Park.
*Freida is a pseudonym
Avrom and Freida. “Growing up in St. Louis Park.” Interview by Maya Margolis. April 17, 2016. ↩