Some readers of this blog have asked me "are you Dutch or American?"
They have also asked me "are you Jewish or Gentile?"
Okay, that answer doesn't really clarify things, does it?
MY FATHER'S FAMILY
In the sixteenth century, a refugee from the Spanish Netherlands fled to the north (of the Rhine river) to escape Catholic tyranny.
His grandson, Abraham Pietersen van Deursen of Haarlem emigrated to New Amsterdam shortly after marrying Tryntje Melchiors in 1629. His son Isaac Abrahamsen van Deursen was born in New Amsterdam in 1635.
Four generations later, two of Isaac Abrahamsen's descendants married. Despite one of them having a different surname, they were related to each other and to themselves, due to the custom of New York Dutch to marry among the tribe (and all who are descended from the three thousand Cheeseheads in New Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century are related to each other as a result).
By that time the Dutch Calvinism of the first American generations had weathered somewhat, and other forms of Protestantism had found adherents among those people. Consequently, in addition to Calvinists, there are also Episcopalians in the family woodpile.
[Names like Jacob, Josef, Isaac, Abraham, Enoch, Efraim, David, Saul, Solomon, Selah, Shadrach, Nathan, Benjamin, and others of Tanachic provenance drench the family tree. There's also the occasional Wynand, Gompert, or Teeuwis, but they are swamped by shvatic nomenclature.]
Their grandson ended up in England after World War One, where my uncle and my father were born. Both boys returned to the US with their widowed mother during the depression. My father interrupted his studies at Berkeley to fly a bomber for the Canadians during World War two.
MY MOTHER'S FAMILY
My mother comes from Scotch-Irish Presbyterians (in other words, hard-ass Calvinists from Ulster) who have been in the US for nearly three centuries. Her father, Colonel M., whose family had migrated west from Virginia during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, married my maternal grandmother when both of them were in Kermanshah (Persia). Both had been with the American Red Cross aid contingent to the Russians during the war, and fled south after the Bolsheviks took over.
[I possess a lovely photo of a group of gaunt men in a mixture of Russian and American uniforms standing together with glasses lifted toasting the newlyweds. Several of them seem smaller than their cavalry swords. They are very thin.]
Colonel M. was stationed in Germany during the early twenties, where my mother was born. They returned to the US in the thirties, and lived in Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
Colonel M. was stationed at the Presidio during WWII, my mother joined the Waves (and was called up again during the Korean war).
My maternal-grandfather retired in the sixties; for several years thereafter he could still be found at the Officer's Club having a cocktail in the early evening. He passed away in the mid-seventies.
My father met my mother in Berkeley after the war. After a very long courtship about which I will tell you nothing, my parents married and moved to southern California. My brother and I were born in the Los Angeles area during the Eisenhower years. All of us moved to the Netherlands in 1962.
By 1968 I was getting beaten up by my classmates in Valkenswaard for being an American, and clobbering them right back for being such pissants. By the time the Vietnam war ended I had few friends among the locals - notable exceptions being Dutch Jews, Dutch Indos, and other trans-nationals - and several enemies.
The boy-scout troop to which I unwillingly (!) belonged consisted almost entirely of religious and ethnic bigots with a sharpened talent for cruelty and mob-behaviour. I do not remember any of their names, but I keenly remember their brutish and depraved natures. None of those people were truly committed, however - it takes more balls than are possessed by your average pissant to vigorously pursue enmity when the object of that enmity fights back and is willing to fight dirty.
In high school I got along far better with the girls than the boys.
I particularly remember Bertje Clerk (very intelligent blonde girl, petite), Babs DeWaard (a small bright brunette with lovely eyes), and Uki Schneider (blonde, elfin, angelic - her boyfriend was an Indo with a devilish gleam in his eyes with whom I got along quite well).
I returned to the US in 1978 and lived in Berkeley for several years before dropping out of college and traveling to South East Asia.
I met Savage Kitten in 1989. We've been living together for nearly fifteen years now. She has no intention of ever getting married - she regards wedlock as a methodology for making Cantonese American females miserable (as, indeed, it seems to have been for many of her mother's generation). Plus I am hardly the successful Toishanese-American dentist with real-estate holdings that she has been programmed to wed.
I speak better Cantonese than she does, but she learned how to curse most marvelously in Toishanese from her mother. The Cantonese dialects are earthy.
The involvement in Judaic subjects was a gradual thing. I knew Jews when I lived in the Netherlands, and there have always been Jews on my book shelves. I find more in Judaism that makes sense to me than in Christianity.
I acquired a translation of Rashi's commentary several years ago, but it was preceded by Jacob Neusner's writings and followed by Bloom and Friedman. I now have a substantial collection of books exploring facets of Judaism and matters Israeli, but have only three New testaments - King James, Staten Bijbel, and the Nupela Testamen (New Guinea Pidgin English).
Before I returned from the Netherlands I knew Tanach better than NT (and much better than the classmates who told me I was going to hell for not being of the same creed as them).
Since then I've also acquired a smattering of Talmud and a smidgen of Sfas Emes.
What keeps me from converting is an unhealthy level of skepsis plus the idea that one should not separate oneself from one's community (yes, that's davka poresh min ha tzibbur - but I am already poresh mi darkei tzibbur). There's more to it than that, but less than meets the eye.
[Oh, and if I were to convert, I would be living in a household with absolutely no acceptable standard of kashrus whatsoever. You go tell a Cantonese woman that shrimp and lobster are possul. That meshugge I'm not.]
Besides, there have always been not-completely-assimilated
elements in the Judaic world; just think of the Erev Rav, who left Mitzrahim with the descendants of Yakov - they were probably shooting craps behind some bushes when Moses came down from the mountain.
They were also far too busy rigging poker games to be sidetracked by that whole eigel hazahav business. And that thing with the fire-pans? Pre-occupied with dice and cards, still.
Forty years later they were the only ones who looked up surprised and said "what, we're there already? How the heck did that happen?!?"
The souls of all the erev rav in existence were present at Sinai. It isn't till we drop the loaded dice that we become Jewish.
Labels: Dutch, Israel, Jew, Savage Kitten, SK-vol. 2