Every ethnic group, whether they be Irish, Italian, German or Russian, has its idiosyncrasies. There’s no harm done by talking about them.
So here are the cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles in America. This evening, my Protestant wife, Chris, told me, in response to a request I made, that indeed she had a packet of cookies in her black bag. She was sitting in the living room, working on her laptop when she said this. She also said she didn’t know where her bag was.
“Is it important to find your bag?” I asked. “What’s in there?”
“Where did you last see it?”
“It’ll turn up.”
She then went back to typing.
I looked for her bag near her in the living room. I looked through the rest of the living room. It wasn’t anywhere there, so I tried the TV room and the kitchen. No luck. I asked if she had been upstairs and she said no. We had been out for dinner at Babette’s in East Hampton earlier. Maybe she had left it there. I called there. They hadn’t seen it. But perhaps they had not seen it because another diner had taken it? I became anxious thinking about it. Her whole life is in that bag.
“Maybe you left it in the car,” I said. Chris had gone out shopping in her car earlier in the day.
“Have a look if you want,” she said. I put on my jacket and grabbed a flashlight. “And look in my car, too,” she said, since she knew I knew we had gone to dinner in my car.
I looked everywhere in both cars. No bag. This was serious. I imagined someone using her credit cards, taking whatever cash was in there, looking through all her personal possessions. She keeps her cell phone in the bag. And I hadn’t seen her cell phone. She knew what I was thinking. She stopped typing.
“It’s inside,” she said, “and the ringer is off.” Then she went back to typing.
Finally, she said this. “Oh, I know where it is. I left it on the dining room table.”
And so I went in there and got it.
Here’s another story about these differences, which happened Friday night in Manhattan. We met with two other couples at a two-level restaurant in the theatre district. Our intention was to go see the Broadway show Nice Work afterwards. That would be at 8 p.m., nearby.
By the time everybody showed up, it was no longer 6 p.m., which was when we had the reservations but 6:30 p.m. It was crowded. Would we be sent away? We were seated. We ordered. After a long wait, the food arrived and we ate. At the end of the meal we asked for the check. This was about 7:40 p.m. Twenty minutes until showtime. You can’t be late for a Broadway show. They don’t let you in until the act is over. It took awhile to get the check. We threw three credit cards down on the check, then motioned for the waiter to come pick it up, but he went the other way. After that, all waiters were too busy to stop by.
The people at the table all fell silent. It was at that moment I realized that everybody at the table was Jewish, except for my wife. My wife followed everybody into the silence because she is a well-mannered person. Didn’t seem to register what this was all about. All the rest of us sat there thinking our thoughts. No waiter meant no show. Had $900 worth of tickets been in vain? We tried mightily again to get one to come. We waved. We raised our hands. All such behavior got us nowhere. Finally a waitress came over, not a Jewish woman, and she smiled and took the check.
“We have a show to go to,” one of us said.
“Not a problem,” she said, smiling broadly. At this point it was 13 minutes before show time. Of course, in unison, without speaking, we all thought the same thing. This IS a problem.
My wife tried to cheer us up. “There’s plenty of time,” she said.
The five of us Jewish people were now eagerly watching the flight of stairs that went up and down to the kitchen and dining room on the floor below. In what was clearly a group effort. We issued laser beams toward that flight of stairs, hoping to draw in our waitress. We had asked her to divide the check by three. What if that were a problem? What if she got that wrong?
Eventually, she arrived. We quickly distributed the credit cards and bills. The three of us wound up all signing the third of the bill that was meant for one of the others.
“No matter,” somebody said.
We all stood up. My wife stood up. We were down the stairs and out the door and onto the sidewalk.
“I thought we were on the cross street where the Majestic is,” somebody said. Oh no!
“There’s an alley we can take, it’s down there between Johnny’s Café and that other place,”
We walked fast. We got there, got our tickets and were taken to our seats—front-row seats in the balcony—just as the lights dimmed. “These are great seats,” said I.
And so we sat and watched, all of us in this mass of humanity who had paid $150 a ticket whether we were Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Agnostics, Hindus or Buddhists. Or whatever. It’s a great play. I recommend it.
Yesterday, I came across a back issue of New York magazine in a pile on my desk. The cover promoted a feature story inside about some Ashkenazim Jews who live a long time.
Early in the article, the reporter asks Irving Kahn, who is now 107, how he got involved with an Einstein College of Medicine study about whether people who live 10 or 11 decades have something in common.
Kahn replies, “You’ll have to ask my older sister.”
The sister was 109. There is another brother who is 103 and a sister who died in 2005 at 101.
For those who say stop worrying, I say bah! Worrying, even about things that might or might not happen, is what keeps things going.