Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My People

My father's father was born in Vilna, Lithuania. Yes, he was a Litvak -- a Lithuanian Jew. Certain stereotypes attach to the Litvak.


The stereotypical Litvak is portrayed as unemotional, withdrawn, intellectual, and mercilessly critical; he challenges authority and is by nature skeptical, stubborn, and impatient with, and suspicious of, others. The Litvak’s commitment to tradition is suspect; his Judaism purely intellectual. Hyperbolic expressions of the stereotype maintained that even when he is studying Torah, the Litvak has one leg out the door of the bet midrash (study hall), on his way to inevitable apostasy. He studies Mishnah, Talmud, and halakhic codes publicly, went the stereotype, while at the same time furtively glances into Christian scripture or reads Marx and Tolstoy. The Litvak was called, derisively, tselem kopf—meaning, split the head of a Litvak and you’ll find a cross. There was widespread suspicion among Polish Jews that Litvaks somehow lacked a yidishe neshome, an authentic Jewish soul, and that there was something inherently flawed, “goyish” and lacking in authentic Jewish flavor (yidisher tam), about them—the latter confirmed by the Litvak’s austere diet, which contrasted with the sweeter and more complex foods of Galitsianers. While Polish, Galician, and Romanian Jews would typically sweeten the most popular Jewish staple foods (e.g., gefilte fish or kugel) with sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and the like, Litvaks prepared their food with salt and pepper—appropriate, according to the stereotype, to their bitter personalities. “The Galitsianer’s gut is too big, but he has a small head,” wrote Mendele Moykher-Sforim; “the Litvak’s gut is too small, but he has a big head.”

2 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

Famous Litvaks:

Roman Abramovich, Oligarch and owner of Chelsea F.C.
Moshe Arens, former Israeli defence minister and foreign minister
Naum Aronson, sculptor. Born in Kreslavka, worked in Paris. Moved to USA.
Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court of Israel from 1995–2006
Ehud Barak, Israeli Chief of Staff, foreign minister, prime minister, defence minister and Labour leader
Erran Baron Cohen, English-born trumpeter and composer
Sacha Baron Cohen, English-born entertainer
Roseanne Barr, American actress
Jillian Becker, South African writer
Menachem Begin, Israeli Prime Minister from Brest-Litovsk
Dan Bern, American folk singer, poet, painter
Sydney Brenner, biochemist, Nobel laureate 2002
Eli Broad, American philanthropist and investor; founder of KB Home
Marc Chagall, Russian-born French painter
Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist
Aaron Copland, U.S. composer, original family name was Kaplan
Irwin Cotler, Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General from 2003–2006, and international human rights lawyer
Melvyn Douglas (Melvyn Hesselberg), American actor
Bob Dylan, U.S. singer-songwriter, author, musician and poet (original name was Robert Allen Zimmerman)
Yaffa Eliach, Author (wrote Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust)
Bernard Friedman, South African politician
Brian Epstein, The Beatles Manager
Massimiliano Fuksas, Italian architect
Romain Gary, French writer
Ivan Glasenberg, South African chartered accountant, CEO of Glencore International AG
Philip Glass, U.S. minimalist composer
Leopold Godowsky, composer and pianist
Emma Goldman, anarchist
Itamar Golan, pianist
Nadine Gordimer, 1991 Nobel Prize for literature
Bernard Gordon, South African businessman and philanthropist, Rand pioneer, founder of Kibbutz Mayan Baruch in Israel
Lauren Grant, modern dancer, Mark Morris Dance Group. Maternal grandfather from Lithuania, circa 1900.
Aron Gurwitsch, philosopher in the field of phenomenology
Laurence Harvey, British actor
Esther Hautzig, award-winning writer
Jascha Heifetz, acclaimed 20th century violinist born in Vilnius
Seymour Hersh, American journalist
Moe Howard (born Harry Moses Horwitz), Shemp Howard (born Samuel Horwitz) and Curly Howard (born Jerome Lester Horwitz) of the Three Stooges, a U.S. comedy trio

Gary Freedman said...

Jay M. Ipson, founder and president of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond
Al Jolson, singer-songwriter, dancer, entertainer
Ronnie Kasrils, South African communist leader, minister of Intelligence Services
William Kentridge, acclaimed artist 3rd-generation South African of Lithuanian-Jewish heritage, whose parents and uncles fought in the trenches against Apartheid.[14]
Joseph Klausner, scholar of modern Hebrew literature and former Israeli presidential candidate
Aaron Klug, biophysicist, Nobel laureate 1982.
Hillel Kook, Revisionist Zionist activist, politician, and prominent member of the Irgun
Tony Leon, South African former opposition leader
Emmanuel Levinas, philosopher
Peggy Lipton, U.S. actress
Jacques Lipchitz, sculptor
Emmanuel Lubezki, 3 time Academy Award nominee, cinematographer
Alexander Ziskind Maimon, author and scholar
Benoit Mandelbrot, mathematician, regarded as the founded of fractal geometry
Michael Marks, founder of retail network Marks and Spencer
George Marcus, anthropologist
Gideon Mer, Israeli scientist who worked on malaria research
Juliano Mer-Khamis, Israeli actor, director, filmmaker and political activist
Hermann Minkowski, mathematician (born in Kaunas)
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, original family name was Milikowsky
Fanny Mikey, Colombian theatre impresario, daughter of a Lithuanian immigrant to Argentina
Amos Oz, Israeli writer, novelist and journalist
Pink (Alecia Moore), U.S. musician, mother is of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry
Maury Povich, U.S. talk-show host
Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport, author and Jewish folklorist who under the pseudonym, S. Ansky wrote the play, The Dybbuk
Don Rickles, an American stand-up comedian and actor
Willy Ronis, photographer
Jerome David Salinger, writer
Milton Shapp (b. Milton Jerrold Shapiro), cable TV pioneer and governor of Pennsylvania; parents were Lithuanian Jews
Ariel Sharon, former Israeli Prime Minister, from a family of Georgian Jews of Lithuanian descent
Joe Slovo, South African Communist and MK leader, minister of construction in Nelson Mandela's government
Chaïm Soutine, painter
Clara Nathanson, sculptor. Lithuanian (Vilnius, b.1887)
David Suchet, famous English actor
Helen Suzman, South-African anti-apartheid activist
Moshe/Michael Tchaban, Lithuanian born singer-songwriter
Vilna Gaon, preeminent religious leader and Talmudist
Meir Vilner, Israeli communist leader, the last of the signatories of Israel's declaration of independence to pass away
Mary Louise Weller, U.S. actress and model
Harry Dexter White, economist
Lewis Wolpert, South African born geneticist
L.L. Zamenhof, founder of the Esperanto language
Paul Zukofsky, violinist and conductor from New York.
Andy Zaltzman
Helen Zaltzman