Oh hai humans!
Sorry for the delayed blog-making and posting. Things in Poland have been, well, busy and amazing, and life changing and incredibly wonderful and incredibly hard and I’m happy to say, I’m happy. Happier than I’ve been in a long, long while. Maybe it’s because I’m living abroad, or because in Poland you can walk and bus everywhere (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate driving), maybe it’s because I’ve been eating well, or because I’ve been traveling to visit friends and family or maybe it’s just because I decided to be.
Although it’s nice for me that things have been jolly, it doesn’t make for the most interesting of blog posts, and I don’t want everyone out there to think I’m a total self-indulgent douche (although, I guess having a personal blog makes you one by default). But after a few calls from my mom (who I think may be the only person reading this thing anyway), I decided to try and post again.
Last night a professor in the English department had myself, Sterling (the other Fulbrighter in Olsztyn) and his girlfriend Erica over for dinner. It was an amazing Polish feast and five hours, seven courses and four drinks later, I didn’t know how I was going to get home, let alone stand up from the table. After countless years of vegetarianism I wasn’t sure I could manage to eat the seemingly never ending pile of meat on the table, but somehow I managed and my stomach hadn’t felt happier in months. We ate pierogis, borscht, bigos (a Polish meat and cabbage stew that takes 3-6 days to make), a roasted goose as our main dish, more cabbage, potatoes, carrots, a Polish yeast cake as our first dessert and ice cream as our second. We also managed to take a vodka shot as we sat down at the table for a “true” Polish experience. It was my first time in a Polish home and it was one of my favorite memories in Poland thus far.
Earlier in the week I stumbled upon an outdoor pool party in the center of town in 10-degree weather. Apparently it was a national day of fundraising for the sick and elderly and our town hosted a full day of events including the aforementioned pool party, a wrestling tournament between the elderly men of Olsztyn and an outdoor concert featuring an amazing ska band called Enej. It felt so surreal dancing to the music, snow falling and just allowing myself to feel the joy of my new life here. Later that night, we went from pub to pub and my Polish friends laughed as they noticed how long it took me to finish a drink. Considering I’m the first American most of them have met, they always have interesting questions for me including “does it take every American three hours to drink a beer, or is that just you?” Apparently I’m giving us a bad name, sorry peeps!
In other cross-cultural news, although I love being the first American my friends have met (I think I represent my country well), sometimes it’s hard being the first Jew. I love and adore the people I’ve met here and I know they love and adore me back, but navigating how and when to “come out of the Jewish closet” is a tricky situation. Of course all my best friends here know, but I never know how to approach the subject with more distant friends. Of course they could see from Facebook I spent the holidays in Israel, but I could tell that many of them still didn’t understand I was Jewish by the way they asked me how I celebrated Christmas. When I finally explained to them that I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m Jewish, the only way I can describe the look on their faces was complete and utter shock. The first sentence out of one friends mouth was “but you don’t have a big nose.” The second sentence “are you rich?” The third sentence “I like making Jewish jokes, so I’m glad you told me.” Although these sentences were harmless, I was having a particularly sensitive night and it was all I could do but cry. It wasn’t what they said that hurt me so much, but the pressure I felt in return. I didn’t realize how pervasive and widespread these negative stereotypes were and now I feel like as the “first Jew” it’s my entire responsibility to prove them wrong. I know I represent my people well, but sometimes it hurts to think about all the negative perceptions people have of us the world over.
I come from a world filled with Jews, a community accepting of my culture and my people, it’s easy to live in that bubble and forget that there are places in the world where it’s still not okay to be Jewish, a world where Jews don’t even exist. There is a Jewish saying that goes something like “if you save a life, it’s as if you saved the whole world.” Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit (if I sound like a jerk please let me know), but I truly believe that if I can change one friends’ mind about what it is to be Jewish, through their actions, they can change many minds as well. Maybe that’s the only way change ever comes.
Although it’s hard being the “lone” Jew sometimes, I feel proud of my culture and I can’t wait to host a Shabbat dinner for my friends here and show them what our religion is all about.
Sending so much love to all your corners of the world!