Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bintel Brief and the Tea Party Movement

You’ve probably never hear of the Bintel Brief. Wikipedia defines it as a ‘…Yiddish advice column printed without the sender's name, with answers meant to help others also. Started by the editor of Der Forvertz ("The Forward"), Abraham Cahan in 1906. The title means "a bundle of letters". In Yiddish, bintel means "bundle" and brief means a "letter" or "letters".’ It was a way for Jewish immigrants to become Americanized. You could learn what to bring if you were invited to dinner and how to address a possible suitor. In many ways, it was part of the process of shedding the culture of one country and adopting that of another.

The Jewish Daily the Forward continues the Bintel Brief as a blog and real people do write in. The advice-givers are now well-known writers such as Ariel Levy who writes for the New Yorker, or Rob Kutner who has written for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” It is still based on anonymous letters seeking advice. Many times, the writer is despondent about changes that the modern world has brought. The letters are often touching in that regard and frequently funny from a Woody Allen perspective. A recent inquiry was entitled “How Do I Get My Son's Family To Eat Dinner Together?” It was written by “A Concerned Bubbe.” Her opening paragraph is priceless in many ways: “I’m very upset. My son, daughter-in-law and their four children NEVER sit down together at the dinner table. One child works at Abercrombie & Fitch; another is being tutored for the SAT (Sheer Agony Test); another is on a traveling soccer team; the fourth child belongs to a Jewish motorcycle club called “Chai Riders.” This could be the premise for at least two novels, a movie, and a New Yorker article. The inquiry was answered by Joan Nathan, a well-known writer on Jewish cooking, who skillfully suggested ways of arranging a meal that would draw everyone together. It is fascinating, because the upset is about how to undo some of this Americanization and return to a sweeter and simpler time.

So what has this to do with the Tea Party movement? I recently read an article explaining that this phenomenon stems from a concern that the “real America” is being taken away by a lot of strangers and newcomers. The anger is an expression of frustration over the disappearance of what is familiar and comfortable. I am not suggesting that Concerned Bubbe is a “Tea-partier” but they do seem to share some of the same disappointment. Bubbes never really get angry, but they do get disappointed. I was hoping that writing this would lead me to some solution for the great division in America and the great political tensions that confront us, but for the moment that eludes me. But, I really did like going back to an earlier time and place.

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