Dining on Sacred Cow
For us Gen Y-ers, children of America’s “unipolar moment,” it is nearly impossible to relate to the Cold War zeitgeist of desk drills, space races, and Daisy Girls. Except for some brief, frenzied moments in 2001-2, the jihadists lurking between the cracks of 21st century state authority have never seemed to threaten our collective existence; from where we stand today, the threat of Chinese ascendancy is distant and mostly economic.
For about a decade, I’ve been an avid reader of the latest work on human population genetics. Following a rush of oddball (and sometimes downright irresponsible) amateurs and a few informed commentators, I’ve woven in a background in ancient history and comparative linguistics to compensate for my elementary-at-best knowledge of molecular genetics. Last year, I bucked the norms of my Arabic composition class on literature and politics, writing on the origins of the Semitic language family and the demographic nature of the Islamic conquests from a genetic perspective. Until quite recently, this was an exercise on the margins: in most cases, genetic researchers kept their speculation to the unfathomably distant past, and traditional historians steered clear altogether.
Every election season, Harvard’s undergraduate population bubbles over with enthusiasm for Barack Obamas and Elizabeth Warrens—standard-bearers of the well-behaved, mainstream liberalism that sets the cultural tone on campus. Students will pledge fealty to the sixties’ hallmark ideals: grassroots creativity, self-expression, lifestyle experimentation. But contrary to popular imagination, they will continue to lead overwhelmingly conservative lives.
Nothing illustrates this principle more starkly than the strange reality of marijuana at Harvard: that is to say, it’s rarer than you might expect. On the campus where Timothy Leary once conducted lab experiments with much harder drugs, only 35% of 2012’s graduating seniors claimed to have ever tried marijuana—as compared to 47% of American college students, by the Harvard School of Public Health’s account. This is not for lack of intoxication, however. By contrast, a substantial 67% admit to drinking alcohol at least once a week, with 93% admitting to have tried the liquid drug at least once.
In the theater of the absurd that often becomes of Birthright’s trips for Diaspora Jewish youths to Israel, few moments are stranger than the detour into the Negev desert to the now-canonical “Bedouin tent.” Pitched by businessmen for tourists, stocked with modern comforts, and designed with intra-Jewish coupling in mind, the airy tent becomes a romantic stand-in for the experience of the Negev Bedouin, one of two varieties of “Good Arab” in the official Israeli imagination. “You see, hevre,” I imagine a guide explaining to a bunch of clueless American Joshes and Jeremies, “the clannish Bedouins don’t want trouble like other Arabs—they’re loyal to the State of Israel, and serve as excellent scouts in the army!”
Much has been made of the coming once-in-a-lifetime “Thanksgivukkah” convergence, an apotheosis of Jewish assimilation complete with vile turkey-and-latke creations for all. Last time it happened—1888, I’m told—Hanukkah wasn’t even much of a thing, and it won’t happen again until the year 79,811. This of course means that it won’t ever happen again, because for however much I love America and love Jews, I don’t expect either to exist on such a timescale (and if you do, I suggest that you get over it). So if it’s your sort of thing, enjoy it: it’s the only Thanksgivukkah there will ever be.
I will not deny that the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah serves my interests, narrowly speaking: That is to say, my mother will have no choice but to prepare a flavorful brisket instead of the ever-unpopular, but culturally perfunctory turkey. But beyond the alimentary upside, Thanksgivukkah does absolutely nothing for me. To put a finer point on it, this chimera of a holiday epitomizes much of what has always alienated me, a proud Jew and proud American, from the culture that is Jewish America. This season, I would rather celebrate the two concurrently than be dragged into the morass of cranberry sauce latkes, Hallmark bastardizations, and what I can’t help but imagine of Adam Sandler in pilgrim garb.