Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is Haimish? David Brooks does not know

A Guest Post by E. Fink

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Cross-posted to my home blog: Finkorswim.com

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In his latest column, David Brooks digs deep into his Jewish heritage and procures a word to describe his recent safari excursion.

There were two camps in the safari. One was luxurious and the other, not-so-much. The less luxurious camp was friendlier, more familial and generally more enjoyable despite the inferior conditions.

Brooks needs a word to describe the simpler camp. He settles on a Yiddish word: Haimish.
His definition of haimish:

It’s a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.

Maybe that is what it used to mean, but in contemporary orthodox Jewish culture, haimish, usually spelled heimish or heimishe is anything but "unpretentious".

Today, haimish, connotes an almost elitism of Jews from certain ethnic stock and their cherished social conventions. Certain foods (obviously more desirable) are heimish. Certain families (obviously the ones who are preferable matches) are heimish. Certain shuls (not synagogues) are heimish. In every case, heimish has become an upper crust value.

Not "unpretentious".

Certainly, heimish people are friendly, warm and domestic. Perhaps more than those who are not heimish. But the heimish I know would put a chandelier in their tent in the savannah. It wouldn't be the word used to describe a simpler, less luxurious tent.

The truth is, Brooks' point is a good one. There is a line. Some places are more about "who" and others are more about "what". Sometimes noise and crowds is better than elegance and privacy. Sometimes apartment buildings foster better more meaningful communities than suburban homes. I agree.

We should care more about experiences and less about things. Things only matter when we have important people in our lives with whom to share them.

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