In my liberal and uber-secular extended family, there was only one figure who cared whether my sisters and I went to Hillel or dated/married Jews: Harold (Hans) Wiener, my father’s father.
Born to a large, secular German family whose members mostly managed to emigrate well before the Holocaust (he arrived in New York in 1922), Grandpa Harold, a wholesaler of men’s undergarments, never lost his German accent. He nonetheless settled comfortably into the mainstream American Jewish life of his generation: membership in a Conservative synagogue and a B’nai Brith chapter, donations to Israel Bonds and UJA, loyalty to the Democratic party and eventually retirement in Century Village, a predominantly Jewish community in West Palm Beach, Fla.
When, just months after announcing my engagement to lapsed Catholic Joe, I got my first job in Jewish journalism, at the Detroit Jewish News, I thought Grandpa Harold would be excited, that perhaps it would compensate for his disappointment about the upcoming intermarriage.
Alas, in the glass-half-empty way not untypical of my then 92-year-old, depression-prone grandfather (he died two years later), he reportedly said to my dad, “What, she couldn’t get a job at an English paper?”
All of this is to explain to you why I have been so quiet this past week, while all around me bloggers with far less reason to discuss a certain intermarried Queens congressman whose name bears a resemblance to mine and Grandpa Harold’s — a congressman, no less, with a penchant for posing in clothing my grandfather might have sold — have been crowding the blogosphere with commentary.
See, I was trying to get an essay on the topic into “an English paper.” That didn’t work out, sadly because a Mr. Eric Weiner beat me to it.
Plus, last week was filled with various other distractions, like Shavuot (lapsed Catholic hubby said mine were “the best blintzes I’ve ever eaten,” for whatever that’s worth) and a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., to visit my best friend, her (gasp!) non-Jewish hubby and their adorable 10-week-old son.
I promise to blog much more this week. And in the meantime, here’s my take on Weinergate:
It’s hard enough being a Wiener.
The inevitable childhood teasing, ranging from harmless but annoying “I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Weiner” –type allusions to the more loaded and, shall we say, penetrating, jabs.
The routine first-day-of-school titters when the teacher neared the end of roll call.
And the endless misspelling and mispronunciation. For the record, my family pronounces it WEE-ner and spells it “i-e” not “e-i.”
Now a Twittering congressman comes along and completely besmirches our good name.
Granted he’s a Weiner, not a Wiener. But we share a pronunciation, and no doubt plenty of people think he spells it the right (er, our) way.
Like everyone else, I’m disappointed to see yet another politician allow his testosterone-fueled stupidity to get the better of him. And in such a tawdry, pathetic manner. Sext-ing and over-sharing on social media? Anthony, you are 46, not 16. Not to mention married.
But my biggest grievance with Weinergate is the way it’s forcing our good name to be dragged through the mud. Wiener/Weiner puns I haven’t heard in decades flashing across the headlines and Twitter feeds. Stirring up traumatic memories of slow-witted peers who, in earnestness, asked if my family owned the hot-dog establishment Weiner World.
Of course I could easily escape all of this by taking my husband’s last name, Moreau.
It’s certainly more mellifluous. In fact, when I married 13 years ago even my mother, an ardent feminist (and bearer of the name Zisowitz), implored me to change names, saying, “Julie Moreau sounds like a French movie star.”
I’ve been tempted by the jump to the middle of the alphabet, to a name that, while still misspelled and mispronounced, doesn’t raise eyebrows. And sharing a name with my two daughters would also make life easier.
But as a writer, I’ve preferred to keep the old byline, and as a Jew married to a Catholic, I’ve retained loyalty to my recognizably Semitic surname.
Then Anthony had to start taking pictures of himself.
Now, the Wiener name is going to the (hot) dogs.
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