My first newspaper job was at the San Bernardino Sun. Just about the only Jews in town worked at the paper. (That’s an exaggeration, but, seriously, a third of the metro reporters were Jewish, and that doesn’t include me.) And I don’t think anyone, Jew or gentile, thought the place was cool.
Memories of my Inland Empire salad days came flooding back when I read David Suissa’s column today titled “Uncool Jew.”
Suissa really can’t be spoken of highly enough, and this column is evidence why. Here’s the lede:
“Where are you from?” is a simple enough question. But when I asked Lisa Alcalay Klug the other day, she did everything she could not to answer. At first she tried to change the subject, and then she just smiled and said, “Right outside of Los Angeles.”
“But where outside of Los Angeles?” I wanted to know. What was she trying to hide? Was her coyness connected to her new coolness? Many of you might know that for the past few months, Klug has been traveling the country promoting her new book, “Cool Jew,” which has put her right up there on the Jewish hip-o-meter. So, was her hometown not in keeping with being a cool Jew?
Apparently so, because she finally blurted it out: “San Bernardino.”
Ouch. Is there any place less cool than San Bernardino? No wonder she kept stalling. Out of sympathy, I mumbled something about San Bernardino having a cool Chabad rabbi, but that didn’t get me far.
Eventually, after our long morning conversation at Delice café last week, I discovered the real reason why Klug was hiding the identity of her hometown. It wasn’t because San Bernardino is not a very hip place. Rather, it was because that was the place where she was introduced to that ancient malignancy called anti-Semitism, where, growing up, the attacks of “dirty Jew” she heard in school had to compete with the teaching of “proud Jew” she heard at home.
Both sides left a mark on her.
Klug is one of the many presenters this weekend at Jewlicious Festival. A full list of presenters, including this guy, is available here. I was going to be on a panel with Bizarro Brad, aka Benyamin Cohen, but he couldn’t make it out from Atlanta and now I’m scrambling to put together a 30-minute talk. Scary.
Regardless, I hope you’ll come by at 1:30 Saturday if you’re there.