The Arty Semite

Old and Grey and Only in the Way

By Michael Wex

  • Print
  • Share Share

Earlier this week, Michael Wex, author of “The Frumkiss Family Business,” wrote about writing about intermarriage and being the kvetch guy. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I had the misfortune last night to turn on the television just as some self-appointed spokesman for today’s hip, young Jewish culture was saying that certain Jewish approaches to the outside world might have been all right, oh, for people of Mordecai Richler‘s generation, but this idea of the Jew as somehow outside of mainstream North American society was — winced the shmendrick — dated, as relevant to today’s Jewish experience as country music.

Well, I don’t know. I grew up in an Orthodox family in a small town in southern Alberta, not far from the Montana border, and spoke nothing but Yiddish at home. My hometown was the kind of place where country singers like Hank Snow and Wilf Carter were more popular than Jesus — for the simple reason that my father, who ran a furniture store that also sold records, refused to stock any gospel L.P.s.

He liked country and western, though; he used to play it on the radio in the store to make the farmers feel comfortable, and before long he was listening to it at home. His record collection consisted of nothing but cantors and cowboys, and I think he sometimes lost sight of the difference: “Dave Dudley Davens Six Days On The Road and On Shabbos He Davens At Home.”

I still recall Saturday nights, right after havdalah, when the holy Sabbath had just departed, Dad would light his first cigarette of the week and put on some Marvin Rainwater or Lefty Frizzell, while Mom barricaded herself in the bathroom and turned the taps on full-blast.

Listen to Hank Snow sing ‘Movin’ On’:

“Tateh,” I asked him once, “bist dekh a frimer yid, you’re a religious Jew, for God’s sake. How can you listen to this stuff?”

He picked up a copy of “Hank Snow’s Greatest Hits.” “Look at these songs,” he said. “ ‘I’m Movin’ On,’ ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ — they’re all about golus, about exile, about not having a home and not knowing if you’re ever going to get one. And what’s most of the rest of it? Hurtin’ songs.”

You have to imagine this the way it really took place, with my father still in his Shabbos best, a leisure suit from eighteenth-century Poland, and “hurtin’ songs” the only words not in Yiddish. “And what’s a hurtin’ song but a kvetch, a kineh — a lament for something that you’ve lost. And who understands loss better than a Jew?”

Let the shmendriks with their voluntary tattoos go chase the up-to-date and snuffle for paradigms of change. I’m gonna sit home with a bottle of whiskey in my hand and a Gemara on my knee, while Tammy Wynette tells me all about her gimel-tes, ‘cause I’m just like everyone else.

Michael Wex is the author of “The Frumkiss Family Business.”

The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit devoted to the reading, writing, and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history, and more.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Author Blog Series, Tammy Wynette, My Jewish Learning, Music, Montana, Mordecai Richler, Michael Wex, Marvin Rainwater, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Jewish Book Council, Books, Alberta, Wilf Carter, Yiddish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.