Culture Smash

This past Sunday Temple Emanuel celebrated Purim with a Megillah reading, followed by a performance by the KlezMormons. The KlezMormons are an ensemble from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and their performance Sunday was the first time they played to a Jewish audience.

My husband, John O’Connell, is the city editor of the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, Idaho. He covered the Purim event, and wrote about it as well as I could!

The headline “Crossing Cultures” is significant for a few reasons. From a Jewish perspective, we are constantly crossing cultures in Southeastern Idaho, or perhaps more specifically, the local cultures are constantly crossing with us. Look at how interesting we are, look at how close to Jesus we are. Look at us celebrate our holidays. That’s how it feels to me sometimes. I’m sure every synagogue has some element of the curiosity-seeker-with-mysterious-agenda, but growing up at Temple Emanuel in Chicago, I sure never noticed it.

Pocatello is a largely transient area. People come and go from the university, the semiconductor plant, the hospital, the Idaho National Laboratory. There have always been Jews in Pocatello, but wild west Judaism hasn’t changed much since the days of the ‘Frisco Kid. So, Temple Emanuel in Pocatello’s membership ebbs and flows—and right now it ebbs. With our only child congregant barely 3 months old (and who looked so cute in her pea pod costume), we are happy to open the doors to the community during our festive holidays—especially the child-oriented ones. Our Purim festivities included dancing, fabulous music, as many hamentaschen cookies one could eat, and a satisfying full-house. And since many of the attendees aren’t the drinking type, that left more of my husband’s homebrew “Haman’s Hangover” and a large jar of Slivovitz for the rest of us.

Several years ago, John did extensive research for a piece exploring the alleged regional Mormon “divide” and followed missionaries around, hung out in high school cafeterias, and partied with the “Excommunicated Mormon Drinking Team” at the annual beer festival in Idaho Falls. While the multi-part series was fascinating, informative, and very well balanced, the paper ultimately decided not to run it—go figure. If nothing else, that decision does reflect a cautious and mysterious religious dynamic in this region that isn’t present in many other parts of the country.

My relationship with John, a recovering Catholic, has been a cultural experience in and of itself. While I never knew it before marrying a properly raised Catholic boy, there is much truth to the statement that Jews invented guilt but Catholics perfected it. While more inclined to run Atheist or Pantheist than I, it was he who pushed for a Jewish wedding, and he who curses at Pharaoh the loudest at our Temple seder. We are both more inclined to find Adonai on a ski run or in a garden bed than in front of a podium, and I’m sure our Jewish-Catholic cultural dynamics will play out throughout the length of our relationship. Perhaps someday he’ll see that having a loud family screaming match followed by a visit to a Chinese food buffet really is the best way to resolve family issues. Until then, John loves my culinary experiments with matzo balls, latkes, and hamentaschen, and while he laughs at the suggestion, I’m happy to sit with him through midnight mass any time he wants.

–Nancy Goodman