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Amazing Discovery! Jewish Mother Found in Okinawa!

By: Joel Feinman

Date Posted: 2001-01-19

For the vast majority of you in Okinawa who did not experience the tragedies and triumphs of growing up Jewish, it is a difficult cultural experience to relate in words. How can one adequately describe the shopping habits of the average Jewish American Princess, a creature so pervasive along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States that entire department stores, clothing chains, and jewelry outlets are dedicated solely to servicing the material wishes of this one group? How can someone, especially from an Asian cultural milieu, ever grapple with the biblical proportions of Jewish guilt, or the importance that Jewish households place on marrying a nice doctor/lawyer/ only-as-a-very-last-resort, dentist? And, most importantly, how could I ever explain to any of my Okinawan friends that most singularly holy yet simultaneously terrifying of characters, the Jewish mother? Yet, since I moved to Okinawa, Iíve had ample practice in attempting to explain all of these finer points of Jewish culture, and more. But the Jewish Mother; this one has been a sticking point. I fear that I have always come up short on defining and clarifying the exact nature of this seemingly omniscient, and omnipotent, mammal. But finally, after months of struggle, I have discovered a wonderful example of the Jewish Mother in Okinawa.

On the fist floor of my apartment building in the Makishi neighborhood of Naha is a cozy family restaurant, differing from the thousands of others in Okinawa in only one respect: itís proprietor, a kind-hearted Okinawan woman of some 50-odd years was, in a past life, a Jewish mother. I did not come to this revelation gradually but rather very suddenly, over the course of one meal on a singular evening.

One night last week I could feel myself coming down with the same cold that has afflicted so many of my friends as of late. After work, I decided to eat dinner at the restaurant in building in order to ovoid the hassle of cooking and cleaning, and thereby enable myself to go to bed earlyÖLittle did I know what was in store for me on this special night.

From the moment I walked through the door, Mama-Sanís latent Jewish instincts took over, and for the next two hours I was magically whisked into the presence of the Jewish Mother that I knew so well from my youth. Upon noticing my coughing and sniffling, Mama-San immediately began chattering to me in Hogan, no longer caring that I didnít speak a word. Still, from the way she felt my forehead, rubbed by back, and scolded me when she saw me light up a cigarette, I could have sworn that she had suddenly adopted a Yiddish accent. I was immediately introduced to her three girlfriends in the corner booth, all of whom began to argue (I think) over what was a better remedy for a cold, green tea or herbal tea? In the end Mama-Sanís latent Hebrew resilience won out, and I was forced to drink an entire pot of scalding hot green water. Then, from the kitchen, Mama-San emerged with a bowl of miso soup large enough to drown a horse in its depths. Could it be? Was this the Okinawan version of Momís chicken soup, that wonderful homemade elixir that had cured every ailment of my youth?

While I savored the misoís spicy aroma, Mama-San relentlessly fed me tea, gave me herbal pills, and forced me to eat cold tempura (which I took to be her version of the time-tested and traditionally kosher tuna fish sandwich). All of these ministrations occurred within the context of a never ending monologue on the part of Mama-San, a monologue which sounded amazingly similar in tone and temperament to those that my Jewish Mother had subjected me to over the years regarding her wishes that I eat right, sleep more, and take better care of myself in order to achieve good health.

In the end Mama-San allowed me to depart after an hour and a half, with a final cup of tea and an admonishment in Hogan that I interpreted as a command to stop smoking. Upstairs in my apartment I felt better than I had in days. It may have been the miso soup, or the green tea, but somehow I suspected that my soaring spirits were more likely due to Mama-Sans pseudo-Semitic coddling-to my newfound knowledge that I now had a Jewish Mother in Okinawa.

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