Monday, November 22, 2010

Culture, language, family, loss

Last night was idyllic. Really, it was. Kevin and I were working on homework, the younger kids were playing in the living room, and Craig, P and Noa were watching DVD's. It took a little while for it to register that they were watching the 1978 Hungarian mini series, Abigél.

As most classic Hungarian DVDs, it has only Hungarian. No foreign language subtitles. No dubbing into any other languages. Just a single Hungarian sound track, with either the original or digitally remastered sound. 

I don't think my boys thought any of it when they put the DVD in. It's just another lovely story, with literary quality--most of the dialogue is lifted word by word from the novel that my eldest two have devoured this past summer (though the target audience is supposedly teenage girls), and it has some of Hungary's greatest actors. Really, it's a family favorite. 

The thing is, part of our family is not Hungarian. The younger twins are practically getting to be trilingual, but with Noa our sole focus has been English. We did notice though that she is picking Hebrew up from when we hang out with friends or family. And yes, picking up a bit of Hungarian on the way was unavoidable. But she doesn't speak the language, yet she was sucked into the curious world of of this strict Christian girls' school during World War II. And soon I realized that my two sons took turns translating the film for her into English. Every once in a while she'd be asking Kevin to clarify the meaning of a word -- usually against the Hungarian rather than Armenian. 

In a way this makes me extremely happy: she will carry on the family tradition of speaking this useless and obscure language that both Kevin and I love, but I am feeling a little guilty about how naturally it overtakes our lives. My boys very carefully guard their Hungarian identity--even Craig, who is NOT Hungarian in any way--and I keep wondering if making lavash and listening to System of a Down will compensate for the dominance of some of my children's culture over our other children's cuulture. 

I know part of my guilt comes from my own adoption, the fact that I suffered a loss of my Jewish identity as it was systematically eliminated by the people who raised me. I still feel robbed when I think of that. I also feel like that in the last few years I have let another part of my identity slip, and that is my Irishness. I know none of my kids really feel connection to Irish culture, and I think, in a way, I am projecting my own loss on my children. I know Noa still speaks Armenian after about half a year, and her reading and writing improved (thanks to lots of people who have been helping us), but I constantly worry about it. Kevin and she speak Armenian with each other, but all I can say in Armenian is hello and bye. And, to be honest, my knowledge of Armenian culture is very limited.

While I am struggling to help my kids keep their national identities, I do realize that by being olim (immigrants) in Israel we all lose and win in this respect: we are becoming part of a nation and a culture that is just as rich as the one we left behind. But really... Am I fair to all my kids?


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