Monday, March 22nd, 2010...11:48 pm
I’m a Litvack. It says so on my birth certificate and my driver’s license. If I lived in California, it would say so on my medical marijuana certificate. I’ve always been proud of my last name. It’s unique, easy to say, and easier to mumble. Best of all, it spawned off a catchy nickname that stuck in Litty.
There’s a whole crew of Litvacks in the world beyond my immediate and extended family. In fact, there are over 230 of them on Facebook (with another 1100 that spell their name Litvak) including a Gustavo and a Zohar! Many of them seem to live in Canada. There is a state representative in Utah named David Litvack. I’m not sure how a jew wins an election in Utah but a hearty mazel tov to Dave. Sandy Litvack is a prominent anti-trust litigator who used to be on the corporate management team at Disney and now picks battles with Google. Heck, I just learned about Lyida Litvyak who was a female ace fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during WWII and shot down 12 enemy planes. Hopefully one day Brian will be more than just a starving blogger.
Often, when I meet an old Jewish dude (rabbis, jewelers and Boca Raton country club members) and they learn my name they have a similar peculiar reaction. They knowingly raise their eyebrows and go “Ahhh, you’re a Litvack. The Litvacks and the Galitzianers!“. Never have I been able to get to the bottom of what this means exactly. I do know it has something to do with jewish people from eastern europe. But that is the extent of it. I recently asked my Nana (a Litvack by marriage to poppy Saul) about this. She raised her eyebrows and said “Ahhh, the Litvacks and the Galitzianers”. When I asked her what that means, she replied that she had no idea. If she ever did know, she had forgotten long ago!
The other suspect occurrence which happens occasionally is that I will meet someone with a different last name who will tell me they are a Litvack. My natural response is to respond “No, you are clearly not” and then stare at them really obnoxiously (sometimes growing up in Long Island comes in handy!) until we move on to the next subject.
With nowhere to turn, I logged into cyberspace to see what I could dig up and find out what the heck is up with a Galitzianer. Hashem, was I shocked with what I uncovered.
The noun Litvak is actually Yiddish for Lithuanian Jew (although Litvaks also resided in Latvia and Belarus). These mitnagged jews were characterized by their opposition to Hasidism and Hasidic teachings. Jews began living in Lithuania as early as the 8th century and numbered over 250,000 by 1923 with most being of Litvak origin. In the 20th century, many Litvaks emigrated to North and South America, Great Britain, Australia and South Africa. There are now under 4,000 Jews left in Lithuania.
Blah, blah, blah. Enough with the history lesson. There’s a reason why European History was the most boring class of my life and it goes way beyond Dr. Weiss’s crappy lectures about the de’Medici family!
Now, this is where things get spicier than a kosher KFC sandwich.
According to the credible sources at Wikipedia, Litvaks were considered to be more intellectual and stoic than their rivals, the Galitzianers. My people thought of Galitzianers as irrational and uneducated. The rivalry was so intense that Ira Steingroot dubbed it the Ashekenazi version of the Hatfieds and the McCoys in his Yiddish Knowledge Cards. Besides acting like Ashekenazi trash, the Galitzianers also butchered the dialect and crossed the “Gefilte Fish Line” by favoring rich, heavily sweetened dishes.
When a Litvak prays he stands rock still and only moves his lips.
When a Galitizianer prays he gets on his knees and begs to pagan idols like Prince Akeem’s servents in Coming to America.
When a Litvack recites the Friday night Kiddush he sits.
A Galitizianer is already too drunk and blacked out to say the prayer!
Litvaks are characterized as being rational, dogmatic and authoritarian.
Galitzianers are loopy, loony and subservient.
Litvaks eat fish like normal people.
Galitzianers sprinkle powdered sugar on their fish like it’s funnel cake or a Big Sexy Pop.
Modern Day Litvaks like March Madness, the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft Combine.
Modern Day Galitzianers watch Jon and Kate Plus Eight.
Ever hear a polish joke. Yup, that’s referring to Galitzianers who originated in the south-eastern corner of Poland.
Most Galician jews lived poorly, working in small workshops as craftsman. Indeed some were physicians, intellectuals and lawyers but most probably worked in waste management.
In the Litvack spirit, for those who would like to read a more intellectual debate on the argument check out this argument between college professors from 1976 in Commentary Magazine.
There are all kinds of famous and acclaimed Litvaks including oligarch Roman Abramovich, ground breaking politician Harvey Milk, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bob Dylan, Menachim Begin, Ariel Sharon, writer Amos Oz, composer Leonard Cohen, painter Marc Chagall, the Three Stooges and Pink (on her mom’s side!).
I’ve never met a person with the last name of Galitzianer but rumor has it that famous Galician jews include Amy Winehouse, Roseanne Barr, Bobby Fischer, Monica Lewinsky, Julius and Ethle Rosenberg and Lizzy Grubman!
This Lent, I’m swearing off all Galitzianers once and for all! And you should too before they antique you with confectioner’s sugar!
And if you ever were curious to see the Litvak vs. Galitzianer rendition of “Who’s On First” here you go…