Michael J. Loomis
Intercultural Interview Paper – Fall 2023
What I Learned from a Cool Catt Named Jake
As a lifelong learner and someone who was born into and raised in a Christian culture, this journey into the life and heart of Jewish culture through the experiences of my son-in-law has opened my eyes to a cultural world that I have been on the outskirts of for quite some time. What follows is a reflection of a young man named Jake Catt, who recently married my older daughter, Kylie. I intend to share with you the insights I discovered while interviewing Jake, along with some contrasts and similarities between the Jewish and Christian cultural norms we both experienced. The tapestry of intercultural communications that binds us all together across diverse backgrounds and faiths is complex but not as different as I thought before this interview.
The Early Years and Family Influences
Jake’s early life was spent in the shadow of our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C., and he lived there until he moved to California at eighteen years of age. His dad is a Kiwi, born and raised in Wellington, New Zealand, and his mother was from Rockville, Maryland, about twenty minutes outside of Washington D.C. The influences that Jake experienced growing up were heavily skewed more toward his mother’s side of the family, which is the Jewish side, where he found most of the influence that defined his Jewish identity. His experience was different than mine in that I was fortunate enough to have both sides of my family all living within a five-mile radius.
Comparing and Contrasting Family Dynamics
Reflecting on the time spent with Jake, I realized that my Christian upbringing was not completely unlike Jake’s Jewish upbringing. We both shared an Abrahamic faith. We both attended religious schooling throughout our childhood. And we both had a similar departure from our religious upbringing in our early teens. Yet, strangely, we both still have a strong affinity for our cultural foundations. Another interesting point is how we both have a non-theistic understanding underpinning our religious beliefs. Yet, strangely, we both feel drawn to stay somehow connected to our religious foundations’ overall spiritual and ritualistic practices.
The Role of Entrepreneurship in Jewish Culture
Of all the influences Jake spoke about in the interview, the one that brought out his warmest sentiment was the relationship he had with his grandfather, who himself was not an entrepreneur but the son of an entrepreneur, Jakes’s great-grandfather. His great-grandfather started an industrial laundry business that his grandfather eventually became the CEO of after attending the University of Maryland, earning a master’s degree from George Washington University and a Ph.D. from American University. He continued to run the family business until it was eventually sold in 2000. Jake did not pursue a conventional education like his parents or grandfather, but he learned much from his grandfather.
Jake shared a delightful story during the interview. I will let him tell it using his own words. “Entrepreneurship has just been a part of my family and my life. I think a lot comes from my great grandpa, an entrepreneur who started a business. My grandma and my grandpa ran that business. And so, my entire childhood was filled with examples of entrepreneurship. My grandpa was the patriarch of my whole family. He was my big family’s leader, so I always looked up to him. He was a great inspiration to me. Even now, in my mind, I go back to when I was 10. I interviewed my grandpa. I filmed this interview of me interviewing him, asking him for business advice. He gave me this incredible advice I had completely forgotten about until a couple of months ago when I rediscovered the tapes. And so, I have this 40-minute interview that I did with my grandpa when he was alive that I get to apply to my current business now.”
A Grandfather’s Lasting Influence and Legacy
Jake’s grandfather was not just the elder of the family, but he was also an exemplary pillar within the Jewish community that Jake grew up in. A man who embodied the traits celebrated within Jewish culture. An intelligent man with a resilient spirit in the face of adversity who did not acquiesce in the challenges of opportunity. His sense of social responsibility and Jewish values shined through as a dedicated supporter of The Anti-Defamation League, which is the largest anti-hate crime organization in the world—a man whose morals, ethics, and praxis clearly informed and fostered a similar spirit within Jake—the true meaning of a role model. Someone not afraid to stand up for what is right.
The Inquisitional Spirit of Judaism
Towards the end of the interview, Jake shared something I did not expect to hear. It was not a question I even thought to ask but simply a manifestation of the conversation. Something that made me realize that my own Christian upbringing and past practices were more aligned with that of Jewish culture and practice. The ability to question one’s faith. Not something usually encouraged within Christianity.
In Jake’s own words. “Something that I also wanted to bring up. A significant value and one of the tenets of Judaism is questioning. It is embedded in the religion to ask questions, and that is what separates it from other Abrahamic religions, where you are told this is God’s way, how it is, and that is it. And you listen. And that, I believe, is leading to the downfall of Judaism. Yet that same questioning spirit has brought us many great minds: Jewish scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers. But you also end up with a lot of atheists if you tell everyone in your religion to question what they believe. You end up with a lot of people asking if God exists. That spirit of questioning has brought us many wonderful things but also may spell the end of Judaism. I think about this a lot, and I do get sad when I think about that in the context of Judaism. And then I’m like, oh damn, I’m a part of that problem. It makes me think that maybe I should go back to the temple again.”
And this is where he and I come together. We both find ourselves in the same place despite taking two different paths.
More than a week now has passed since I conducted this interview with Jake. This interview has been an enlightening and transformative experience, offering me not only a bird’s eye view into Jewish culture but also allowing me to get to know my son-in-law in a way that might not have even happened without the prompting of this class and assignment. It allowed me to reflect on my own experience growing up within the culture of Christianity, which is deeply rooted in the Abrahamic cultural foundations of Judaism. Not only has this interview provided me with a better understanding of intercultural communications, but it has also enriched my appreciation for the overall breadth of the human experience in our increasingly interconnected world of modern technological innovations. And now, here I stand, having a deeper understanding of cultural nuances and traditions that I expect, and hope will help us all better navigate the straights of the future that lay before us.