Sub­cul­ture Vul­ture: A Mem­oir in Six Scenes

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By – January 22, 2024

What hap­pens when you’ve strug­gled with addic­tion, been insti­tu­tion­al­ized, and got­ten sober all by the time you’re fif­teen? As stand-up com­ic Moshe Kash­er will tell you, a lot. A lot can hap­pen. In fact, that’s mere­ly the prologue. 

In his book Sub­cul­ture Vul­ture: A Mem­oir in Six Scenes, Kash­er writes about his expe­ri­ences after get­ting sober. He found him­self immersed in var­i­ous sub­cul­tures at dif­fer­ent points in his life, and each became the com­mu­ni­ty he need­ed at that spe­cif­ic time. The mem­oir cap­tures six such sub­cul­tures: Alco­holics Anony­mous and the recov­ery com­mu­ni­ty, the rave com­mu­ni­ty, Deaf cul­ture, the Burn­ing Man com­mu­ni­ty, the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, and the com­e­dy com­mu­ni­ty. He blends his per­son­al nar­ra­tive with cul­tur­al his­to­ry and crit­i­cism, cre­at­ing a lay­ered, mul­ti­di­men­sion­al sto­ry that’s not just about him. Sub­cul­ture was a dis­cov­ery of your peo­ple,” Kash­er writes. It was everything.”

The sec­tion about Judaism is par­tic­u­lar­ly com­pelling. Kash­er explains that, while he grew up with Hasidic fam­i­ly mem­bers, his deep­er immer­sion in this sub­cul­ture began at age twen­ty, after his father died and he start­ed say­ing Kad­dish. He recalls stand­ing in a crowd of Hasidic men and feel­ing that this, in some strange way that was not clear even to me, is a part of who I am. I’m one of these guys, even though they’d nev­er, ever, accept me.”

Kash­er pro­vides a brief but enter­tain­ing his­to­ry of the Jews and the Hasidim, tying it into his own famil­ial his­to­ry, Amer­i­can cul­ture and assim­i­la­tion, and anti­semitism. He writes about his father’s lym­phoma diag­no­sis and death, and con­cludes that the rit­u­al of griev­ing in the wake of my father’s death was what reignit­ed my con­nec­tion to Judaism. It made it per­son­al; it made it mine. In that way, my father had giv­en me a con­nec­tion to the faith. But he nev­er saw it.”

Kash­er has writ­ten a thought­ful, engag­ing, and per­son­able mem­oir. His hon­esty is dis­arm­ing, and his sto­ry is a tes­ta­ment to the con­stant growth we expe­ri­ence through­out our lives.

Jaime Hern­don is a med­ical writer who also writes about par­ent­ing and pop cul­ture in her spare time. Her writ­ing can be seen on Kveller, Undark, Book Riot, and more. When she’s not work­ing or home­school­ing, she’s at work on an essay collection.

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