As a caveat and reminder to those of you who read articles online and take them all as gospel, this piece is not meant to be an all-encompassing handbook to experiences shared by all Jewish people. Remember– I don’t exist in your body. I exist in mine. I always speak for myself, and perhaps some of what I speak reflects some of what you’ve lived. Just as your reaction to something you read doesn’t give you the right to speak for an entire group of people, my experience doesn’t mirror an entire group of people. In other words– take what you like and leave the rest.
Would you believe that this entire text was spurred by an image of a Llama asking “Lamah?” Inspiration hides all over the place. Upon seeing this picture of a Llama asking “Lamah?” (the Hebrew word for “Why”), I was overly amused and laughing my tuchas off. I shared the image on my social media and explained the joke, realizing that many (if not most) of the people in my social network would not understand the joke. After all, many (if not most) people do not know much about Jewish culture, and even fewer of them can read Hebrew.
It got me thinking about my own Judaism and some of the unique (and specific) experiences I have with it. Part of that experience is spurred by the lack of understanding by many others on what it means to be Jewish. So, throw on your kippah and blow that shofar, because today we’re counting down 8 specific experiences that only Jewish people can relate to!
(Though all of the goyim, shiksa, and shegetz in the room are more than welcome to party!)
1) The Insane Cultural Differences Between the American Jew and the Israeli Jew
A little bit of backstory on your always charming and charismatic author here– I have dual American/Israeli citizenship. I was born in Los Angeles, California in August 1985 to a Jewish-American mother and Israeli father. Granted, my dad’s parents were born in Poland and survived WWII and the Holocaust. They were imprisoned in concentration camps, but whatever miracle of the universe allowed them to survive, I am grateful. Therefore, my dad is first generation Israeli (and looks Israeli/Middle Eastern through and through) but his parents were Eastern European. Meanwhile, on my mom’s side, the family were primarily Russian Jews. On a DNA test my youngest sister recently took, she came up as 100% Eastern European Jewish.
My family moved to Israel July 1994 and lived there until July 1997. It was only three years of my life, but they were very big and impactful years. And again, before we moved there, my parents went through the Aaliyah process and became Israeli citizens. And therefore, I got to see first hand how different American/Eastern European Jewish culture is from Israeli Jewish culture.
Of course, there are some overlaps, primarily in the way holidays are celebrated. That (from my experience) was pretty much the same across the board. Especially among members of the orthodox Jewish community. Strict is strict no matter where you’re from. And Judaism is a religion where many of its people take liberties in how they practice (more on that later in this piece).
But there are some nuanced differences between American/European Jews and Israeli Jews. In my opinion, all the cartoonish, stereotypical Yiddish inspired stuff is all American/European. It’s the bubbie & zayde stuff versus savta & saba (which are the Yiddish and Hebrew words for Grandma and Grandpa, respectively). It’s the “Oy vey, gevalt” caricature sort of presentation that makes people go “Oh, there’s those Jews being Jews again”. Whereas in order to recognize Israelis in a crowd, it’s a little more subtle.
Although one of my favorite things about Israeli culture is how macho and aggressive it is.
I remember seeing the Pauly Shore movies Encino Man and Son in Law (two of my favorites) back in the day. It was funny because I feel that the audience was supposed to think he was so weird and eclectic and kooky. But after being in Israel circa 1994, I realize he was just an Israeli dude in those movies. Down to the tight shirts, the beaded necklaces, the bandanas, and the Birkenstock sandals.
To this day, I have an obsession with Birkenstock sandals, leftover from my days in Israel as a kid.
2) No One Knows Anything About Your Holidays
This one is a little specific, but I will still roll into it because you, my fellow Jewish folk, might be able to identify with it too. American holidays, primarily those with religious roots, are fucking loud. The people who celebrate them are fucking loud. And if you don’t etch a cross into your forehead on Ash Wednesday (but of course respect others who observe the practice to do whatever they need to gain that spiritual or religious satisfaction), you’re often still looked at like you have multiple heads.
I’m sure that many other people in America who celebrate non-Christian or Catholic holidays (such as Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, or the religions that staunchly celebrate nothing) can all tell you that they feel underrepresented. Any if that’s the case, please– write something about it so we can all better understand. I personally have no experience in those arenas other than empathy– I’ve been in your shoes– even with something that seems, at first glance, as mainstream as Judaism.
In spite of the fact that I was born in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, I have often been the first Jewish person someone has even met. More than often, I have been the first Jewish woman that someone has ever dated or been intimate with. And because of that, we Jewish peoples become very used to the fact that no one understands anything about our holidays other than that “Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hannukah, Hannukkah (how the hell do you people spell that shit) holiday where we now have a “Mensch on a Bench” and a “Chanukah Bush”. But still, it’s not always understood why Chanukah is celebrated.
In Judaism, we celebrate survival and perseverance very, very often.
Look– you can’t know everything about a world you’re not directly involved in. That’s 100% fact. But if you’re from a different religion, such as Catholicism, make an effort to understand that not everyone’s traditions and practices are the same as yours. And if you’re (fortunate?) enough that your practices and beliefs are the baseline, the norm, be a good person and try to understand inklings of other people’s holidays. Because I’m telling you– Jewish holidays are badass. Most of them are seasonal, harvest related, or celebrations of survival. Very few are grounded in religion and God.
Special shoutout to Tu’Bishvat, Sukkot, and Lag Ba’Omer where you get to make a huge bonfire.
3) Judaism is a religion, a culture, and a bloodline– but it’s still weird to hear “you don’t look Jewish”
Point number three is pretty direct, but we will break it down point by point. It is true though, as mentioned, Judaism is an ethnicity, a culture, and a religion. It’s the total package of fun times. In my opinion (a phrase which you’ll hear again and again to avoid the “Well actuallies” in the room), Jewish folk, much many Mediterranean or Eastern European people, are often categorized under the “Ethnic White” umbrella. To me, Judaism is as clear to see as someone who is Hispanic, Black, Asian, Indian, etc.
This is where things get a little tricky though. Because here I am stating that I feel that it’s very easy to tell when someone is Jewish based on their looks. Or a feeling. Or some sort of Jew-dar. I don’t know, it’s just a magical buzz in the air when one knows their own. I get the same buzz when I see people that sets off my Queerdar.
But when I hear “You don’t look Jewish”, I (defensively, I admit) can’t help but wonder if that person has a predetermined notion in their mind of what a Jewish person looks like. But look, I literally just said “I feel it’s very easy to tell when someone is Jewish”, but then have a reaction when someone says “You don’t look Jewish”, it gets me all “What the hell does that mean?!”
None of us are above the occasional dose of hypocrisy.
It just makes me wonder if there is a stereotype rattling around in their mind that caused them to say that. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, you know? Perhaps some of this comes from an inherent “Fuck, here we go again” feeling when you realize the company you’re in may be anti-Semitic (although you’re cool, that’s always a fun one), but this is one that makes me raise an eyebrow and hope there won’t be a problem in the following sentence.
4) It’s Surprising (and wonderful) When People Take Interest in Judaism
In case you haven’t been able to tell from this article or much of the content here on PopLurker, I’m kind of a nerd. Which means that many of the people with whom I associate are also nerds. And in fact, many of the Jewish people in my life, extended family aside, are nerds. Which means, there is a lot of excitement for media and culture from… fuck it, I’ll be direct… Japan. This was more apparent as a teen and in my twenties, but man, did I know a ton of Jewish people that just got hard as hell for Asian culture.
Which is why I get so excited when I meet a non-Jewish person who is completely stoked for Judaism.
I have a friend from Japan, the country that so many nerds turn to when they reject their own culture, and he was just in love with Judaism. He owned books about Judaism, knew about the holidays and traditions, and wanted to know more from me on what it was like being Jewish. He was in love with the letters and writing system and wanted to know how to read it. Again, being so immersed in “Nerd Culture” all I ever hear about is people wanting to learn how to read Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. To see what happens when that script is flipped was a really cool experience.
5) The Self-Hating Jew is a very real thing
I get it– religion is intimidating and not for everyone, myself included. I step into a synagogue and feel like I’m drowning. I went into a Chabad House once and felt like I was about to have a panic attack. (Plus that whole Rabbi’s wife was a judgmental bitch thing). My dad’s Rabbi stopped by his house to say hello once, tried to get me to practice his conservative version of Judaism, which included the inability to shake my hand.
When it comes to religion, I’m out of my element, out of touch with my people, and feel like a reject all the time. But if you take a step back and look at the aspects of Judaism without the terrifying aspects, the culture and traditions are just beautiful. That’s why I can’t call myself an atheist. I can’t turn my back on this bloodline and history. It’s too grand for me to denounce it all. I have to just take what I like and leave the rest.
But man– if there’s a Jewish stereotype I see adhered to again and again, it’s got to be the Self-Hating (or Self-Loathing) Jew.
I’m not going into the depths of where the term or practice came from here– you’re not against Judaism if you don’t support every Jewish person out there or support the actions of the Israeli government when something is a bad idea. That’s not what I mean, that’s too high brow for this fluffy little garbage site. But because how Judaism is practiced varies so much from individual to individual, it’s easy to look at the Orthodox community and cringe. It’s easy to see Judaism represented in media and be embarrassed. And it’s also easy to feel stupid when you aren’t as culturally aware of holidays or practices– if you don’t understand it, maybe you’re just not Jewish enough. If you don’t keep Kosher, maybe you’re not Jewish enough.
But instead of hating yourself, I think it’s better to pick and choose your traditions rather than hating them all. When I was a teenager, I was told to my face that the war in Afghanistan was my fault. I’m like bro, I’m a teenager, you’re lucky I showered today let alone start an entire war. Even mild anti-Semitism like that makes you not want to be part of a people that many instantly don’t like.
6) Jewish Representation in Media is Simultaneously Embarrassing and a Source of Pride
You might feel completely different about this one, so once again, I am speaking for myself. But often, I find Jewish representation in media both exciting and embarrassing. That is, embarrassing when we are stuck looking like Aidel-deidel deeldle Boston accent stereotypes.
Being Jewish and craving representation in the media is a funny thing. It’s like you want to see people like you and then Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” shows up and every person in the room who isn’t Jewish wants to be the first person to make you listen to the song.
But sometimes, you have this love-hate relationship with Jewish representation in media. I remember back when The Nanny was a new show, we all sort of begrudgingly love-hate watched it, somewhat detesting the cartoonish Judaism displayed by Fran, Sylvia, and Grandma Yetta. We’d force down our smirks when CC called Niles “Yenta Central” and hide our cheers during the “Fran in Israel” episode where she was making out with the hot Israeli on a Kibutz and he asked her “What was that. did you hear something?” in Hebrew and she has no idea what he said.
On the flipside, we have memorable lines about Jews, such as in the original 1990 IT movie where Richie explains “Stanie’s a Jew, which means he’s really smart and says OY a lot.” Well damn– I guess that sums it up positively!
I’m going to give an example of something that sort of falls into a gray area, but I think it’s worth discussing because fuck it, let’s Lurk. Recently in entertainment news, articles began going around that the 90s sitcom Friends is gearing up for a reboot starring an all black cast. I personally think that a show inspired by Friends featuring a black cast is a cool idea (Living Single was awesome), but trying to revive the same characters with the same names with a black Winamp skin slapped on it is pretty weird. It makes as much sense as making Rita Repulsa white– let the old shit be what it was. Step by Step was a good Brady Bunch reimagining without cutting and pasting the bones, right?
So let’s circle this back to Judaism– many people discuss erasure in media. Bisexual erasure, Trans erasure, Black erasure. I have to pose the question– would Friends with an all black cast be an example of Jewish erasure? Monica and Ross are Jewish, at least half, and it is very present in many storylines. Okay yes, Ross is a prime example of the whiny Jew stereotype. But is Ross whiny because he is whiny? Or is he whiny because he is Jewish? To keep it PC, we will go with the former as opposed to the latter– Ross is just a whiny fucker. But you know what, he is also Jewish. Would Black recasting affect the Jewish representation in that show? Is Ross even a character that we want representing us? Does every Jewish character need to be a damn hero and exemplary form of Judaism? Or can a Jewish person just be a regular ass schmo?
These are important questions to consider with members of all smaller or underrepresented groups. For example, not every gay story needs to be a coming out story. Not every story with a Black protagonist needs to be about slavery or urban strife. Not every story with a Jewish protagonist needs to be Yentl. Giving underrepresented groups of people opportunities to tell regular stories is important. That’s why this Ross discussion is in the gray area. But it’s still an area worth addressing.
7) We Have Our Own Marital Art!
It’s true! Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force. I’m personally a Krav Maga student and I just adore the rough, aggressive, explosiveness of it. As said on the Citadel Krav Maga website, a school located in Santa Clarita, CA, Krav Maga “was designed to rapidly teach hand to hand combat techniques to Israeli soldiers. Krav Maga has been re-developed and adapted for self-defense.”
If that isn’t the most badass thing ever or what?! Of course, Krav Maga is for everyone, but it’s exciting among other martial arts that stem from Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, etc. that there is an Israeli martial art in there as well.
8) No One Sexualizes Jewish People
Okay sure, maybe like one Jewish person in the history of ever said they wanted to marry “a nice Jewish girl”. Sure, you have people who would very happily do the condom collide with one of the gorgeous women in the above entry (such as Gal Gadot, Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis), but it’s not likely because they’re Jewish. And look guys, I’m only one person speaking of my personal experiences as a blob of molecules on this Earth. If you have stories that prove this theory wrong, share them. I bet they’re funny. But this is my experience thus far.
Ultimately, I don’t imagine that the majority of people want to be fetishized or sexualized. This statement doesn’t include those that get off on being seen as a blow up doll or fuck toy. You live your best objectified life– that’s all you. But what’s funny about being Jewish is that no one ever does. Do you remember the episode of Married With Children where Peg is upset that the neighborhood peeper won’t come to her window and peep at her? That’s what it feels like sometimes being Jewish. You know you’re being silly, and you know you’re more than a pair of tits, but when you see your nerd friends worshipping “Kawaii Asians Girls”, “Spicy Latina Chicks”, and “Chocolate Goth Girls”, you wonder why your latkes, matzah, and gefilte fish are left sitting on the shelf.
I would wager its because your loud Jewish mouth is just too damn cynical, sarcastic, and “extra” for the normies.
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