Thursday, May 24, 2007

Looking Kinda Jewy

This past tuesday evening we ushered in shavuot. several friends came over to study all night performing among my favorite jewish ritual moments, the tikkun leil shavuot. i was dazzled with a huge variety of teachings covering topics from Mastrubation (male) in Jewish Thought to Constructions of the Exodus Narrative as told in Genesis, from discussing gender to how gleaning restrictions might be understood in our post-agrarian economy.

perhaps the teaching which will have the most long lasting impact on my thinking (and hopefully my assumptions) concerned how we exclude (probably without malice) many sorts of jews. we focused on the ways in which several sorts of jews are marginalized. in the US, and presumably elsewhere, we often use "jewish" when we really mean "ashkenazi". for instance, i have often heard matzah ball soup talked about as a "jewish delicacy". leaving aside the issue of whether it is a delicacy it is certainly sparsely embraced by a huge number of sephardi or mizrahi jews. likewise, most american jews would be puzzled if someone mentioned a traditional jewish food called ojaldres. perhaps the most common form of this problem, is when, instead of food, we make the same assumption about appearance. how often have we heard or ourselves described someone as looking jewish or perhaps not looking jewish. this makes the assumption that there is a jewish look which one could have or not. what about jews by choice? they are just as jewish (if not moreso). do they look jewish? how about Jews of color? Lots of folks get excluded this way because we are too lazy to be specific. we usually mean looks ashkenazi. if we need to describe someone's appearance, that would be a better way to do it.


At 5/26/2007 , Blogger Chorus of Apes said...

I agree, very important! Though, I have to say, identity is not so stuck as all that. Though I am a sfard, I've learned to love matzah ball soup and chulent. That is in part because thats what passes for jewish in america. you could say my identity has been colonized, though at this point, chulent is as much a part of my jewish practice as mujadra or hamud.

more substantially, i am drawn to hassidut (an eastern european mystical jewish movement), and have no contact with sephardic kabbalah.

so, while it is unfortunate that the learning tends to go one way (even I have learned more about ahkinazi judaism than sephardi judaism) I don't ashkinazi hegemony is all that bad.

At 5/26/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

people sometimes tell me I look Jewish. . . people also tell me that I look uncannily like my mother, who comes from a long line of new england yankees of english origin. (coat-of-arms included).

At 5/27/2007 , Blogger BZ said...

Presumably based on my appearance, today someone asked me "Are you Carlebach?" I said "No, I'm [last name redacted]."

I mean geez, Carlebach is dead!

At 6/20/2007 , Anonymous rebecca m said...

apropos-- a conversation with an 9 year old catholic camper at a Jewish day camp, yesterday:

Kid: are you Jewish
Me: yep. are you catholic?[teasing- I know she is]
Kid: you don't look Jewish
Me: yeah? what do Jewish people look like?
Kid: I don't know
Me: Because I know Jews with red hair and lots of freckles like you. And I know Catholics who like like, well, um, whatever Jews look like.


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