The fact of the matter is there are a few things that when said out of the mouth of a non-Jew sound racist but are perfectly reasonable exiting the mouth of a fellow Tribe member.
This maybe be unfair. Un-PC. Un-liberal. Whatever. It’s fact.
A perfect example of such a remark is the statement: “She looks Jewish.”
Looking Jewish is, of course, a stereotype. It’s one that’s been used for hundreds of years by people who wanted to, at the very least, make fun of Jews, and at worst, completely annihilate them. But, as a Jew, I have found myself looking around the room from time to time, more so when I was young and single, and asking myself or my Jewish companion: “Do you think he’s Jewish?” We’d then go about hazarding a guess based on the way he looked and how he dressed. As we got older, we might also take note of his hair, or lack therof.
Another twist on the same question is wondering out loud how a blonde-haired, fair-skinned girl is possibly Jewish. “She doesn’t look Jewish.” For many years, back when I used to be blonder than I am now, I often got strange looks from people when I told them I was Jewish.
I’m not the kinda Jewish girl who uses words like shiksa or goy; they don’t feel right coming out of my mouth. They never have. But I have said to a girl friend once, “That boy looks so ham sandwich. There’s no way he’s a Jew.” My friend, a Jew, knew exactly what I meant.
Since living in Israel, I have been amazed — yes, truly amazed– at how varied Jews actually can get. In the States, if you went to the AMC Marlton 8 movie theater in NJ when I was a kid, and there was a group of 5 guys standing smoking cigarettes in a corner, and those guys were all wearing black parachute pants, black v-neck t-shirts, and earrings, you knew those guys were not Jews. If you were a good Jewish girl, you knew not to date them; and if you were a naughty Jewish girl, you headed straight over. Those boys were Italian or Hispanic, or some version of Catholic.
Not so in Israel. That pack of Z-Cavaricci wearing boys either grew up, converted, and moved to Israel; or were born and raises in Tiberias. And YES, Mom, they’re Jewish! Here in Israel, the good boys and the bad boys — all Jews! The ones who open the door for you and the ones that would date rape you — all Jews! “Nice Jewish Boy” takes on a whole new meaning here in Israel. (Something I am fortunate not to have to worry about for another decade or so ’til my daughter starts looking at boys that way.)
Last week, I attended a hi-tech conference in Jerusalem. It was attended mostly by men, some of whom were non-Jews, I’m sure. (There was no formal poll, but it was a highly-attended international conference geared toward start ups and really rich people who want to invest in start ups.)
All the conference attendees were wearing name tags. If you are a Jew, you know (but likely won’t say out loud to a non-Jew) that it’s even easier to hit a bullseye when guessing if a man is Jewish by his name tag than it is by his looks. That said, without the name tags, if you had put these same guys in a hi-tech conference in San Francisco, I would never have been able to guess the Jews from the non-Jews.
I played a game with myself during breaks between workshops. I’d see a guy, and try to guess if he was a local (Israeli…Jew) or a foreigner. The fine-looking, finely dressed guys I thought were surely from Paris or Madrid or some other European cultural center were all named Yigal, Alon, and Amir! They were all Israeli. Jews!
This happens where ever I go here in Israel and it never ceases to amaze me. Whether I am buying my groceries or walking down the beach, there are Jews everywhere and they all look different. It astounds me that the most beautiful, model-like, bikini-wearing blonde leggy girl is sitting next to an obese, tattoo-covered guy smoking from a hookah in one hand and drinking a beer in the other; and they are both Jews!
(And if you’re wondering how you tell the Jews from the Arab Israelis, you can often hear a slight difference in the accent of their Hebrew.)
To the anti-Semites out there; or to the Jewish women (that I know personally) who sadly will not date Jewish men because they look “too Jewish;” I suggest the following antidote.
You will surely see once and for all that there is no way to color a Jew. We are hot; we are ugly; we are skinny; fat; dark; light; hairy; hairless; big breasted; flat-chested. We’ve got noses that look beaks and noses that look like buttons. We smell like aftershave; and we’ve got B.O. Some of us dress like hippies and some of us look like we just left our job at the strip club.
Why it took me moving to Israel to figure that out, I do not know.
But it’s clear to me that we Jews are a nation not only of many colors, but of hair textures, clothing preferences and chest size.
Now, if we could only teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.