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What Does Jewish Look Like To You?

Procrastinating is always loads of fun, and thanks to the Internet, it’s really easy to do. One such time that I was putting off doing something important, I noticed this picture (embedded in this post).

Yeah, ha ha, very funny. It even reminds me of the “Death to All Juice” protest sign. Hilarious.

However, it occurred to me: generally offensive caricature aside, why are these Jews portrayed as male?

When you Google Image “Jew” and skim the results, almost all of the pictures are of white Ashkenazi-looking Hasidic males. The few pictures that aren’t are mostly anti-Semitic or anti-Israel; women and non-Hasids make up a small minority. When you Google Image “Orthodox Jews,” it’s the same (except for the much-loved Tefillin Barbie).

I suppose these results just mirror the reality of the world. When asked to picture a Jew, most people will immediately think of a bearded rabbi, possibly with a big nose and black hat, even if s/he doesn’t personally know one. Few will think of a woman, non-white, or non-Ashkenaz.

Well, at least it's an improvement from when people really thought that Jews had horns, right? That myth might've taken a few centuries to dispel, but I really do think that in a generation or two from now, the Google Image results for “Jew” and “Orthodox Jews” will be different. There are so many more women role models within the religious and secular Jewish communities nowadays, and that number will only increase. In synagogues, there are women like Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Rachel Kohl Finegold, Lynn Kaye, and Dina Najman; the children of their congregations won’t be strangers to women in leadership positions. There is a proliferation of mohelot, female circumcisers, among the non-Orthodox; it's only a matter of time until more observant circles get the hang of it, too. Female mashgihot (kosher certifiers) are also increasing in popularity. Yavilah McCoy, an African-American Jewish woman, is active in advocacy for Jews of color. Idit Klein, the executive director of Keshet, shows Jews that they can be included in the community, no matter what their sexual orientation. There are dozens of Jewish women in the music and film industry who let their Jewish identities be known.

I think that Vanessa Hidary really embodies the point of this post. Ms. Hidary is a Sephardic woman poet who’s trying to show the world that somebody's Jewish identity has nothing to do with what s/he looks like. I had the honor of interviewing her a while ago, and I still keep up with her work (she released a book recently, The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega). I fell in love with her work when I first heard her poem “The Hebrew Mamita.”

“I'm thinking, I'm saying What does Jewish look like to you? Should I fiddle on a f**king roof for you? Should I humor you with oy veys and refuse to pay? Oh, 'cause you know how we like to Jew you down Jew you down, I'd like to throw you down!...

I'm the Hebrew mamita Long-lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah The sexy oy-veying chutzpah-having non-cheaping non-conspiracizing always-questioning hip hop-listening Torah scroll-reading all people-loving Pride-filled Jewish girl.

Bigging up all people who are a little miffed 'Cause someone tells you you don't look like Or act like your people. Impossible, because you are your people. You just tell them they don't look, Period.”

Originally posted on Star of Davida



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