Monday, August 16, 2010

Stereyotypes Wear Different Jewish Faces

We as the new revolution of Jews ask ourselves about how we feel in social situations in regards to our religion. Is it okay to marry a gentile? Do I have to go to Passover at my cousin’s house when I might be able to visit with friends instead? There’s a holiday party with beer involved; am I going to be able to make it to work or school the next day if need be? This is how we stereotypically live our Jewish lives in the 21st century. When someone says “I am religious” or uses the term “frum”, we immediately shy away as a subculture and almost separate “us” from “them”. Why aren’t we asking more important questions, like who are they? And why did I go to Jewish day school, but never have Jewish celebrations at my house or go to synagogue? Why is it that in movies like Garden State, we giggle when they explain synagogues have to move into other buildings on Yom Kippur because during the rest of the year no one cares? It is almost as though the term religious Jew means a “black hat” or a man with peyos and a large beard, strolling along side a woman in a long skirt, a poorly woven wig, and their 36 children lined up on the way to Shabbat services. These MUST be the “practicing” ones.

I am well aware that we as a society are terribly wrong about our vision of what it means to be religious. About five years ago, in a grassroots shul, a beautiful woman in her twenties quietly sneaks into the service, grabbing a siddur and is sitting alone. She is quiet and confident, closely following along and even in some portions, adding supplemental reading others around her have not learned or attempted. Her hair is covered and she is wearing a long sleeve shirt and a skirt that kisses the floor as she walks. It isn’t until she turns that I realize the sleeves are sheer and her Greenpeace tattoo is blaring me in the face! I was destined to meet this woman! Amongst many more tattoos I learn this woman builds bicycles, is deeply into film, has a college degree, is vegan and would later have an orthodox conversion and was not married (despite her wrapped hair). She was everything her appearance did not suggest. However, she is still so connected to Hash-m, that she is the essence of the word “frum”.

Another face that did not meet the guidelines of the stereotypical box is one of my favorite bloggers. Sure he studied at a Yeshiva and davvens every morning! He is a real FFB (Frum From Birth), but he also questions the Frum community and does not believe in the social hypocrisy of it all. After a night of discussing inappropriate behaviors, mainly ones you’d do in a fraternity house, and discussing if these were acts against torah, I woke to see him checking his email, wrapped in teffilin and mouthing the prayer by heart!

My favorite vision of a religious Jew is the one of my grandmother (in her blessed memory). I had never seen her walk into a synagogue or a religious service outside of a funeral and my baby naming. She had never kept a kosher kitchen in her life and did not step foot in the state of Israel. She did not understand Hebrew, she did not have a religious education, she wore slacks and tiny little slippers around town. My grandmother spoke with the cutest Brooklyn accent and raised two daughters while working for an aerospace company in the 1950s. She always smelt of gardenias and watched Murder She Wrote and Matlock. I was a little kid, no more than 9 years old, snuggled in my grandma’s room. She’d tuck me in, kiss me and then rolled over. I could hear her whisper something over and over again, but I could not make out the words. What was she saying? What couldn’t she tell me? Ahhh! I have ADHD grandma, I need to know what you’re saying! I interrupt her softly spoken words and ask, “Grandma, what are you whispering?” The most profound and utterly religious moment I have ever had was right then and there, “I am asking G-d to protect you Rachel. I pray every night in hopes that He will watch over you as he has done for me and your mommy.” At the time, I only knew this was my role model for prayer. What I didn’t realize is that my sociologically, stereotypical, culturally Jewish woman, of a grandma was in fact going against a social norm. She used prayer daily to connect with Hash-m.

These three people have nothing in common outside of their religious background. Their appearance is not similar to one another and they have no reason to exchange glances or connect with one another. They have found their own roots in the heart of their religious foundation.

The new and “modern” Jew seems to be fearful to embrace old tradition. It’s almost like the word prayer has escaped the “new Jewish” lexicon. Like Judaism does not have enough to offer spiritually, so we must entice our youngsters with Buddhist enlightenment, making new trends like “Bu-Jew” and sporting their stereotypical “Moses is my homeboy “shirts. When looking at flyers on college campuses today, we see organizations that feed off of the new sub cultural Jews; they are caught avoiding their Jewish mothers and looking for a free and warm meal. The vision of the stereotypical Jew should no longer be the “black hatter” of our parent’s times. The new stereotype is the religiously ambivalent and the mal educated wrapped in a (Name Your Jewish Organization Here) t-shirt that they got for free. The face of Judaism has changed. The new face of religion is far removed from prayer and smothered in the contextual pop culture society we see today.

Be true to the streets,

Yentapunker, writer for