(idea submitted and written by Shayna D.)
“Jewish Guilt” is a chronic condition for many Jewish Young Adults which manifests in several significant ways.
The most prevalent kind of guilt is endogenous, and is cyclical within Jewish communities. This guilt was not created ex nihilo, but rather has its roots in the JYA’s relationship with his or her mother. A Jewish mother is never satisfied by the achievements or behavior of the JYA. For example, a JYA who receives a 98% on a difficult calculus exam can expect to be greeted with: “What happened to the other two points?” The remarks of the Jewish mother leave the JYA with a looming sense of guilt so strong that the mother’s actual physical presence is not required to illicit appropriate behavioral adjustments.
It is important to note that this guilt is institutionally perpetuated by nearly all Jewish holidays, notably Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the ten days of repentance after Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur (the official day to sit in shul and feel guilty for). A hallmark of most Jewish holidays is feeling guilty while not eating, feeling guilty about wanting to eat, or eating as a symbol of something to feel guilty about.
More interestingly, there is a second category of Jewish Guilt that involves the intentional deploying of guilt exogenously, meaning at Non-Jews, to coerce them into doing the things you want them to. This is particularly useful against Protestants who have not been raised in a culture of guilt and have developed no defenses against shame. Guilt directed at Non-Jews involves the JYA incorporating the same behavior-altering skill that they have learned from their mothers.
In a typical scenario, the JYA might have a regular bar night to attend. After being guilted into going because it’s someone’s birthday or because it’s only for an hour or because it’s only once a week she hears that some coworkers are skipping out. In order to change their decision, the JYA will adopt the tried and true practices of Guilt, staging: “I have a migraine, and I’m still going, so I think you can probably find a way to come along.”
Later that night a gentile friend might decide to order a drink. The JYA might then ask for a glass of ice water without too much ice and a slice of lemon. “Why don’t you just come with me?” The gentile will reasonably ask. Again the JYA will reach into their arsenal of finely tuned Guilt techniques and say: “Fine, I just thought that since you were getting up anyway, and it’s just a glass of water that you might get it for me especially since I’m not feeling well, but never mind. It’s not a big deal.” The gentile will feel horrible and will instantly fetch the water.
Why does using Jewish Guilt on Non-Jews work? Simple, the JYA has invoked suffering, and in non Jewish circles suffering is less like water and air and more like something to be avoided.