Archive for August, 2008

#47 India

It is no secret that Israelis are voracious world travelers, although this fact catches Non-Jews off-guard. “I took this trip to South America,” Non-Jew “Madeline” recalls, “And there were Israelis everywhere, I was like, ‘Hello, random!’”

In fact, Madeline’s experience was not at all random. The trip-around-the-world is a rite of passage for many young Israelis who have recently finished their stint in the army before they go on to university or jobs in high tech. One of the most popular destinations for the young Israeli is India. There are several reasons India is such a popular destination: first, its relative proximity to the Jewish nation; second, India is cheaper than many popular destinations; third, there is the opportunity for religious tourism without having to deal with Jesus, and fourth—tradition. So many Israelis have already gone to India that there is booming business in marketing to them, with Hebrew speaking guides and menus translated into Hebrew. There is also the promise that the traveling Israeli will never be far from other Israelis with whom they can converse and have no strings attached travel sex.

Chicken Hummus Masala

The American Jewish Young Adult’s experience of India is much more conceptual. India is seen less as a destination, and more as an exporter of desirable commodities, like food, attractive sexual partners, yoga, and meditation. At some point nearly every JYA becomes involved with yoga, many to an unacceptable degree that extends to proselytizing its benefits to largely uninterested friends and family members. As JYA “Dan” recently griped: “I mean, good for Rachel that yoga makes her happy, but I kind of doubt that its going to make her mom stop pressuring her to get married. But don’t tell I said her that.” As an extra bonus to the observant JuBu, or the armchair activist, India is now home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.

Despite the fact that many American college students will at some point express a desire to backpack through India or go to a month-long yoga retreat, the educated elite knows shockingly little about Indian history, culture, or religious diversity. At any rate, few actually make the journey, preferring the more consistently plumbed Europe and the anglicized Indian food of Brick Lane.

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#46 Creating Drama

It is quite frequent for observers to come across a group of Jewish Young Adults speaking loudly in excited and agitated tones. While the Non-Jew might believe that the group of JYAs is in a heated debate about the ethics of affirmative action or abortion, closer inspection would reveal that the hostile intonations of the group concern seemingly petty daily events like brushing teeth or getting on the subway. This is because one of the more off-putting habits of Jewish Young Adults is their penchant for Creating Drama. Here, drama is defined not as the artistic expression of composition or prose, but rather as the exaggeration of the consequences of mundane daily trivialities.

Creating drama (or Pot-Stirring) may seem irrational and unnecessary to Non-Jews. Many other ethnic or cultural groups operate with the opposite objective, choosing to minimize drama to the point where even major matters are underestimated. This can be seen readily in such groups as the WASP and Asian communities, as explored in the works of Jonathan Franzen and Amy Tan, respectively. As an example, Non-JYA “Cody” opts to hide his potentially fatal allergy to shellfish for fear of upsetting his girlfriend. “It drives me crazy”, says Cody, “She’s always cooking with shrimp and I just end up saying I’m not hungry when I’m freaking starving. But I don’t want to make her feel bad, so I’m not going to say anything, it would just create a problem and she’d feel bad.”

JYAs prefer the exact opposite approach, frequently provoking histrionic reactions from their peers just to see the effects, as evidenced in the following interaction between two female JYAs:

Tracy: “Oh my god, Talia was talking such trash about you last night, but I totally stood up for you”

Rachel: “Seriously? What did she say?”

Tracy: “I totally shouldn’t have said anything, pretend I didn’t say anything. But she did call you a slut”

Creating Drama is often reflexive and self directed. JYAs tend to amplify details of their own narratives with the mindset that increased drama will create a better listening experience, and will elicit enhanced responses from the audience. For example, one JYA, “Dave”, remarked about a recent Friday night: “I had like 3 girls all calling me up to go out, but I was still so hungover from the night before that I had to bail”. Dave’s friend, “Matt”, countered with a more prosaic version of the night’s events, stating: “Whatever, dude. We know you ordered Chinese and watched Project Runway”.

Whatever the reason for JYAs penchant to elicit fuss when there is no call for it, one thing remains certain: regardless of how much pot-stirring they actually do, there is not a single JYA who will readily admit to their actions, and will deny any malfeasance with every fiber of their being.

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#45 Bagel Sandwiches

(idea submitted and written by Rachel K.)

Brought to New York City by Eastern European Jewish ancestors, bagels have been an everyday staple in the lives of Jewish Young Adults. But those high-gluten, hole-in-the-middle, chewy-on-the-inside marvels are not the only things that are on the daily JYA mind: it is the art of the Bagel Sandwich. Tuna salad, egg salad, lox and schmear, maybe some capers, maybe a tomato- the possibilities are endless.

Non-Jews openly love bagel sandwiches as well, but have little understanding of the concept of Bagel Sandwiches, frequently adding treif, or, even worse, mayonnaise, to their orders.. When discussing the misuse of the bagel sandwich some JYAs blame MacDonalds and their Egg McMuffin bagel sandwiches: it has bacon, it is fast food, it is on an English muffin, and it’s on the dollar menu. JYA’s might be arguably cheap, but they draw the line at the Dollar Menu, especially when it concerns their bagel sandwiches.

In fact, bagel sandwiches are often the food of choice for all times of day. One JYA, “Marty”, proudly unwraps his bagel sandwich in LSAT class each night, alternating between lox and cream cheese and roast beef to “keep it exciting.” Another JYA, “Samantha”, professed in hushed tones: “I feel like such a cow, last night after we went out I went to H&H and got an open faced toasted egg salad bagel sandwich”, and quickly added, “Scooped, obvy”. For the JYA, editing, complicating, and overanalyzing the items and construction of their bagel sandwiches normally occurs. Outsiders should therefore not be surprised if they see a JYA in the local bagel shop looking distressed because their “sandwich is wrong, but they feel guilty sending it back.”

Perhaps the bagel sandwich craze stems directly from the Jew’s inability to gather without food (Yom Kippur an obvious exception). A bris, brunch, or oneg will regularly include cold cuts, lox, tuna, and/or egg salad along with a bevy of bagels options. Some of the traditional Jewish foods have been abandoned by today’s JYAs; approximately 80% will show outward distain for gefilte fish, yet the bagel has reigned perennially, albeit in augmented sandwich form. Any JYA will happily suffer through Bat Mitzvah brunch, wedged between inquisitorial Jewish Elders, as long as they have a distinctive Bagel Sandwich to lean on for moral support.

(Um, I asked for 3 cucumbers, not 2)

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#44 Abusing Yiddish

(idea submitted by Robyn B., Megan R., and Dan H.)

For many Jewish Young Adults, Yiddish was the language of their grandparents; a symbol of Jewish heritage and a source of pride at resisting assimilation. Today, apart from select Yiddish-ophiles, it is virtually unknown to the JYA. Yiddish, the Germanic tongue that was the primary language of most Ashkenazi Jews for nearly a millennium and which has a long history and a richly diverse literature, is simply no longer a primary means of communication for the modern JYA, and merely provides conversational flair.

As part of their effort to deny that they are White, JYAs use the an exotic and ancient sounding language to reinforce that they are from somewhere other than Huntington Woods and to remind you, at all times, that they are Jewish. There are many JYAs who, therefore, overstate their command of Yiddish: “Well, I practically grew up speaking Yiddish at home, I basically had to learn English as a second language!” claims JYA “Kate” whose parents are from Detroit and who has never been heard speaking Yiddish with anyone, including her parents.

The JYA usually showcases his or her command of Yiddish when speaking of family members, insults, or male genitalia. The last category is particularly fertile ground, containing more words for “the little bishop in a turtleneck” than the Eskimos allegedly have for snow. The modern JYA typically has command of up to 44 words in Yiddish, dubiously including those words that everyone knows but no one knows are Yiddish like bagel, blintz, dreck, and glitch.

The remaining forty words the JYA may be familiar with are: chutzpah, oy (gevalt), kibitz, klutz, kvell, kvetch, mensch, meshugge, narrishkeit, nebbish, noodge, nosh, nu, plots, putz, schlock, schlong, schlub, schmaltz, schmo (frequently in conjunction with Joe), schmutz, schmuck, schlemiel, schlep, schlimazel, schmeer. schmooze, schnozz, schtick, schtup, schvitz, shiksa, spiel, tchotchke, tuches, verklempt, yenta, yutz and zaftig. These words are typically adapted to standard American morphology, making them work like normal English words. This creates neologisms like: schvitzing, klutzy, and tchotchkes.

Unfortunately, JYAs have a noticeable tendency to misuse and exploit the minimal knowledge they have of this 10th century vernacular. Alpha Epsilon Pi member “Jake” has taken to throwing around the incorrect idiomatic expression “I feel so shnooky this morning, I think I drank too much last night” with his fraternity brothers, unaware that this verbal gaffe would make Sholem Yaakov Abramovich rise from his grave and scream out “Es vert mir finster in di oygen!”

The focus on Yiddish is one of the many ways that modern Jews privilege the Ashkenazi experience of Judaism. The same retro love of the exotic does not extend to other Jewish languages like Ladino, Dzhidi, and certainly not the Judaeo-Arabic dialects which remain restricted to their cultural niches to the extent that most JYAs are unaware of their existence.

Among other things, this strongly indicates that when creating their identities, JYAs want to be “not-white” enough to be different, but certainly not “not-white” enough to lose any of the privileges of whiteness to which they’ve become accustomed. “I guess that could be it,” says JYA “Jason,” “But it’s also really fun to use Yiddish cause one, it makes chicks think I’m foreign and two, it’s really fun to say. Schlep. Schlep. You know, I just said it so many times it stopped sounding like a word.”

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The definition of “Best Friend” is “someone with whom one shares the strongest possible kind of friendship”. In the world of set theory, we can assume the set A is comprised of all friends, and there is a binary preference relationship between each pair of friends in set A. Therefore, by transitivity of preference between pairs, there is one maximal friend, where there is no other friend that more preferred. In other words, we can define one unique “Best Friend”, which is the most preferred over all others in the set of all friends.

This definition seems to be largely true for Non-Jews. Non-Jews are reluctant to admit strangers into the inner circles of emotional intimacy, and frequently prefer to keep a mental and physical buffer zone between themselves and others. In some extreme cases, particularly with WASPs, entire life-long relationships, even with close family members or spouses, can be based entirely on small talk. Therefore, Non-Jews typically only have one “Best Friend” of preeminent significance.

Jewish Young Adults, in contrast, disregard theoretical mathematics when it comes to friendships and categorize multiple people as “Best Friends”. They are able to do this because JYAs compartmentalize their lives into specified categories, unlike Non-Jews who observe an entire life span in full. Effectively, the JYA will have multiple subsets of friends, where each subset has its own specific local maximal friend. The following interaction between two female JYA’s illustrates such an effect:

“Tammy”: Me and my best friend Becca and went to Joshua Tree last night and these two guys were totally buying us drinks and we got so wasted.

“Rachel”: I thought I was your best friend?

“Tammy”: You’re my college best friend; Becca is my camp best friend.

In order to differentiate between Best Friends, JYAs use compound nouns with appropriate location-specific adjectives, like “my best friend from college” or “my best friend from Chi-O”. It is important to note that male JYAs will frequently use the word “bro” or “boy” in place of the descriptor “best friend”, as they believe the term “best friend” is too feminine. As JYA “Jon” explained: “I was at Joshua Tree last night with my boy from work and these two chicks were all up on us, but I was like, hell no am I shelling out my cash to buy drinks for these two skeezers, but my boy from work just kept buying them shots. I think he got a blow-jay from the fat one”.

The concept of having multiple best friends transcends age in the Jewish Community, with slight variation due to age. Instead of “my best friend from college”, Jewish Adults and Jewish Elders will use the term “my oldest friend from college”, or “my oldest friend from youth group”. Regardless of age, it is unclear whether JYAs have multiple best friends because they truly are more social than their Non-Jewish counterparts, or if JYAs simply like to pretend they are.

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