Next week is Passover. You may not know this but for Jews like me it's really not a big deal. The family gets together. We eat. We run through the story of Moses and Pharaoh in about 10 minutes. We eat more. We complain about the high price of everything. We eat more. We talk about how special and amazing our kids are. We eat more. Then we go home and watch TV. Many Jews take this holiday seriously and I respect that. But most of the Jews I know are like me.
Did you know this? If you're going to do business with a Jew like me you might as well. Come to think of it, I bet there are probably a bunch of things you didn't know about doing business with a Jew. And yet you probably have a lot of Jewish customers and vendors. I apologize for not writing about this sooner. Consider this to be my Passover gift to you. Let me share just a few simple rules that might help you profit with my people in the coming year.
Rule Number One: To do business with a Jew, you must realize that being Jewish is a culture, not a religion. In fact, most Jews don't know that much about our religion. Sure, we know about Chanukah because we have to buy gifts for our already-over-indulged children. And we know about Passover and Rosh Hashanah because our wives force us to attend services and suffer through dinners with our extended families. But don't ask us anything else about our religion unless it was covered in a Woody Allen movie. We don't know the details. We are not Jews by choice. We were born into this. Sure, we're proud that Natalie Portman is one of us. But this is a fluke. For every one Natalie Portman there's a hundred Barbara Streisands. See what I mean? And who would actually choose to belong to a group of people that will never play a professional sport or fix a toilet on their own?
Rule Number Two: Don't feel the need to bring up that I'm Jewish. Believe me, I know I'm Jewish. I've got the nose to prove it. My dad was an accountant. I come from a long line of Greenbergs and Markowitz (according to my dad, my last name is Marks because the Cossacks "scared the witz out of us." Har har.) And look, I won't mention the cross hanging on your office wall or that you sign off your emails with a "have a blessed day." Barf. You don't have to commiserate with me or tell me that you have "many Jewish friends." To work with me, you don't have to mention our holidays, Joe Lieberman, Jerry Seinfeld or say things like "hey that Sandy Koufax was one hell of a pitcher, wasn't he?" Not necessary.
Rule Number Three: Forget Kevin Bacon. Amongst Jews, there are no more than three degrees of separation. I live in the Philadelphia, which is one of the biggest cities in the country. I'm not the most social person in the world but trust me when I tell you that whatever Jew you mention I probably have a friend who has a cousin who dated her. Or a guy from my synagogue who had an argument with her father. Jews know each other. And if we don't know each other, we know where to find each other. And being Jewish, we all have opinions about each other. And sometimes they're not so good either. So be careful not to mention other Jews in your business conversations - there's a good chance that same guy's nephew pulled a fast one on my cousin Sidney after the war and our families haven't spoken since.
Rule Number Four: Sadly, we can be as close-minded as everyone else. Don't believe that we love all people we know. Jews may seem more religious with our numerous holidays and rules. And you would think that, after thousands of years of being ridiculed, expelled, persecuted and mass-murdered we'd be a little more conciliatory to other minorities who suffer the same kind of racism and victimization that we did. But we don't. We can be just as narrow minded and ignorant as the next guy! Want proof? Many of us still think Jackie Mason is funny. And some Jews even believe that Adam Sandler still has a good movie inside of him. So yes, we aren't so perfect. I know Jews who spend an entire Saturday morning in synagogue praying and pontificating about how the world needs to be a better place and then get in a fight that afternoon over a parking space at the local supermarket.
Rule Number Five: It is true that we are mostly liberal-leaning in our politics. To do business with a Jew, try not to talk politics. I guess that's a good rule to follow when doing business with anyone. But in this case, it'll just make you even more frustrated. You'll never understand why that last President who swore vengeance against and sacrificed American lives to defeat Israel's enemies in Iraq and the mountains of Bora Bora is still so hated by most of the Jewish populace. Put it down to centuries of being chased and massacred by very-very right wing, nationalist governments whose leaders came to power by blaming minority groups for all of their country's problems and move on. Oh and for God's sake, don't mention Israel. Or The War. Just keep a copy of the New York Times and Arlen Spector's latest book on your desk and you'll be fine.
Rule Number Six: In business, you'll find that Jews are primarily service providers. The stereotype is mostly true. A great many of us are doctors, lawyers and accountants. That's because when in times past we were given 24 hours to vamoose from a country we wanted to make sure we left little behind. Investments in hard capital like machinery and equipment could be garnished by an unfriendly government. So our fathers instructed us to learn a trade and that's what we did. And not a trade like plumbing or electricity because...c'mon...we're Jews. We're terrible at that stuff. And yes, we would like to be professional basketball players and truck drivers but we're too short and our wives would make us feel guilty for being on the road for so long. That's why we do services. Don't fault us. And don't play softball with us either...you'll never win a close call.
Rule Number Seven: The best topic of conversation with a Jew is food, sports or children. But be forewarned: our food is better than yours and our children are smarter, OK? You don't know the first thing about making a truly great brisket. You probably don't even know the difference between regular lox and nova lox do you? (the nova is unsalted and better). And I'm sure your kids are popular and good students and whatever. But our kids manage to score the better drugs, so who's really smarter? Your best option is to keep the conversation to sports. You can talk about the fun times you had playing for the varsity football team and we can talk about the fun times we had as equipment managers for the varsity football team. See? We really do have something in common!
Rule Number Eight: Just because we're Jewish doesn't mean we spend wisely. Don't be fooled and think you can't trick me into buying your product and service. You can. I have neighbors who drive over-priced Lexuses when a Honda Accord would be just as fine. I know Jews who not only keep their milk and meat separate, but have actually built separate kitchens just to be sure (wow, won't God be impressed by that!). I know Jews who still hold season tickets for the Mets. See? For some reason my people have a reputation for being good with numbers and knowledgeable about business. But that's just not true. Don't be intimidated. When it comes to something we really want, we'll be willing to pay, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.
Rule Number Nine: In the end we only care about two things: marrying our daughters to a nice Jewish boy and where to find a good Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day. If you can help a Jew do either of those then you've made a friend, and a business partner, for life.
Another version of this post appears on The Philly Post.
Follow Gene Marks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/genemarks