In an episode of Seinfeld entitled "The Yada Yada," Jerry talks to a priest about his dentist, who he thinks converted to Judaism just for the jokes. The priest asks Jerry if this offends him as a Jewish person. "No," Jerry responds, "It offends me as a comedian."
As a Jewish person, I am offended by stereotypes and caricatures of Jews in popular media. I'm not bothered by writers and directors having the occasional laugh from a Jew joke, but rather, it's how wrong they get it. All my life I have lived as a religious Jew; I have seen and participated in rituals with Middle Eastern, Western and Eastern European Jews, and the movies just don't seem to get it right.
Enough with the brisket jokes, the Havah Nagilahs and the Manischewitz. I'm glad the media doesn't portray Jews as having horns, as some people believed many years ago. Jewish life in America has grown since 1960 (when the last Jew joke was fresh). It's easy for the non-religious or the non-Jewish people in cinema to feign ignorance, but there's a proliferation of books and websites that can tell you all about the Jewish religion.
Many Jews are very open about religion and would be happy to discuss our traditions and values. You can also go to a synagogue or restaurant and see how we roll. The purpose of this warmth and openness is not to convert people. Rather, we believe in accepting others for who they are, while never compromising on our faith. Also, I'm sure that by through conversation you'll realize that the Jew jokes on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Wedding Crashers and 90210 are not based on reality.
I believe that some so-called "Jewish comedy" comes from atheist Jews within the media who are either ignorant or ashamed of their heritage. For some of these folks, the most recent taste of Jewish life may have been 50 years ago. This is a shame.
Many groups besides Jews have been lampooned in movies, but I can't speak for them. I just feel that if Jews are going to be portrayed in movies, in drama or comedy, that the image of Jews should be accurate. For example, there are many kosher restaurants open on Christmas eve, so we don't have to resort to eating Chinese. Besides, it has to be kosher Chinese.
When New York Magazine ran a front cover featuring a cartoon of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle as militant anti-Americans in the White House, it set off a firestorm from people who felt that the caricature would be taken seriously. Most of us know the portrayal was just satire, but the magazine's reasoning that the image was making fun of those who make fun of Obama, was a little high-concept. The Jewish community also has to deal with such misguided ignorance as well.
Nasally voices, anxiety and austerity are not representative of the Jewish community at large. It's not so much that these stereotypes make Jews look meek and cheap; nobody I know even sounds like that. People should watch a little less SNL and engage more with the Jewish community to find out what we're really all about.
The Jewish community is not perfect. We have our sex offenders, cheaters and ne'er do-wells just like any other group has. But these people are not representative of any one religion or race. I believe that there would be less anti-Semitism if more people were open to knowing more about Judaism. It's OK to joke around sometimes, but it's important to get the facts straight too. A lot of hate is based on ancient fiction. I call on my Jewish friends who control Hollywood to change the status-quo. (That was a joke).
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