We Jews have arrived! That seemed to be the general sentiment on my Facebook news feed last night as word traveled around the social network that the winning word in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee was "knaidel," the Yiddish word for matzah ball. Most excited Facebook users chimed in on the variant transliterated spellings of the Yiddish word wondering how the organizers of the annual spelling bee could agree on just one accepted spelling.
No one else seemed to have even noticed that a few hours earlier in the competition, another contestant was asked to spell the word "hesped," Hebrew for eulogy. As my friend and fellow traveler to Ukraine (back when he was a student at the University of Michigan and I was working at Hillel) Adam Soclof pointed out, "knaidel" was not the first Jewish word of questionable transliterated spelling that had been asked of the Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants in the past. In 2006, the word "hechsher" caused some controversy when 14-year-old Saryn Hooks of North Carolina correctly spelled "hechsher" (I go with the "hekhsher" spelling), but the judges disqualified Saryn even though she spelled it correctly. The judges later admitted their mistake and reinstated the girl.
Arvind Mahankali wins! Correctly spells "knaidel" (small mass of leavened dough, from German-derived Yiddish) #spellingbee -- Vocabulary.com (@VocabularyCom) May 31, 2013
While some might think that the winning word of the Scripps National Spelling Bee being the familiar Yiddish word for what we Jews put in our chicken soup signaled the end of offensive Jewish stereotypes, think again. A new reality TV show is about to debut that will send us back several generations to a time when those shameful, disgusting Jewish American Princess (JAP) jokes were en vogue.
Bravo's "Princesses: Long Island" premiers on Sunday and based on the promo it's going to be shockingly offensive. This rapid fire assault of "Jewish princess" stereotypes will certainly offend most Jewish people. I am one who can certainly take a joke, but I was very uncomfortable with the way these Jewish women were characterized. Bravo might get the viewing audience it wants based on shock value, but I can't imagine this trashy show will have legs to survive past its first season.
"Jersey Shore" was offensive to Italian-Americans, but I get the sense that "Princesses: Long Island" will produce more overt, in-your-face stereotypes. The sneak preview seems to be a montage of every offensive stereotype there is of Jewish women. Vulgar language aside, these women are shown as obsessed with getting married, materialistic, kvetchy and speed dial their mommy as soon as there's any crisis
If you asked me a few years ago I would have said that the term "JAP" would be a term my young children would never know. Jewish women (and their male advocates) have been successful in eradicating that term from our lexicon and I haven't heard any Jewish American Princess jokes in several years, but a reality TV show like "Princesses: Long Island" unfortunately will undo much of that progress. There are acceptable ways to mock the stereotypes of a particular religion or ethnic group without being tasteless. This show is going to be trouble with a capital T.
In the meantime I'm going to hope that we see more Yiddish spelling words and less offensive reality shows. Nothing good will come from Bravo's "Princesses: Long Island," so I'm just going to pray it's cancelled as soon as possible.
Follow Rabbi Jason Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rabbijason