Monday, October 24, 2011

What Does Jewish Look Like to You?

Procrastinating is always loads of fun, and thanks to the Internet, it’s really easy to do. There are very many wonderful things to do to waste time, one of my personal favorites being browsing the website (Other cool sites are,, and

While I was putting off doing something important, I noticed the picture above. Yeah, ha ha, very funny, reminds me of the “Death to All Juice” protest sign. However, it occurred to me: why are these Jews portrayed as male? (The big noses are a little offensive, too.)

When you Google Image “Jew” and skim the results, almost all of the pictures are of white Ashkenazi-looking Hasidic males. The few pictures that aren’t are mostly anti-Semitic or anti-Israel; women and non-Hasids make up a small minority. When you Google Image “Orthodox Jews,” it’s the same (except for the much-loved Tefillin Barbie). I also find it interesting that there are so many are anti-Israel pictures, a surprising fact considering that most Orthodox Jews are pro-Israel.

I suppose these results just mirror the reality of the world. When asked to picture a Jew, most people will immediately think of a bearded rabbi, possibly with a big nose and black hat, even if s/he doesn’t personally know one. Few will think of a woman, non-white, or non-Ashkenaz.

Well, at least it's an improvement from when people really thought that Jews had horns, right? That myth might've taken a few centuries to dispel, but I really do think that in a generation or two from now, the Google Image results for “Jew” and “Orthodox Jews” will be different. There are so many more women role models within the religious and secular Jewish communities nowadays, and that number will only increase. In synagogues, there are women like Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Rachel Kohl Finegold, Lynn Kaye, and Dina Najman; the children of their congregations won’t be strangers to women in leadership positions. There is a proliferation of mohelot, female circumcisers, among the non-Orthodox; it's only a matter of time until more observant circles get the hang of it, too. Female mashgihot (kosher certifiers) are also increasing in popularity. Yavilah McCoy, an African-American Jewish woman, is active in advocacy for Jews of color. Idit Klein, the executive director of Keshet, shows Jews that they can be included in the community, no matter what their sexual orientation. There are dozens of Jewish women in the music and film industry who let their Jewish identities be known.

I think that Vanessa Hidary really embodies the point of this post. Ms. Hidary is a Sephardic woman poet who’s trying to show the world that everyone can be a Jew, regardless of what s/he looks like. I had the honor of interviewing her a while ago, and I still keep up with her work (she released a book recently, The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega). I fell in love with her work when I first heard her poem “The Hebrew Mamita.”

“I'm thinking, I'm saying
What does Jewish look like to you?
Should I fiddle on a f**king roof for you?
Should I humor you with oy veys and refuse to pay?
Oh, 'cause you know how we like to Jew you down
Jew you down, I'd like to throw you down!...

I'm the Hebrew mamita
Long-lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah
The sexy oy-veying chutzpah-having non-cheaping non-conspiracizing always-questioning hip hop-listening Torah scroll-reading all people-loving
Jewish girl.

Bigging up all people who are a little miffed
'Cause someone tells you you don't look like
Or act like your people.
Impossible, because you are your people.
You just tell them they don't look,


  1. Great post. What does a Jew look like? When people ask me, "where are you from?" I say America. I was born here, heck, so were my grandparents, all 4 of them. If I say my religion, what will that answer their question? Nope. On my blog I also posted about the ridiculous stereotypes given to Jews.

  2. I love, love, love, love, love wasting time on Fmylife and Dearblankpleaseblank. That is all. Also, my first experiences with this whole 'what does a Jew look like' question was in grade three when I read a book about a girl during the Holocaust, and these Aryan, anti-Jew people were like "Oh, I wish my daughter looked like you" not realizing she was Jewish because she was blonde.

    The second time was when I read an interview with Lea Michele, and she was talking about Barbra Streisand and Jewish big noses and stuff. That was when I realized that there was a Jewish 'image', which was kind of depressing. I guess there's a stereotypical image for every group.

  3. I had never been exposed to the stereotypical Jewish image until I got a little bit older. I don't look terribly Jewish according to the stereotype, so I assume it's because of that.