How do Jews look? MJL’s new video feature takes a look

This Shamir really digs the new MJL format. (and is always excited to see the uber-sexy JamDaven crew):

How Jews Look from on Vimeo

41 Responses to “How do Jews look? MJL’s new video feature takes a look”

  1. Is that singer married?

    Jonathan · March 3rd, 2009 at 2:38 am
  2. Why are you interested? :)

    Victor · March 3rd, 2009 at 3:18 am
  3. Hmmm… as an educator concerned with issues faced by Jews of Color, I started watching with the hope that there would be some of us included in this video clip. Jews also “look” like African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos. It would be nice to see them represented as well.

    joelzenny · March 3rd, 2009 at 3:24 am
  4. you’re an educator concerned with issues faced by “Jews of Color”? so, are you concerned in your professional educational capacity, or are you just concerned? it would seem like a fairly narrow niche – an educator devoted to issues concerning “jews of color”… anyway, don’t take it personally, i’m just busting your chops because a friend of mine (an architect) also goes out of his way to make a plug for “Jews of color” in every conversation about Jews.

    you people get to discover two of my pet peeves in one day. “non-profit” was one, and this is another, “jews of color”. there are no jews of color. there are just Jews.

    Victor · March 3rd, 2009 at 5:09 am
  5. Let me put it another way. If you’re a Jew, and you need to see another Jew with the same color of skin as you in order to identify with them and to love them, this is a serious spiritual issue. You should work on your ahavas yisroel, and certainly get some help if you don’t know how to do so.

    Reinforcing senseless division is never the answer. As they say, labels are for shirts, not for Jews. Senseless, baseless love for your fellow Jew is the answer, as we say every morning before prayers – Hareini m’kabel… I accept upon myself the mitzvah to love my fellow Jew just as I love myself.

    Victor · March 3rd, 2009 at 5:35 am
  6. She looks very arch. This adjective may be derived from the process of arching the eyebrows, I’m not sure, but in the context that it used to be used (e.g. ‘”…” she said archly’) it meant, ‘suggestively’, but with a connotation of deliberately entrapping the percipient.

    I think this illustrates a feature of Jewish popular culture which non-Jews (especially old-fashioned Europeans) tend to regard as ‘vulgarly obvious.’ You see, odd though it may seem, the traditional European aesthetic prided itself among other things on what it regarded as its own relative subtlety. This was to some extent class-based, in that ‘subtlety’ is a relative concept, involving the capacity of a cultural elite to rarify its behavioural and linguistic etc. cues, secure in the knowledge that other elite members would still detect them, and would appreciate precisely this lack of obviousness, which flatters the observer who detects it.

    My point being, she doesn’t have that.

    Anyway, nice blog you have here, people. Thanks to the devious Kei & Yuri for drawing my attention to it (I saw the trackback on my blog from their using my URL, as I explained earlier).

    Rowan Berkeley · March 3rd, 2009 at 9:37 am
  7. Victor, I think you’re missing the point. The piece is called “How do Jews Look” and what joelzenny was pointing out is that there are jews in this world who are not white who were not represented in this video (one could argue that sephardim are “jew of color” and they were represented in the video but the spectrum is much broader than that).

    I don;t want to speak for joelzenny but i don;t believe that the comment indicated that she (he?) only feels connetion with jews who look the same as he (she?) does.

    uzi · March 3rd, 2009 at 11:32 am
  8. It’s so ironic that, whereas 50 years ago (and still, in some cases) people would be concerned with the Sephardic girl looking “too dark,” now people like joelzenny are concerned with her “not looking dark enough.”

    dave · March 3rd, 2009 at 1:46 pm
  9. “Is that singer married?”

    Which one – Sarah Aroeste, or one of the JamDaven blokes?

    B.BarNavi · March 3rd, 2009 at 4:46 pm
  10. They’re all very attractive, but Sarah.

    Jonathan · March 3rd, 2009 at 5:09 pm
  11. That mezuzah in background “looks” like it’s hung the wrong way. Am I right about that?

    Balaam's Donkey · March 3rd, 2009 at 6:43 pm
  12. I recall that it’s a “Sephardi Tahor” custom to place the mezuzah on a slant in accordance with the Ashkenazi custom, as opposed to the general Sephardic custom of putting it straight up.

    B.BarNavi · March 3rd, 2009 at 8:19 pm
  13. I was also looking to see if there were Jews of color – not because I’m seeking out other “Jews who look like me” (I’m white) but because I think that a video about how Jews look should represent more and different kinds of Jews than those who appeared. I understand that this is just a short video and that My Jewish Learning generally does a great job – but it’s not idiotic to want to see African American or Asian American Jews represented.

    Rebecca · March 3rd, 2009 at 10:13 pm
  14. It is not idiotic – it clearly comes from a reasoned perspective – but it is wrong. Doesn’t anyone remember MLK anymore? And the fact that we’re talking about fellow Jews just makes it so weird…

    The divisions you’re talking about – “African American or Asian American” don’t exist for Jews. These aren’t Jewish concepts. We don’t have hybrid people. There are Jews and non-Jews. It’s true that within the Jewish community there are minhagim – Ashkenaz, Sephard, Buchar, etc. – but these are based on local development of laws and customs, not skin color.

    It’s such a weird way to look it, because racism is a Western construct. Skin color doesn’t mean anything within the context of Jewish faith.

    Imagine if you made the same comment about minhagim. “I can’t believe they didn’t show Yemenite Jews!” What would that mean, exactly? That their unique sets of local laws and customs were not on display? It doesn’t make any sense.

    So, all I’m saying is, don’t be weird.

    Victor · March 4th, 2009 at 2:28 am
  15. Victor,

    I don;t know why this topic seems to bring out reactionary and dismissive feedback from you, but rest assured that, regardless of what your personal views are on this topic, there does exists a population of Jews who struggle daily with the kind of dismissive attitudes that you express. That is exactly the problem, and your not seeing any difference is exactly the issue. I suggest you educate yourself on the topic. It is EXACTLY because racism is prevalent in all areas of our society – Jews are not exempt – that Jews of Color feel there is a problem. And “don’t be weird” is not exactly a “reasoned perspective.”

    joelzenny · March 4th, 2009 at 3:31 am
  16. Victor,

    Maybe this will help you a bit. This is the Ashkenazi Privilege Checklist.
    The checklist was created by Corrine Lightweaver, Sasha King, and the Jewish Multiracial Network between 2006-2009. It was used in a presentation on Jews of Color at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in March 2007. If you are not a Jew of Color, this list highlights the privileges you have that they might not have.

    ___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as
    ___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as
    ___ I can walk into my temple and feel that my children are seen as
    ___ I can enjoy music at my temple that reflects the tunes, prayers,
    and cultural roots of my specific Jewish heritage.
    ___ I can easily find greeting cards and books with images of Jews who
    look like me.
    ___ I can easily find Jewish books and toys for my children with images
    of Jews that look like them.
    ___ I am not singled out to speak about and as a representative of an
    “exotic” Jewish subgroup.
    ___ When I go to Jewish bookstores or restaurants, I am not seen as an
    ___ I find my experiences and images like mine in Jewish newspapers and
    ___ My rabbi never questions that I am Jewish.
    ___ There are other children at the religious school who look like my
    ___ My child is never questioned by adults or children about whether he
    or she is Jewish based on skin color.
    ___ People never look at me and say “But you don’t look Jewish” either
    seriously or as though it was funny.
    ___I am never asked how I am Jewish on Jewish dating websites or dating events.
    ____I can arrange to be in the company of Jews of my heritage most of the time.
    ____When attempting to join a synagogue or Jewish organization, I am sure that my ethnic background will not be held against me.
    ___I can ask synagogues and Jewish organizations to include images, and cultural traditions from my background without being seen as a pest.
    ___ I can enroll in a Jewish day school, Yeshiva, and/or historically Jewish college and find Jewish students and professors with my racial or ethnic background.
    ___I am not discriminated against in the aliyah process for being a Jew of a different ethnicity.
    ___I know my ethnic background will not be held against me in being called to read the Torah.
    ___ I know my racial or ethnic background will not be held against me if I attempt to join a minyan in prayer.
    ___ I do not worry about being seen or treated as a member of the janitorial staff at a synagogue or when attending a Jewish event.
    ___No one at my synagogue will attempt to assign me to a ethnicity to which I do not belong. (Example: Assuming all Jews of African descent are Igbo or Ethiopian).
    ___ I do not worry about access to housing or apartments in predominately Jewish neighborhoods.

    joelzenny · March 4th, 2009 at 3:40 am
  17. It’s a shame that this conversation has to take place here where only a fraction of the video’s audience might see it. There’s a lot to like about MJL’s redesign, but the inability to engage in discussion about their video on their site is disappointing. (Unless I’m missing something…)

    dlevy · March 4th, 2009 at 4:00 am
  18. “Imagine if you made the same comment about minhagim. “I can’t believe they didn’t show Yemenite Jews!” What would that mean, exactly? That their unique sets of local laws and customs were not on display? It doesn’t make any sense.”

    Except they clearly made a point of featuring a Sephardic Jew.

    em · March 4th, 2009 at 4:34 am
  19. I don’t know why this topic seems to bring out reactionary and dismissive feedback from you

    Sure you do, I explained it – I see it as stoking senseless Jewish division. I reject the notion that we must stick labels on people’s foreheads, pigeonholing Jews into comfortable little subgroups. I explained my thoughts on the matter at length above.

    Regarding the checklist you posted, what shul have you been to where this stuff is happening? This sounds like some Jappy, East Coast, too much time on their hands nonsense. If this has been your experience I urge you to reject such ignorance, instead of embracing and institutionalizing it by developing the kind of subgroups you were earlier so sensitive being identified with.

    Here’s what I’m seeing…

    Problem: Being identified as an abnormal, exotic Jew.
    Solution: Create organization for abnormal, exotic Jews, using the definition of what is abnormal or exotic created by those who identified you as such in the first place.

    Do you understand that by creating this subgroup mentality you’re simply reinforcing the frame created by those who imposed this perspective on you? What they did is wrong. But is your approach really the solution, or are you merely perpetuating the problem?

    The way out of this is to reject labeling Jews, and to educate all Jews in the basic and fundamental principles of our faith – of which one of the most important, and a key component in bringing about the messianic era, is ahavas yisroel.

    If you want to fight “Ashkenazi Privilege”, that’s how you do it – by teaching and practicing ahavas yisroel.

    Victor · March 4th, 2009 at 7:43 am
  20. DLevy (and everyone else),

    I assure you, it’s the exact OPPOSITE of impossible to have a discussion on the new MJL site — dive right in!

    matthue · March 4th, 2009 at 2:09 pm
  21. Matthue -

    Glad to see it, but how would I have gotten to that page? When I watch the video on the front page or click on the link below it to watch the video in full size, neither has any indication of how to join a discussion… (Not trying to be a pest here, just trying to help make a great site even better…)

    And Victor – how does your repeated use of the word Jappy promote ahavat yisrael?

    dlevy · March 4th, 2009 at 3:45 pm
  22. If that’s the only issue you see with what I wrote, for the sake of complete, unblemished unity, I will gladly cease and desist from employing “Jappy” ;)

    Victor · March 4th, 2009 at 3:59 pm
  23. Hey DLevy,

    It’s true — there’s this feature called TalkBack that, theoretically, has been working for weeks on the test version of the new site. It’s the easiest thing in the world — a button on any article that you can hit and, instantly, start a conversation thread on anything on the site, from the Zohar to Zohan.

    Which means, of course, that we’re working as hard as we can to fix it, and it should be running in the next few weeks. (Bli ayin hara, that is….)

    matthue · March 4th, 2009 at 4:26 pm
  24. Victor, I didn’t say that’s the only issue I have with what you wrote, but I know how to start with the easiest points of agreement. I think this is a case of where walking a mile in another man’s shoes might do you some good. It’s hard to educate one’s Jewish community about how much you belong if you’re starting from a place where everyone doubts that you’re even “Jewish enough” to participate in the discussion.

    dlevy · March 4th, 2009 at 6:28 pm
  25. Victor,

    Your angry insistence on dismissing the experiences of an entire group that self-identifies as people of color AND Jewish is disheartening. Sadly, these are the kinds of attitudes that cause so much pain and anger. Ahavat Israel is all well and good in the context of a Jewish community that is all-inclusive. The list I posted was a compilation of experiences from all over the country.

    Here’s what I’M seeing:

    Problem: Invalidate and negate the experiences of people who want to be affirmed in their totality, as Jews and people of color. Be “colorblind,” not seeing not seeing difference where there is difference.

    Solution: Be open to examine your assumptions regarding this problem. If you are unable or unwilling to educate yourself, then at least get out of our way. You aren’t helping.

    joelzenny · March 4th, 2009 at 6:49 pm
  26. “The divisions you’re talking about – “African American or Asian American” don’t exist for Jews. These aren’t Jewish concepts. We don’t have hybrid people. There are Jews and non-Jews. It’s true that within the Jewish community there are minhagim – Ashkenaz, Sephard, Buchar, etc. – but these are based on local development of laws and customs, not skin color.”

    True that may be (save for the old tribal divisions, some of which still survive to this day), tell that to the Ethiopians, who had their Jewish status questioned from DAY ONE when the got off the planes and are still looked upon suspiciously to this day. Tell that to the North Africans and Yemenites who arrived in the 50′s and 60′s (most of them non-voluntarily), who were told by the settled socialist establishment that their ways were backward, and were subsequently forced to abandon their identities and join the Zionist quest for the ubermensch. And tell that to the Sephardic traditionalists (now we’re talking minhag here!) who witness their religious establishment don black hats and adopt super-humrot in emulation of their Lithuanian contemporaries, at the expense of the dynamic and open Judaism that has defined Sephardic Jewry for 500 years.

    You can argue (as I do) that these acts of cultural dominance are consequences of western culture, and have no place in traditional Judaism. But you can’t deny that racism has played a role in the Jewish experience. (After all, not all Jews are traditional.)

    B.BarNavi · March 4th, 2009 at 8:39 pm
  27. “___I know my ethnic background will not be held against me in being called to read the Torah.
    ___ I know my racial or ethnic background will not be held against me if I attempt to join a minyan in prayer.”

    Not to overly nitpick here, but I think these points in the checklist (among many more, but especially these two) apply to Syrian Jewish privilege more than they do for Ashkenazi privilege.

    B.BarNavi · March 4th, 2009 at 8:43 pm
  28. > We don’t have hybrid people.

    Actually, I’m a hybrid. I was adopted by a black family. Raised black in NYC. Then wrote adoption agency for my medical records in my late 20s and ended up meeting my Jewish birth mother.

    I feel hybrid. I look hybrid. And I’m most definitely not the only half-black jew. I might be wholly Jewish by dint of having a jewish mother but I’m also half-black… or just black if you fail the eyeball tests of the south. My marriage license says white because the white clerk of courts looked at my wholly white jewish husband and just asusmed I was white. The black woman that handled our divorce took one look and put down black for my race on that form. Neither choice was up to me. I discovered it later.

    Visiting a new shul is totally unsettling for me.
    Too many questions…

    “Are you converting?” “No my mother was a jew.”
    “Oh well then your jewish.” “Yes. I know.”

    few minutes later…

    “Are you going to do a conversion?”
    “Well no. I just told you my mother was jewish.”
    “OH That’s right. I forgot.”

    Why’d they forget that quick? Because I’m brown….

    I’m a hybrid.

    Cady · March 4th, 2009 at 10:57 pm
  29. It’s hard to educate one’s Jewish community about how much you belong if you’re starting from a place where everyone doubts that you’re even “Jewish enough” to participate in the discussion.

    dlevy, I agree, it’s hard. Thank G-d we don’t live in isolated communities where wrongs or injustice are perpetuated into perpetuity. Tell me how I can help educate your Jewish community about abandoning senseless division and embracing everyone as a fellow Jew. I have some ideas.

    Be “colorblind,” not seeing not seeing difference where there is difference.

    JZ, can you expound on a this a bit? I don’t understand what you mean with this statement. Is there something wrong with not looking at the color of one’s skin, and instead seeing only the content of one’s character?

    Victor · March 5th, 2009 at 12:09 am
  30. Actually, Victor, I would be interested in having something about Yemenite minhagim (if we were discussing minhagim). I like to learn about/know about the internal diversity of the Jewish people. It’s not divisive – it’s enriching and it teaches me more about what it means to be a Jew. I don’t assume there’s one way to be a Jew, but that there are many ways, and I’m curious about all of them.

    One of the things I try to teach the students in my intro to Judaism class is about Jewish internal diversity AND about the privilege that many of them have as Ashkenazic Jews in the United States who don’t have their Jewish identity questioned by other Jews. Take a look at the anthology The Flying Camel for some interesting articles on this subject.

    Rebecca · March 5th, 2009 at 1:25 am
  31. Victor,
    I want to say that I love that you can make the argument that you do. I feel like you are coming from a very positive place, and if the majority of the Jewish world viewed race and background the way you do then the Jewish world would be better for it.

    That said, the Jewish world is chock full of people with blinders on, who have such a narrow view of “authentic Judaism” that anything or anybody remotely outside of their definition is suspect. Bless you for not being one of them, and it is beautiful that you don’t have experiences with that segment of the community, but I hope you can understand that it is a real and often hurtful issue in the modern Jewish world.

    Wilhelmina · March 5th, 2009 at 2:04 am
  32. Victor,

    People not looking at the color of your skin is a privilege you have if you’re white. I would also argue that for many Ashkenazi Jews, discerning the content of one’s character is only achieved after they get past what they see on the surface.

    For you to say that you don’t see color is viewed by many Jews of color as a negation of a part of who they are. Jews of color can no more be “blind” to that aspect of themselves than Russian Jews at the turn of the century could be blind to their Jewishness.

    Other books that may be of interest to you:

    The Color of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowicz

    In Every Tongue: The Racial and Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People, Diane Tobin, Gary Tobin & Scott Rudin

    Under One Canopy: Readings in Jewish Diversity, edited by Karen Primack

    The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race and American Identity, Eric L. Goldstein

    joelzenny · March 5th, 2009 at 2:41 am
  33. [...] poetic “purim torah” from April 2003–still relevant… (a big hat tip to my dear friend Rebbe [...]

    “The Hebrew Mamita” | Jewschool · March 6th, 2009 at 8:04 am
  34. Most Jewish people in the United States, without regard to historical group or place of origin, are white people. Short of wearing a yarmulke at all times in a place without Jews you wont gain any appreciation for the difference and the extent to which it is far easier to rely on ignorance than bear its mantle every moment of everyday. But everybody knows this and as long as we are ordering the meat lover’s pizza anyway who cares what a bunch of old books say about who we are? Here’s to “could be Italian.”

    Benjamin · March 6th, 2009 at 8:45 am
  35. I care what “a bunch of old books say…” And some new books say the same things too!

    Justin · March 6th, 2009 at 12:20 pm
  36. Wow…is Victor a troll or just a jerk? “Ahavas yisroel” and your yiddishkeit don’t mean anything unless you demonstrate some compassion in your comments.

    Sarah · March 8th, 2009 at 6:49 am
  37. I’m just happy I landed on this page. Where has JamDaven been all my life??

    Farrah · March 19th, 2009 at 4:43 am
  38. Jews are not white. They may appear to be white because many of them have been living for centuries in close contact with white people in Europe. But Jews are of Semitic origin. Semites are Caucasoids but are not and never have been white.

    trinester · April 17th, 2009 at 8:41 am
  39. [...] has provoked some lively and fascinating commentary, and some lively and fascinating criticism. On Jewschool and Jew and the Carrot, readers pointed out — rightly — that, though our cast includes [...]

    Mixed Multitudes - My Jewish Learning: Exploring Judaism & Jewish Life » Blog Archive » “How Jews Look” and the Identity Police · April 30th, 2009 at 2:29 pm
  40. [...] MyJewishLearning’s first mini-documentary, How Jews Look, caused a bit of a stir, well, this one is sure to hit home for even more people. It investigates what might be among the [...]

    How Jews Eat | Jewschool · May 1st, 2009 at 11:58 am
  41. In response to Victor, another perspective that comes out of “a jew of color” is that the term, “jews of color” is not an awareness that the general “non-jewish” population is educated in. The majority of non jews do not realize that one can be: a mexican-jew, spanish jew, italian jew, russian jew, black-jew, etc. We as jews, know this. Non-jews do not. In my opinion, joelzenny and uzi said it best. I wish this information could be read by many more than just on this blog.

    Rey Michael Urias-Strawbridge · June 11th, 2009 at 10:28 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik