NYT on Hipster Hanukkahs

Opening with the Jewcy/Natan Party and expanding to cover a full breadth of alterna-kitschy Hanukkah bacchanalia, The New York Times homes in on why this particular holiday gets the mayhem treatment: It’s part of the Jewish conspiracy against Christmas!

“A Jewcy Chanukah” is but one of many kitschy celebrations that in the past few years have made comedy as much a part of Hanukkah as latkes and sour cream. The irreverent and sometimes R-rated Hanukkah productions, popping up during what many people have called a Jewish hipster moment, are largely a reaction to what many Jews say is an overwhelming amount of Christmas hoopla. Their humor-laden productions attract thousands of young Jews (some of whom have never gravitated toward their own culture before) and, perhaps inadvertently, raise the question of what it means to be Jewish.

This is actually pretty interesting, considering that past generations elevated Hanukkah to its central role in American Jewish culture largely to compete with the overwhelming presence of Christmas. If younger Jews are revelling in self-consciously absurd Hanukkah celebrations, it’s a reaction not only to the ubiquity of Christmas in America, but also to the tendency of previous generations of Jews to “ape the Gentiles.” And that’s a good thing.
Elsewhere in the article, Rabbi Marc Gellman of “The God Squad” offers up an odd observation.

But those who define themselves as “cultural” Jews may alter their definitions over time, Rabbi Gellman said. “When they have kids,” he said, “they’ll say: ‘What do you mean? Of course my kid will have a bar mitzvah.’ ” He also pointed out that while some people call themselves “cultural” Jews, “Judaism defines identity by blood, not by belief.” Translation: If your mother is Jewish, so are you.

Really? Judaism defines itself by blood, not by belief? That’s news to me, and I think Jews-by-choice (i.e., converts) would take issue with such a view.
Oh, by the way, now that it’s been covered in The New York Times, the whole “Cool Jew” trend/movement/phenomenon is now officially OVER.
Full story.

17 thoughts on “NYT on Hipster Hanukkahs

  1. “Judaism defines identity by blood, not by belief.”
    Odd that, I must have some Jewish blood in me….or Rabbi Gellman is dead wrong. We also have a problem, because Ruth couldn’t have possibly identified as Jewish either…and what oh what would have her great-grandson thought?

  2. EV, “Cool Jew” ain’t over til *we* say it’s over, and I say it ain’t over til it’s over, and it ain’t over!
    It ain’t over until every prepubescent Christian child demands a bar/bat mitzvah from his/her dumbfounded parents.
    It ain’t over until Adam Sandler has worked his heartwarming brand of strongly-Jewishly-ident ifying humor into ever Christian home in America.
    What I’m saying is… It ain’t over until we completely abolish Christmas!!
    MWAA HA HA HA HA HA!!! Death to Christmas! Death to Christmas!! The “War on Christmas” has been joined! Fox News finally got a story right.
    We won’t stop until every Walmart shopper is not only wished a “Happy Holiday” rather than a “Merry Christmas” when they walk in the store, but—in the TRUE spirit of Hanukkah—is also forcibly circumcised with a dull flint rock. (Women too! They didn’t do it back then, but it seems to work well in modern Egypt…)
    You know how each year at Rockefeller Center the “Holiday Tree” (as our JEW mayor called it) gets larger and larger? Well, next year, I predict it will be incrimentally shorter. Or, at the very least, the same height as this year. TAKE THAT, CHRISTMAS!
    You notice how on every street corner there’s a guy in a Santa suit ringing a bell? Well I predict that next year, standing next to him, there will be a black-hatted Orthodox Jew holding Hanukkah candles asking passersby, “Are you Jewish?! Are you Jewish?!”
    Oh wait, we already have that. YES! Take THAT, Christmas. We’re winning! The Jews are winning! The 80% of the American public that consider themselves Christian are actually a persecuted minority in their own country!!!
    Ah, I’m just kidding. The “Cool Jew” thing is totally over. But hey, there’ll still be parties ‘n shit so don’t worry EV, you can keep trolling for Jewess ass. I know that’s why you got into this whole bloggin’ game to begin with, playah.

  3. It’s not over til we say it is….or at least until that dull flint rock is greeting every Walmart shopper in the United States of Canada (what self-respecting hipster would live in a red state except for the South Florida Free Zone?).
    For one thing, the “Cool Jew” thing has barely begun outside of NYC, unless you really think being hip is strictly a Manhattan thing. Hey, we get Yuri Lane, John Zorn, and Sarah Silverman too — and OUR team won the World Series!

  4. To be Jewish, you are either born to a Jewish mother or a convert.
    There is no such thing as “Judaism by choice”. A person who converts (through a proper, real conversion) is as Jewish as any other Jew. They count for a minyan, they light shabbos candles…. they are obligated to keep all the mitzvot.
    Only thing about it which I don’t know is if a Jewish women donates her eggs are the children considered Jewish? What if she is the surrogate mother?

  5. you got the gellman quote totally wrong, EV. he was saying that cultural judaism is actually a rehearsal for more traditional jewish observance down the line. as someone totally suspicious of religion in general, even though i don’t share gellman’s piety, he’s totally right.

  6. It’s not literally Jewish blood. He’s saying that if you mother was Jewish, then you’re Jewish. And converts have a Jewish soul.
    You seem pretty quick to jump on Rabbi Gellman, EV.

  7. I’m going through the conversion process right now and though I was born from a Jewish woman I definitely have a Jewish soul!

  8. If by “blood” he meant transmission of Jewish values and not genetics, then I did misread him. But the “Translation” addendum made it sound like he meant blood-lines. But yeah, I admit I’m quick to jump on him. It’s the bowtie.

  9. Actually, I think Gellman’s quote is kind of stupid. Yeah, maybe they’ll force their kids to go through the motions of a “religious” bar/bat mitzvah, but only to get to the $10 million party with P-Ditty afterwards. (I know it was 50-Cent, but by purposely mistaking them I’m commenting on how interchangeable I find all those rappers to be. Please, try to keep up with my oh-so subtle humor here.) There was proof of that in the recent speech by Eric Yoffie at the Reform Biennial when he pointed to the drop-out rate of synagogue affiliation after bar/bat mitzvah as being astronomical. Why? Because people aren’t finding a spiritual home or a sense of community; they’re just using synagogues as a service industry, which is what many have become. (Please don’t chime in about how welcoming your shteibel is, I really don’t care. This is MY worldview.)
    So in reality, the bar/bat mitzvah for the majority of families is as much if not more a Jewish “cultural” thing than a religious thing. So I don’t know what Gellman is diluting himself about.
    ON THE OTHER HAND, we’ve found in our research that it is an incredibly powerful event in an individual’s life, to stand up in front of his/her community at age 12 or 13 and declare “I’m a Jew, I’m a Jewish adult.” But that doesn’t make it a RELIGIOUS event. Did YOU “feel God” on your Bar/Bat Mitzvah day? Or did you just feel nervousness and embarrassment, followed by relief, your first taste of alcohol, and an odd new stirring in your loins for Ronit Kaplan, who gave you your first kiss that night? Uh, wait, maybe that was just me.
    ps- I read the thing about blood as totally race-based as well, but perhaps because of the line added by the reporter afterwards.

  10. Proud, I think you make a decent argument that just because they are having a bar mitzvah doesn’t mean it’s for the right reasons… but by engaging in some Jewish practice, they’ll at least get a taste for it. At that point, it’s up to them to decide how involved to get religiously, and surely some do become more religious or involved.

  11. Can someone please act on the article’s suggestions? I definitely want to see a “Miracle on Hester Street” and a “Radio City Hanukkah Spectacular” (which would clearly star Matisyahu…and Fat Mike).
    But really, the best part of the article was the quote making fun of the Matzo Ball — “a bunch of pathetic Jewish singles trying to drink enough Manischewitz to forget that they were probably going to be alone on New Year’s Eve.”

  12. first off, big props to jewcy et al for the piece!!
    but this san francisco jewish tee shirt queen has gotta take offense at the notion that the “whole jewish hipster revival is a new york LA thing.” fuck that. obviously these guys did their research in SF, in chicago, in austin, in atlanta and in berkeley. whatever. hell, there’s even ahipster jewish revival going on in jerusalem.
    the majority of my sales are not to new yorkers or angelenos, although for sure that’s a huge piece of the action. they’re to midwestern college students. put that in your greasy skillet and smoke it.

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