For years and years, hipsters and avant garde types (at least here in America) liked Jews… a lot. Jews were the chosen people of hip rebellion: antisemitism was the preserve of bigots in small towns, and genteel stuffed shirts from Connecticut. You’d no more hear blood libel off the lips of a beatnik than the Battle Hymn of the Republic. All that, we are sorry to have to inform you, has changed.
With Jennifer’s cute button nose, she is able to pass as gentile at cocktail parties and hipster soirees. Since she loves her Mediterranean-looking Jewish mother dearly, far more than her cocktail swilling patriarchal line, this is not something she revels in. Nevertheless, she is frequently a fly on the wall at social events full of offbeat types where the Jewbaiting remarks crop up, and crop up they do, with increasing frequency and with alarming use of the old stereotypes
A tattoo artist refers to another tattoo artist as someone who worries a lot because, you know, she’s Jewish.
Or: It figured Jennifer was Jewish, said I., an SSI recipient just one step away from the streets, since she had a low income co-op. This street urchin, hiding her middle-class white origins with coveralls and a rasta name, was accusing the Jew of a preternatural cunning. And yet, while it is hard to find a place in Manhattan, one somehow doesn’t imagine the many thousands of gentiles living in rent-controlled or low-income accommodation being called “cunning” for having an affordable roof over their head.
Or: A gay synthpop musician mentioned he was only being nice to a Jewish producer because he had to “play the game” while his art curator boyfriend claimed another friend of theirs talked a lot because, yes, he was Jewish.
Nor is the plague confined to gentiles. One composer of unusual chamber music threatened to hit Alvin for referring to him as a Jew. “It’s a religion and I’m an atheist.” Alvin’s suggestion that Jewishness (as distinct from Judaism) was an ethnicity was met with a petulant silence. This attitude was rendered all the more ironic by the fact that the composer in question is a hook-nosed Hebrew descendent of Holocaust survivors who issued his ludicrous denials in second generation Yiddish inflections.
There have always been frustrated, jealous, intolerant people looking for scapegoats. These are just a few contemporary examples. What’s worrying is that they feel free to express themselves in openly racist ways here and now – even to deny their own visible heritage. Why is it so unhip to dig the Jews?
Let them Eat Myth
Jennifer Blowdryer and Alvin Orloff
To Ohio and Back
Abba Kovner: The Warrior in Old Age
Men who Laughed
Our 610 Back Pages
Zeek in Print
Fall/Winter 2004 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
How can you be gay and Jewish?
Josh's Dinner in the Cafeteria