Monday, October 22, 2007

Nebbishim Ashkenazim

Has anything changed since Woody Allen's artistic peak? Does 'Jewish man' still mean pale, skinny, and intellectual? (Is there anything wrong with pale, skinny, and intellectual?) Do Jewish men still sit around in book-lined Upper West Side apartments complaining about politics and minor physical ailments? Apparently. From Garance Franke-Ruta, via Matthew Yglesias:

[...] I wonder sometimes if I am not watching American Jewish men seeking to share in the “normal” masculinity of their Israeli counterparts by identifying with the most militaristic and hawkish aspects of that society.

Since she bases this on anecdotal evidence, I'll reject it with an anecdotal counterargument. Often those American Jewish men who identify with the Roth-Allen tradition, who self-deprecatingly note their ineptitude at athletics and implied ineptitude in other areas, are the ones most put off by Zionism, and quickest to distance themselves from the neoconservative movement, connected as it is to rural American Christian fundamentalism, the natural enemy of New York Jewry. The American Jewish men who embrace Zionism are often the same as the ones who join Jewish fraternities. Members of this set are a fallen yarmulke away from the all-American mainstream. At UChicago at least, they sometimes join the military after college. I cannot speak for their inner lives, but they were less self-consciously intellectual than average, at a school where ostentatious intellectualism is the norm.

That, and the 'pale intellectual' stereotype of the Jewish man is a generalization regarding Ashkenazim but altogether irrelevant when discussing Sephardim (remember the anti-intellectual Syrians?). Part of what makes Israeli men non-Woody Allen-esque is the fact that they are from a different cultural and ethnic pool than American Jewish men such as Woody Allen. Even Jerry Seinfeld, whom we recently learned is half-Syrian, does not fit the bookish nebbish mode.

And finally, from Matthew's ever-amusing comments section:

"Like TheGarance, lots of Jewish women want to settle down with a nice Jewish boy, but they want to go out with some hot studly goyishe bad boy."

I think someone watched this '80s-movie classic a few too many times.


Nick said...

I'd be happy settling down with a nice jewish boy.

Not that that's especially relevant.

(Hi! How's life? We should do something, sometime...)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Absolutely--when's good?

Anonymous said...

I live in Chicago's North Shore and grew up in the East in a very traditional ashkenzim environment so if I could offer the following?

A lot of the Jewish neocons we see now are also third, fourth or fifth generation so they are pretty far removed from the older ashkenazim traditions. Also, at least here in the land of the sleek, well endowed and heavily entitled, neocon politics would appeal because it sounds good, and is easy to understand because of the generalizations it relies on.

More traditional thinking like that of Roth or Allen requires the ability and desire to understand the grey area in between the lines. These men also tend to belong to the Convservative or Orthodox movement, but they belong there by default - it's where they grew up and they don't necessarily understand their movements background and underpinings. If they are Reform, I would bet dollars to donuts that their synogogue now practices the super hyped up extra crunchy neo con version of Reform.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"neo con version of Reform."

I thought Reform was about being super-lefty? At least that was my experience with the movement.

Anonymous said...

Reform does have a long tradition of social activism. Our temple is in the process of renewing that tradition.

What I was referring to in a flip way was the tendancy of the movement now to "Conservative" up their religious practices. There's a lot more Hebrew in the services, a lot more Sephardim stuff, in many temples you see a lot of yalmukas and all the other trappings. My point is it seems to me that the movement has abandoned the classical traditions and are trying to show the rest of the Jewish world that we can be "just like them.", the conservative and orthodox movement.