Ask Shuli: Why Are Jews So Cliquey?

Dear Shuli:

I only recently started reading TC Jewfolk (my mother referred me here after reading the Strib article, aren’t moms great?) so I wasn’t quite sure who to direct this email to, but it says ask, right? Isn’t that what Judaism is all about, asking?

I would love to see a discussion on the interaction of Christians and Jews in MN. It seems that in today’s society, many Jews tend to stick together very exclusively. After years of anti-Semitism and persecution (that still exists today), do we feel it necessary to make others feel uncomfortable? Why are Jews so cliquey? This past weekend, I happened to run into a group of Jews at a bar while with Christian friends. My Christian friends felt very uncomfortable as people pointed at them and stared like they didn’t belong. We are in a PUBLIC bar, why does this happen? Aren’t we just perpetuating the negative stereotypes that exist when it comes to Jews?

Perhaps you could shed some insight on this subject… I HATE it. I grew up as the token Jew in my hometown and when I see behavior like I did this weekend, it makes me want to keep it that way. I look forward to your response!

— Sveta

Dear Sveta:

One answer to your question comes to mind right away: In Minnesota, there are only about 40,000 Jews (by most estimates). In Minneapolis in particular, anti-Semitism was rampant and virulent for many years (it wasn’t quite as bad in St. Paul, a community of more immigrants). In such a small Jewish community, it seems natural that Jews would want to keep to themselves for security, comfort and simple practicality.

In this day and age, most of us are completely integrated into the general society, which for the most part is Christian. If we choose to live in America—and particularly Minnesota—we can assume this will be true. We’re the minority. Perhaps what you experienced the other day was an example of young people who felt uncomfortable and felt the need to circle the wagons?

At what bar did this take place? Was it a Jewish social event, where the Jewish participants felt surprised that some non-Jewish people showed up? Still, I’m surprised something like that would happen in Minnesota. In Crown Heights, maybe, but not here in the great White North. Were you trying to include your Christian friends in a Hanukkah celebration or other Jewish event? Personally, I’ve never had trouble including my non-Jewish friends or family in Jewish events around town. They’re always welcomed warmly. So… I think I need a bit more context about your experience.

There is one important point I’d like to leave you with: I think I can answer your question, “Why are Jews so cliquey?” Personally, I have plenty of non-Jewish friends, colleagues and even immediate family. But I do find that some of my closest friends are, in the end, Jewish. When it comes down to it, some of us stick to our Jewish cliques because we’re active at synagogue, the JCC, Hadassah, or whatever. And that’s where we make friends. It’s human nature: We want to be with people who are like us, and let’s face it—it’s more comfortable when we don’t have to explain why we wear “that thing on our head” or why we can’t go out to lunch at Jimmy John’s during Passover.

So, would any of you other TC Jewfolk readers out there like to weigh in? Why do Jews tend to stick together so exclusively? Discuss.

(Photo: DigitalArt2)