The musician Macklemore made an offensive jab at Jews while singing, “Thrift shop,” dressed in a stereotypical Ashkenazic Jewish costume. But, what happens when Bubbie, Zaydie, or a close friend makes a Jewish joke? A public figure versus family; I think one has more power than the other one.
We were sitting in our living room watching Frozen after a large meal with family and friends. My children, like others around their age, are currently obsessed with the frost-covered fairy-tale. What made it more exciting for the kids was that a few of our guests had never seen the movie before; the kids were so excited to share it. My children beamed at our guests each time one of their favorite parts came on; I knew the scene where Anna and Kristoff meet Olaf the snowman would be no exception.
Then it happened. Anna and Kristoff met Olaf, and Anna gave Olaf a long, carrot nose. One of my guests joked, “Well, he must be Jewish.”
I looked in panic at my children, hoping they hadn’t heard the remark, searching their faces for signs of confusion. I was relieved that they were happily distracted by the movie. No one in the room who had heard the comment seemed remotely concerned, and I couldn’t help but feel alarmed. Then I realized that everyone in the room, including the person who made the comment, was born Jewish; everyone except for me.
I wondered why I found this comment so horribly offensive and why no one else was offended. My mind was flooded with questions: What are we teaching our children about themselves when we let little “jokes” like this slip? Do Jewish children grow up exposed to such stereotypes about themselves? Is this a stereotype we want our Jewish children, or any child, to have growing up?
Why is it okay? Or is it not?
I despise it when people make offensive comments about their own group and believe they are entitled to make such comments because they belong to that group. My guest’s joke about Olaf was trite, but more importantly, it was derogatory, and someone my children love said it in front of them, which, to me, is worse than hearing it from a stranger.
There are too many people, who blame Jews for all of the world’s woes; it helps no one when Jews perpetuate the words and ideas of those who condemn us, even if the words are in jest. Macklemore, John Galliano, Mel Gibson, pick one; they teach us volumes about themselves when they engage in hurtful actions or speech. However, our families are the first people who teach us about ourselves, and our relationship with the world. The messages we give our children become their internal dialogue; and I would argue that the hurtful actions of others matter less, when we give our children a strong sense of self, nurtured by those who love them. The story of a family coming together in love with supporting friends should be the message my children glean from the Disney movie Frozen; I hope it is also a message they learn from life.
Melissa Ginzburg spends her days in light saber battles with little boys dressed as Superman, Spiderman, and the Hulk. When she isn’t fighting for interstellar domination it’s usually because the children are sleeping.
Being Jewish born, I strongly disagree with your takeaway. I don’t believe the comment is inherently derogatory. For that to be true, one would have to believe that the shape of one’s nose is inherently a good or a bad thing.
I know Jews with all types of noses. I’m guessing that the utterer of the statement does as well. In my family, this type of humor is generally intended as a critical comment on the existence of these incorrect stereotypes.
Children are presented with stereotypical comments and judgments as constantly as adults are. We cannot shelter them from that. I consider it more important to teach my children to learn to separate the prejudices they hear from whatever stereotypical features those prejudices may be associated with.
If your family has the stereotypical Ashkenazi features of curly brown hair, olive skin, deep set eyes, long noses, that’s awesome. It’s a great look. But the acknowledgement that those features are associated with Jews should not be confused with a judgment of whether or not those features are acceptable.
And in case you do still believe the comment inherently acknowledges some evil of having a big nose, then please settle for respecting our time honored Jewish heritage of self deprecating humor 😉
But also, what is up with Olaf? It’s more concerning to me that he’s a useless clown of a Jew stereotype that only survives due to the benevolence of a Nordic Aryan princess… What’s that saying?