As an American Jew living in the UK, I thought it would only be right to compare the two (because we all love a good fight). Considering I’m not a religious Jew, but a proud cultural one, I will focus on the fun stuff (or as the Brits would say, ‘the fun bits’). In a time of political upheaval in Europe rife with anti-Semitism, I will keep this light, because if we can’t laugh at ourselves… we’re fucked.
New York bagels vs. London beigels
There is a myth that food in England is horrible. Perhaps it once was but that is definitely not the case anymore. Some of my favorite meals have been in London restaurants. However, when it comes to bagels, America wins HANDS DOWN.
As a Jew who grew up in New York, there is no contest here: New York bagels rule. Anyone from any walk of life who has ever tasted one will tell you that. They say it’s in the water, but I think the love affair runs deeper. New York bagels epitomize the Jews of the city. They’ve got a slightly hard, glazed shell yet when combined with a fluffy, soft center, you can’t help but want to convert. Too many might constipate you, but hey, nothing a good New Yawk cawfee couldn’t solve! There’s a bagel flavor to satisfy everyone¾even for your Aunt Esther who hates everything.
London beigels are plain, which is a shame, because London Jews are not. There’s only one kind of beigel and they’re significantly smaller than New York ones. I find them tasteless. It’s the kind of bread that gets stuck in your teeth (and surely that can’t be right). Their only saving grace is London smoked salmon that comes from Scotland. It is fresher and more tender than in the U.S. London Jews can thank Moses McGregor for that!
But this is about bagels/beigels, not salmon and so America overwhelmingly wins this one.
American-Jewish gangsters vs. British-Jewish gangsters
We’ve all heard of Bugsy Siegel, probably the most well known Jewish gangster. He was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and is one of the brilliant, hedonistic architects behind the Vegas Strip. There have been plenty of movies and books telling his story. Unfortunately in most, if not all Bugsy portrayals, he’s a nudnik, an annoying person taking up my time.
Less well known are the Jewish gangsters of the UK. In the latter years of the 19th century and early half of the 20th century, these guys ruled East and North London, primarily Camden. There is a popular TV series here in the UK called “Peaky Blinders”. Tom Hardy plays a Jewish gangster called Alfie Solomons, who has some serious charisma. Plus, everything sounds better with a British accent.
Jerry Seinfeld vs. Sacha Baron Cohen
Seinfeld, along with Larry David (another brilliant stateside Jew), created one of the best TV sitcoms of all time about ‘nothing’. The show is on permanent syndication worldwide and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who cannot recite line after line from the show. It’s quintessentially New York without trying to be. The fact that George’s parents are from Queens (which is where I was raised) makes it very hard not to root for Seinfeld.
But then there’s Sacha Baron Cohen. He is best known for his hilarious satirical roles as Ali G and Borat. His versatility is sexy. It also helps that he cleverly uses Hebrew in the film Borat (which is his character’s native tongue of ‘Kazakh’). For those of us who understand the language, Cohen added an extra layer of self-deprecating humor. It was like being in a secret club (and not the kind of conspiracy clubs people often accuse us of being in).
I love Seinfeld the show, I do, but Seinfeld the man is a bit too whiny for my liking – sort of like Woody Allen. We’re a neurotic people enough, no need to add to the weak Jewish guys stereotype. Cohen is a man’s man (who made a nod to the Mother Land) and for that, I’m going to have to give this one to the Brits.
The Beastie Boys vs. Amy Winehouse
Here we have extraordinary Jewish talent representing both countries. I chose them specifically because being Jewish was never the focus – their music was, and I like that. When you think of Jews in music you often think Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. I like them, but going back to the aforementioned Seinfeld stereotype do we really need more schmaltz? I’m an in-yo-face Shebrew and I love these artists for being bold. The Beastie Boys and Amy Winehouse are creative Jews who soaked up the energy of their respective homelands and transformed it into something truly special.
The Beastie Boys were the first hip-hop group to bring live instruments into their recordings. They were also the first ones to use multiple samplings (e.g., they would use a drum track from a James Brown record and a double bass track from a Herbie Hancock record). It changed how hip-hop was recorded and is still the cornerstone to hip-hop songwriting and recording today:
Amy Winehouse had a soulful voice that could not be denied. She found a way to express her pain and find strength in that. The fact that she was a bit tortured makes the Jew in me resonate with her even more. A statue in her honor has recently been erected in Camden, London where she was born and raised (most London Jews live in North London and Camden is one of the boroughs):
Choosing between these two is a tough one. I adore both and listen to them regularly. Amy was soulful, yes, but she was retro. That’s certainly not a bad thing as I LOVE the retro style, but she didn’t bring anything particularly new other than revamping (albeit very well!) an old staple. The Beastie Boys however, were pioneers, and this distinction edges them over the beloved, late Amy Winehouse.
I will leave the comparisons here with a 2:2 tie (or as the Brits call it, a ‘draw’) because the similarities, quite frankly, mean more.
I’ve lived in London for close to four years now and at first, I must admit, it took some adjusting. Beigels simply wouldn’t Jew. European Jews generally have a more difficult time than our tribe in the States (obviously due to a very long history of anti-Semitism on the continent). However, unlike American Jews who only hear stories of their grandmother’s Romanian village, UK Jews can pay £39 for a flight to Romania and see the village itself. Flights to Israel are relatively cheap as well. The European history may be bleak, but hearing the ghostly whispers of 6,000,000+ Jews is empowering.
Both cities have had Jewish ghettos that through the perseverance of their inhabitants, as well as through the majority society that surrounded them, became thriving communities that enhanced the city they lived in. When I look at the two photos below, a NYC ghetto and a London ghetto, I see no difference.
Jews on both sides of the pond, love/hate their families, enjoy cooking and inviting friends over for dinner, are neurotic as hell, know how to party and have a good time, and perhaps most importantly, always look out for one another. We can’t agree on politics and we love to kvetch but we always have each other’s back.
Whether I’m saying ‘oy’ or ‘oi’*, I’m in good company.
*’Oi’ is London Cockney slang for ‘hey’ and pronounced the same as ‘oy’.
Daphna Anducich-Rowe was born in Hamburg raised in New York City and currently resides in London. Her career path has meandered from corporate America to the world of art and music. She received an MSc in International Relations from the University of Bristol in 2011, and is a member of The International Society of Political Psychology.