Top 10 Things Jewish 20-Somethings Are Tired Of Hearing

Top 10 Things Jewish 20-Somethings Are Tired Of Hearing

I’d say that one or the other might shock you, but to be frank, I hope they all do.

My roommate Juliette and I are both Jewish, and we both grew up in places where there weren’t as many Jews as there were gentiles (non-Jews). The other day, we started chatting about what it was like to always be the first Jew the gentiles around us had ever met. We quickly realized that we had similar memories about the kinds of things people would immediately say once we “outed” ourselves as Jewish, and we soon had enough of these statements to make a top ten list.

This might go without saying, but the use of the word “top” here is sarcastic. There’s nothing “top” about these things. But let’s chat about that once you’ve finished reading the list.

1. “Really? Oh, I didn’t know!”

As innocuous as this line might seem, it reveals the most common gut reaction of gentiles upon learning that we are Jewish: surprise. It tells me that the person I’m talking to just plain did not expect to meet a Jew today, which means that they assumed I was not a Jew. It tells me that, for them, meeting a Jew is a strange thing, and a big deal. And it really shouldn’t be.

This reaction makes me wonder if they’d say the same thing if I “revealed” myself to be Christian. But most Americans, especially in the white-bread Midwest, expect everyone they meet to be Christian, so if I was one, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to them.

2. “You don’t look Jewish.”

This one is related to the one before it. It tells you a lot about people’s preconceived notions of Jews – that we are strange and different, and you’d be able to pick “one of them” out just by looking. Appropriate responses to this statement include, “What you mean is, I don’t look like a Jewish stereotype,” “Jews look like people, too,” or “I know, right?! I’m like a secret agent!”

I’ve never actually said that last one. But I’ve thought it. Sarcastically.

3. “Where are your horns?”

I wish I was joking. I’m not.

When the only things people know about Jews is what their churches or media sources have told them, their ideas about us can get pretty skewed. It can get to the point where people, without exaggeration, don’t even think of us as human.

4. “You don’t believe in Jesus? Then what do you believe in?!?”

I can’t speak for other Jews, but personally I don’t mind teaching people about my religion. What bothers me about this line is the tone. The shock, the incredulity. The gentile’s eyes widen and their face silently screams at us, “How could you possibly believe something different than me?!?” They just seem so unsettled by the thought.

The worst part is, teaching people about your religion often doesn’t make them feel less unsettled. I once had a very long talk with someone who couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that Jews don’t think that the New Testament was written by G-d. She kept pointing to the verses in the New Testament where G-d says “Jesus is my son” and asking me if I thought that G-d was a liar. It really bothered her.

(Side note: an important prerequisite question to any question about our religion is, “Can I ask you a question about your religion?” If we say no, accept it and look it up on MyJewishLearning.)

5. “Do you speak Jewish?”

This question again reveals how little people know about Judaism, which again makes us feel like there’s something strange or unusual about us. Let’s have a quick vocabulary lesson:

Jew – a noun, a person who believes in Judaism. As in, “I am a Jew.” (Though we generally prefer it when gentiles say “Jewish person” instead of “Jew,” because the latter has been used by gentiles as a slur)
Jewish – an adjective, of or pertaining to Judaism. As in “We are Jewish people,” “We participate in Jewish traditions,” and “I am Jewish.”
Judaism – a noun, the name of the Jewish people’s religion. As in, “Judaism is my religion.”
Hebrew – the language the Torah and most Jewish prayers are written in, one of the two national languages of Israel. As in, “To answer the question you meant to ask, I do not speak Hebrew, but I can read its alphabet and would like to be fluent in it someday.”

6. “You’re one of G-d’s chosen people?”

Sometimes the person we’re talking to gets really serious and quiet, and says something like this. I call it “benevolent antisemitism” – it tells us that the person thinks we’re strange and different, but it’s because we’re “special” and deserving of some kind of extra reverence. It’s like how some sexists, rather than attack women, think that women should be put on pedestals (and it really is called benevolent sexism).

This reaction, though a little nicer than “where are your horns,” makes us very uncomfortable. It’s just as dehumanizing to think of us not as individual human beings but as someone that you should be nice to because G-d “chose” us. Besides, Jews have a complicated relationship with the whole “chosen people” thing. Believing that G-d has put extra responsibilities on your back, and that G-d has given you a distinctive label that other religious groups use to attack you, is no party. As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, “I know we are Your chosen people. But once in a while, can't You choose someone else?”

7. “How can you live without bacon?!?”

I’ve heard this one enough times that it’s stopped sounding like the joke it’s probably supposed to be. I mean, it is actually possible to live without eating bacon. It’s also possible to live without combining milk and meat. But people seem to love talking keeping kosher as if it’s something impossible that no normal person would put themselves through. Which reminds us Jews that people think we are – you guessed it – strange and different.

8. “I’m so jealous, you get eight days of presents!” or “You’re so lucky, you get extra days off of school!”

For all that Christian gentiles don’t know about Judaism, they tend to know that (1) Chanukah is a thing and (2) other Jewish holidays don’t fall during “normal” school breaks. I’ve talked about this before, and again I can’t speak for other Jews, but here’s a brief summary of my reactions to these holiday-related statements:

“Well, maybe some people get presents every day of Chanukah, but my family isn’t very big on present-giving, so I don’t. We’re more into spending time together than materialism. That’s all Chanukah is, really – a way to get in on the materialist, capitalist Christmas fun. And no, we don’t get ‘extra’ days off of school. Our holidays are not excused. Yours are. You don’t have to make up homework when you spend Christmas with your family instead of going to school. You’ve never had to choose between participating in a marching band competition and attending Easter Sunday services. So no, you really aren’t jealous of us, and we aren’t lucky. Thanks for reminding me that our public school system treats my religion as less important than yours.”

9. “How can you justify Israel’s actions?!?”

On this one, I will actually be brief: a person’s opinion on Israel is a separate conversation from whether or not they are Jewish. It’s like asking a random Protestant, “How can you justify the KKK’s actions?” You don’t know that they do. This question attributes a hive mind mentality to a person who, like any other human being, is perfectly capable of forming their own opinions.

10. “I’m so sorry!”

Juliette sums this one up nicely: “It’s because they just said something offensive about Jews.”

This is the longest article I’ve ever written for the Odyssey, but every part of this needs to be said.

Juliette and I understand that these statements usually come from a place of ignorance rather than malice. But that doesn’t make them “okay.” Intent does not change impact.

And the impact that these statements have is to tell Jews that we are “other.” They tell us that it is strange to meet a Jewish person, that to be a Jew is to be abnormal or somehow socially unacceptable. These phrases not only make the Jews who hear them feel awful, but also tells the gentiles who hear them that Jews are “other,” because other people think so, too. That kind of thinking encourages dehumanization. And it needs to stop.

Cover Image Credit: Sophie Katz

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it


Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

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You Ain’t Waiting For God To Bring You Your Dinner, You Get Up And Go Cook It

My words often get jumbled and don't make sense, so I figured writing it would help me come across clearly.


Dear guy friends of mine,

I want you to know how grateful I am for your friendship. Having close guy friends has helped me better understand men and learn how the male species operates. I've been able to ask you so many questions and you've responded with thoughtfulness, kindness, grace, and honesty. I appreciate your willingness to talk to me.

I want to encourage you in something, and with some of you I have tried, but I think I came across as a little crazy. From what I've been told by married women, guys are very afraid of actual crazy. You want your girl to have some crazy (because all women have at least a little bit of crazy), but you don't want her to be, like, crazy. I get that and respect that.

I want to encourage you to ask girls out. It's scary. You're afraid of rejection. I know this because several of you have told me so. I recently spoke with a guy who's been married for a few years and has a baby daughter. He told me that you guys are scared, you don't want to put your heart on the line and have it crushed. That's a good reason not to pursue girls: you'll remain safe and free from hurt if you don't put your feelings out there.

But here's the other side of it: You'll never find that girl if you never search for her. Now, I know that all things happen in God's timing and as imperfect humans, we can't force things to happen outside of God's timeline. However, Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas said this in a sermon several years ago:

"But something's happened in evangelical circles where if you're single you're supposed to not want to be married, but be content in a spot and that's somehow more glorifying than following God's wiring of you to want a mate. And so in the end what happens is that you walk around like a liar. I mean, poor young ladies! Almost all of them have been told, "As soon as you're content, God will send you a man." So you've got hundreds of thousands of women running around acting content! "I'm content, where is he?" You've got other guys going, "You know, I'm just gonna wait for God to bring me the right one." Well, you ain't waiting for God to bring you your dinner, alright? You get up and go cook it."

Pastor Chandler goes on to say that he's not telling the guys to go on the hunt and prowl. No! He's telling guys that they have a role to play in pursuing a woman to marry. Girls have a role to play, too. Girls can't just hang out with their girlfriends in hopes that they'll lock eyes with Prince Charming while in the grocery store or walking their dog in the park. No, girls need to build up the guys in their lives and respect them by letting the guys be guys and giving them opportunities to be gentlemen. That's what I appreciate about you guys, my guy friends. You are such gentlemen and I love that. Don't be afraid to ask out the girl that you think is sweet, cute, pretty, funny, kind, silly, honest, loyal, and the right amount of crazy. You've got this!

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