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

Popular Right Now

​An Open Letter To The People Who Don’t Tip Their Servers

This one's for you.

Dear Person Who Has No Idea How Much The 0 In The “Tip:" Line Matters,

I want to by asking you a simple question: Why?

Is it because you can't afford it? Is it because you are blind to the fact that the tip you leave is how the waiter/waitress serving you is making their living? Is it because you're just lazy and you “don't feel like it"?

Is it because you think that, while taking care of not only your table but at least three to five others, they took too long bringing you that side of ranch dressing? Or is it just because you're unaware that as a server these people make $2.85 an hour plus TIPS?

The average waiter/waitress is only supposed to be paid $2.13 an hour plus tips according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That then leaves the waiter/waitress with a paycheck with the numbers **$0.00** and the words “Not a real paycheck." stamped on it. Therefore these men and women completely rely on the tips they make during the week to pay their bills.

So, with that being said, I have a few words for those of you who are ignorant enough to leave without leaving a few dollars in the “tip:" line.

Imagine if you go to work, the night starts off slow, then almost like a bomb went off the entire workplace is chaotic and you can't seem to find a minute to stop and breathe, let alone think about what to do next.

Imagine that you are helping a total of six different groups of people at one time, with each group containing two to 10 people.

Imagine that you are working your ass off to make sure that these customers have the best experience possible. Then you cash them out, you hand them a pen and a receipt, say “Thank you so much! It was a pleasure serving you, have a great day!"

Imagine you walk away to attempt to start one of the 17 other things you need to complete, watch as the group you just thanked leaves, and maybe even wave goodbye.

Imagine you are cleaning up the mess that they have so kindly left behind, you look down at the receipt and realize there's a sad face on the tip line of a $24.83 bill.

Imagine how devastated you feel knowing that you helped these people as much as you could just to have them throw water on the fire you need to complete the night.

Now, realize that whenever you decide not to tip your waitress, this is nine out of 10 times what they go through. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to realize that this is someone's profession — whether they are a college student, a single mother working their second job of the day, a new dad who needs to pay off the loan he needed to take out to get a safer car for his child, your friend, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, you.

If you cannot afford to tip, do not come out to eat. If you cannot afford the three alcoholic drinks you gulped down, plus your food and a tip do not come out to eat.

If you cannot afford the $10 wings that become half-off on Tuesdays plus that water you asked for, do not come out to eat.

If you cannot see that the person in front of you is working their best to accommodate you, while trying to do the same for the other five tables around you, do not come out to eat. If you cannot realize that the man or woman in front of you is a real person, with their own personal lives and problems and that maybe these problems have led them to be the reason they are standing in front of you, then do not come out to eat.

As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a $40 bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes — as if you're better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights.

I wonder if maybe one day you will be in our shoes, and I hope to God no one treats you how you have treated us. But if they do, then maybe you'll realize how we felt when you left no tip after we gave you our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hailea Shallock

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

7 Bible Verses For The Insanely Stressed Out College Student

Bible verses to bring peace of mind as finals rapidly approach.


As finals quickly approach and the academic year begins to wind down, it's easy to find yourself becoming bogged down with stress. Despite your religious background, these verses can provide solace and peace to those most in need of it during this stressful time of year.

1. Matthew 6:34

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

2. Psalm 34:19

"The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from all."

3. John 16:33

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

4. Psalm 42:5a

"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God."

5. Philippians 4:13

"I can do all things through him who gives me strength."

6. John 14:27

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

7. Philippians 4:6-7

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And in the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Related Content

Facebook Comments