On the Stereotypical Jew

Englishnormal12It has often struck me how people-who-are-not-Orthodox-Jews (i.e., both non-observant Jews and non-Jews) often have quite negative preconceived notions about the Orthodox. This is seen in numerous press accounts about Jews and Judaism (too many to report, but you’ve all seen many of them), as well as how purported Orthodox Jewish characters are portrayed in popular culture. So when I saw Allisson Josephs’ article in a recent Jewish Press, where she wrote the following quote, she struck a chord:

Though I didn’t personally know any Orthodox Jews until my mid-teens or even so much as have a conversation with one of them until high school, my negative opinion was formed at an early age.

I knew I was Jewish – but I was normal Jewish: American, balanced, part of society.

She struck a chord, because I have been at the receiving end of such prejudice, as in the following actual experience. One day, I got a call from a parent planning the bar/bat mitzvah of a child. The parent tried to explain to me where on the religious continuum “it” (well, he/she) found him/herself. “You should know that we are not Orthodox, we are, eh, well, normal.” My reply? “Pardon me, Sir/Lady, but for one moment, would please step into my shoes and tell me how you think I should feel about THAT?”

I should stress that one advantage of having been the rabbi of a so called Einheitsgemeinde, which has a very heterogenous membership, consisting of both observant and non-observant Jews, and everything in between, has been that there may generally be less stereotyping (though we aren’t immune to it, either, as this story illustrated).

Allison Josephs’ article can be accessed here.

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