By Lindy Diamond, Editor Cape Jewish Chronicle
I love Googling. But sometimes through no fault of its own, Google doesn’t get (what it obviously believes are) my more obscure search requests.
This month I wanted to write about a charming peculiarity of some Jewish people (me) to find the Jews in whichever segment of the entertainment industry we happen to be enjoying at that moment. The actual connection to Judaism may be vague. It doesn’t matter.
When those names roll on the opening credits, I start scanning for a little bit of yiddishkeit. The plot develops, and I look for the signs that aren’t the obvious stereotypes, but subtle little nods that only Jewish writers, or ad-libbing Jewish actors would include. And after the movie, if I’m unsure, I do a little Googling to confirm my hunch.
It isn’t really important the level to which they identify as Jewish, or if they identify at all… I will claim them! And, amusingly, I have also claimed some non-Jews, perhaps because of a Jewish-sounding surname, or because of that one time they tweeted about ‘matza-ball soup’, or because they grew up in New York.
When I wrote, at the beginning of the year, about the idea of ‘acting Jewish loudly in public so that other Jews know you are Jewish’ Google quickly and definitively returned the phrase ‘to Bagel’ and I had what I needed to finish my column.
But this month has been more challenging. All my searches related to finding a phrase for proudly identifying Jewish people in the entertainment industry yielded results pertaining to antisemitism, the Holocaust and some bizarre ‘Jews control the media’ rubbish.
It seems that I am either not getting my search phrasing correct, or there isn’t a term for what I consider to be one of my most enjoyable pastimes.
So, what do we call it when we find great pleasure in pointing out fellow Jews in movies, on stage and on the radio? It’s such a funny thing to do; their religion has no bearing on their talent nor on the subject matter of their movies or songs, and yet connecting to them in this way feels comforting, and it opens our Jewish communal tent to include even our more secular interests.
My children nod politely when we are watching a movie and I go “Hey, do you know he is Jewish?” Sometimes I get a confused reply like “You mean Harry Potter is Jewish?!” or “What do you mean Count Dracula (in Hotel Transylvania) is Jewish, how can a vampire be Jewish?), and then I have to explain that I mean the actor, not the character, and we continue watching, with them never realising how much joy it gives me to pass on these tidbits of useless trivia.
I guess it comes back to the importance of representation in mainsteam media. Just as it’s vital for children of colour to have access to dolls that they can identify with, it’s important for the LGBTQIA+ community to have intelligently-written characters that they can identify with in the movies on offer each year, and it’s wonderfully comforting to see Jewish actors, astronauts and scientists for my children to link their Jewish identity to.
I do sometimes feel a bit like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when I’m dragging secular culture back to my ethnic roots whenever I can, but it feels so good to feel proud of fellow Jews all over the world doing amazing things and I want my children to recognise Jewish people in their everyday lives.
It may not be the most useful of pastimes, but at least if we should ever meet a Jewish celebrity face-to-face, we’ll know that we should start to Bagel.
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