Seinfeld, JDate and Chinese food: New definitions of American Judaism
As an American Jew, I participate in many ancient rituals relating to the
holidays. We have sedarim on Passover, we eat latkes on Hanukkah,
and, most importantly, we eat Chinese food on Christmas.
But why is Christmas different from all other nights? Because Chinese food on
Christmas is our tradition, of course. Here are what I've identified as five
pillars of American Jewry.
Pillars of American Jewry
- The watching, quoting and cult following of Seinfeld.
Admit it. You have watched at least one episode of Seinfeld and
wondered if the writers used your life as inspiration. This self-titled
"show about nothing" is not necessarily a Jewish show by definition, but
it is a huge part of our culture. Jerry's parents are your typical
worriers and many of the other characters have stereotypically Jewish
ideals. I'm always shocked when I meet a Jew who doesn't watch the show.
Don't believe in Seinfeld? No soup for you!
- JDate. How could I describe our American Jewish culture without
mentioning the service that links us all together? In a religion driven
by families and relationships in a country obsessed with the Internet,
JDate is a staple that's hard to ignore. While I've promised myself I
won't join the dating service until at least after college, I know many
people who are thrilled with the love they found online. And why
wouldn't they be? In addition to learning that your potential lover is a
medical resident who plays the oboe, owns three poodles and is a
Sagittarius looking for an Aries, you can see that he's not only
politically conservative but also religiously Conservative and keeps
kosher in his home but not out. What more of an online Yente could you
- The idol worshipping of Natalie Portman. She's talented. She's
pretty. She's smart (a Harvard graduate—what nachas!) and she's
Israeli. So naturally, every American Jewish male is infatuated with
her. I know a guy whose key claim to fame is that Ms. Portman went to
his high school in Maryland for a year. He, like most guys, has
practically built a shrine in her honor. I mean, any girl who can go
from strong-willed Queen Amidala in Star Wars to sweet Sam
in Garden State to a risqué gangster rapper on Saturday
Night Live is a Jew I'm glad is on my team. But the mass Jewish male
idol worshipping of her? It must be a skill they taught the boys in Bar
Mitzvah lessons or something. Boys, worship her all you want. Just don't
be too heartbroken if she chooses Zach Braff (also on our team) over
- Pilgrimage to New York. It's the capital of American Jewry. New
Yorkers might even call it the Promised Land. It's a place where you can
see Spamalot and then get a kosher 26-oz. rib steak. Everybody
has relatives in New York (or, if not a relative, maybe a JDate buddy)
or such other sacred sites as Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.
New York is headquarters of the Conservative Movement's biggest rabbi
factory and home to the mascot of American Jewry—the bagel. New York,
New York? It's a helluva Jewish town.
- Jewish pride. It's cool to be Jewish in America! After decades of
discrimination, Judaism is finally becoming sexy. Retail stores like
Urban Outfitters sell shirts that say "Holla!" with a picture of a
challah, as well as the infamous and irritating "Everyone loves a Jewish
girl" shirts. Matisyahu (yep, he's one of ours) is taking the world by
storm. And then there are the Kabbalists: Oh, Madonna, Britney and
Paris, what would Judaism do without you? Okay. So we're not always the
most popular people in this country and sometimes we face challenges.
But that's all the more reason for us to be proud of who we are. There's
no better time than now to be a Chosen Person in the Land of the Free
and the Home of the Brave.
Next year on Erev Christmas, as minyans and minyans of Jews gather in local
Chinese restaurants and celebrate the day with egg drop soup and moo shu tofu
and rent V for Vendetta, they'll be practicing the newest branch of
Judaism: American Judaism.
The image of the old Jewish man davening Shaharit is not how
most college students identify with our religion. Everyone needs a connection to
Judaism and if, for some, Natalie Portman is that link, that's great. Fast on
Yom Kippur if you'd like or study Torah on Shavuot. But if those don't
work for you, and eating corned beef on rye in a New York deli is what makes you
feel like you're a part of something greater—mazel tov.
Lia Lehrer, of Lincolnwood, IL., will begin her junior year at Northwestern
University in the fall, majoring in journalism with a minor in Hebrew studies.
She is the Executive Vice President of Northwestern's Hillel, and she serves as
the leader of the Conservative minyan (what she likes to call "Conservices").
She's a slot editor and a writer for The Daily Northwestern.