Of course, I always knew what a JAP was. She was tall, beautiful. She lived in New York. Maybe New Jersey. She had a closet full of designer clothing and accessories that had always been casually purchased just this year. Her parents redid her room, oh, every so breezy now and then with custom built-ins. She knew what was in before anyone else did; in fact, it seemed that she created trend by virtue of oh-so-nonchalantly wearing it.
Here’s what I didn’t know: she had a nose job. And maybe some other, er, “work.” She was bratty. Hard to live with. Uncaring of first-world problems, let alone any other kind. She threw tantrums well past the age of two.
Here’s what else I didn’t know. Her father was short and balding. Nebbish. Neurotic. Attached to his mother. Had a bizarre, schmalty sense of humor. Couldn’t say no to her if he tried. Her mother? More complicated than years of therapy could fix. Overpowering. Guilt-inducing. Helicoptering to the most severe degree. Had apron strings that made Alcatraz look chilled. Embarrassingly loud and flamboyant.
See, I hadn’t ever met these people. No one ever told me they existed. Until Hallmark.
My friends and I used to frequent the mall that was practically in my backyard pretty much each Sunday afternoon. With our hard-earned babysitting money, we’d shop or just browse. At Hallmark, my young teen self came across an intriguing book: “The Big Book of Jewish Humor.” Or something like that. I figured it would be full of plays-on-words with Hebrew or jokes about latkes. Alas, I was about to meet My Big Fat Neurotic Jewish Family.
Jokes upon jokes that I didn’t get about Jewish mothers, guilt, nebbish men, and JAPs. I had no idea who these people were. Were they my people? Where did they live? Where were they hiding? How come everyone seemed to know about them besides me?
Was it about growing up Orthodox and pretty much shielded from much of the media? Is there some kind of inversely proportional relationship between growing up amid rich spiritual Judaism and extensive education, and knowledge or identification with classic modern Jewish stereotypes?
My friend Dr. Samantha Baskind authored a fascinating piece on “The Fockerized Jew” – an analysis of the “coolness” of Jews in the media as a fairly recent occurrence, based on the offerings of Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand, Seinfeld, and most recently, the Fockers. I read the extensive essay with fascination, not just because she is a brilliant writer, but because, well, I never knew Jews were uncool in the first place.
Woody Allen? Classic Jew? Are you kidding??
Did you identify with these Jewish stereotypes? Did they align with real-world Jews you knew?