9 Questions Your Jewish Friends Wish You Asked About Their Culture

Hey, your local Jewish friend here.

You have some schmutz on your face. Oh, you don’t know what that means?

As our country faces endless cultural tensions, everyone has questions.

But many of us don’t feel comfortable to ask them. No one wants to look culturally insensitive, or HaShem forbid, like you weren’t born knowing everything.

Since moving from the motherland (New York), I’ve met a lot of people who know nothing about Judaism and are too young to get into "Seinfeld."

For my guy friends, here are the questions you probably have -- and we wished you -- asked:

1. Do you actually eat all that weird food?

Gefilte fish, chopped liver, pickled lox, stewed herring? We will try to put it on bagels.

These old world dishes are not lookers. But we do eat it -- some of it.

Lots of Jews actually can’t stand these delicacies. They either saturate them with horseradish or leave it for your bubbe to nag you about.

But don't forget the mouthwatering Jew-zine:

Rugelach (chocolate pastries), hamentashen (triangle shaped desserts), challah (thick soft egg bread), matzah ball soup (think an amazing fluffy dumpling in chicken soup. I love it so much I named my cat Matzah...) and, of course, brisket.

2. Is there a difference between Yiddish and Hebrew?

Yiddish is the traditional Eastern European Jewish language. It’s close to German.

All the spunky curses you hear us mutter -- like "schmuck" -- come from it.

Because of the massacre of Yiddish-speaking villages in WWII, it’s become the language of our grandmothers and is dying out.

Hebrew is the language of modern Judaism.

When Israel was created, its founders made the national language the one from our holy books.

Unfortunately, all we had was the equivalent of Shakespeare, so many of the words are adopted from other languages.

3. Ok, what is your mother like?

She’s awesome. Duh.

Ma has no regrets when it comes to protecting me. She expresses much of her endless love through food.

Yes, she gave me a speech on bringing Jewish grandchildren into the word this morning, but she’s not trying to exclude other ethnicities from our Chanukah cards.

It’s important for our families to preserve our people and culture. Although this fact might be a surprise if you’re from NYC or LA, we are less than 2 percent of the world’s population.

After surviving countless atrocities, we have a responsibility to maintain what our ancestors survived for.

4. What exactly is Jewish guilt, and how are we using it against you?

Please see the above question.

My professor once told me that Jews have guilt, but Catholics have shame.

We don’t publicly humiliate people who stray from our views, but Jews, like most people, like to get what we want. And we can be very persuasive.

Family values and tradition are important, and can force your grandson to call up more than he’d like.

5. Are Holocaust jokes okay?


They are akin to rape jokes.

You don’t make light of the world's most disgusting things, in this case the murder of my family.

What is funny about genocide?

Where are the laughs in human experimentation, mass murder and concentration camps?

This includes Hitler jokes. I get he has a stupid mustache, but he’s responsible for the death of 11 million people, not just Jews.

It’s extremely degrading to hear someone think that’s a laughing matter.

6. Is disagreeing with Israel’s policies anti-Semitic?

No, but it can be.

Israel is the Jewish state. You cannot detach it from the Jewish people.

According to the US State Department, demonizing (associating Israel with Nazi or other unrelated evil in the world), delegitimizing (saying Israel does not have the right to exist), or holding Israel to a double standard is anti-Semitic.

You don’t have to agree with Israeli politicians, but Israel is the only country told they should be obliterated when they get a bad leader.

Imagine if the rest of the world asked for the US to disband when Nixon resigned.

Every people has the right to self-determination. This includes Palestinians, Jews, Druzes and the many other peoples in the region.

You can’t criticize Israel when you don’t give the same amount of attention to other nations with extreme human rights violations. That’s a bias against the Jewish people.

And, by the way, if you’re going to argue whether or not something is anti-Semitic, only Jews have the right to define what that means.

It’s an experience only Jews can have and can identify with.

Letting people accused of anti-Semitism decide its meaning is equivalent to having the KKK define racism.

7. What is Jew Camp?

The happiest place on earth.

There are hundreds of summer camps for Jewish kids in the US (Eisner represent!).

It's where we do normal camp things, but incorporate our culture and traditions.

You’ll meet your first love (probably named Noah or Jacob), become besties with three Rebecca’s, and learn how to do strange Israeli dances.

8. Is Judaism a religion, race or ethnicity?

All three!

Yes, it is a world religion with spiritual practices, but for many Jews it is their cultural identity.

Throughout history, Jews were not citizens of the countries they lived in, and not allowed to partake in the cultures around them.

Hence, I could tell you I am Russian, Lithuanian, Spanish, Italian and Polish, but in each of those places, my ancestors were the Jews.

This crafts our ethnicity.

The race part is a bit trickier, but yes, for many of us, Jewish is our race.

The US Supreme Court declared it so in response to groups claiming anti-Semitism is not racism to get off for hate crimes.

Denying Jews as a race has a cultural context of excusing violence against us.

We’ve been treated as our own race of people in rhetoric and policy for centuries by those who wished to protect us, and those who wished to destroy us.

Some Jews are white, some are Chinese, Black, Persian, Indian, the list goes on.

Being Jewish doesn’t excuse you from white privilege, but many of us identify with it closer than the color of our skin.

9. Why is it so important to you?

When so many people have died for you to celebrate something, you make it a damn good party.

Being Jewish has taught me to survive, apologize, give, love, hope and dream. It's it my favorite part of myself.

Thanks for letting me share it with you.