Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

“Sorry, Too Jewish!”

Posted by lchaimlover on January 29, 2007

I spent my Sunday morning working at the Israel Center Camp Fair. I was working at the
Camp Gan Israel table, which as you may or may not know is a camp sponsored by Chabad. It became an interesting sociological experiment as I watched people’s reactions. “Oh no that’s Chabad, not that one.” Or “Chabad, too Jewish.” It was the “too Jewish” that caught my ear. What does it mean to be too Jewish? To be fair, I can see why the average Jew might walk a little faster past the Chabad table, it’s associated with a certain kind of religiousness that most Jews aren’t comfortable with. But to be too Jewish? Is that a reasonable criticism from any Jew to anything Jewish? These parents are at a camp fair sponsored by the Israel center, and they are criticizing something as too Jewish? These are parents who might send their children to camp in Israel or to an overnight camp where songs are sung full of Jewish pride. That’s not too Jewish?

Two summers ago I went to the Hillel Leaders conference in Georgia, and there a friend and I were also accused of being too Jewish. According to my critic, I was just too excited about being at the Hillel conference with a hundred or so other Jews from all over the country. His friend then asked, “Do you have to be so Jewish?” Here are two interns for Hillel, uncomfortable someone’s passion for Jewishness. So it’s not just parents trying to avoid Chabad, here are college students avoiding Hillel.

So I come back to my original question, what’s too Jewish? Is it a fair criticism? Now I am a huge supporter of pluralism, I feel the man playing nigguns on his guitar in synagogue is just as spiritual as the man walking a mile to shul on Shabbat, so whose too Jewish then? Adam Sandler makes a Jewish joke in every film he is in, (note the Mezuzah on his front door in “Click”), is he too Jewish? If you are in AEPi, too Jewish? Who gets to judge how Jewish I can and can’t be? Why do we have to go to the JCC to go to the gym, that’s so Jewish, can’t you just work out at Fitness 19?

Now back to those parents, why didn’t they just send their kid to any other summer camp. As my dear Israeli friend pointed out to me as a counterpoint, some families consider “too Jewish” and “too religious” the same thing. Those parents were comfortable with a certain level of Jewishness, but not as much as Chabad puts out. But it seems to me that, we as Jews, need to be careful about what we say and how it may be perceived. As Oyster pointed out, it could be perceived that this family was unwittingly saying that Chabad Camp was the Truly Jewish thing. I don’t know what the answer is to my question, but I herby admit proudly that I am Too Jewish!

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5 Responses to ““Sorry, Too Jewish!””

  1. Oyster said

    Precisely! If one acknowledges that Jewishness is more than one’s religiousity, then saying that something is “too Jewish” is like acknowledging that Jewishness is a negative quality; that can be in excess.

    My good friend (& J-blogger) Alan likes to quiz people on whether they are apologetic about their Jewishness with the following shibboleth. He asks them “Have you ever seen someone do something, and then thought that it was ‘too Jewish’?” If they answer yes, then they are apologetic.

    I believe that the root of this is the mistaken belief that Jewish identity is merely a faith, like Christianity or Buddhism. We’re a culture/nation/peoplehood. ‘Too Jewish’ is not synonymous with ‘too religious’!

  2. […] Carlebachi Rabbi Shiur on the High Holy Days in Bezerkeley”Sorry, Too Jewish!”SFJFF: “The First Zionist Bunny” Film & Heeb Magazine […]

  3. JustAJewToo said

    “Too Jewish” or “Just Right?”

    I agree there’s a difference that’s often blurred between being religious and being Jewish. While it’s not the most politically correct course of action, judging others is something we do all the time, hence the notion of a first impression. Going with the assumption that judging is constantly happening, I don’t take issue with the statement that someone or thing is “too Jewish” in the mind of another.

    While sampling Papa bears porge, Goldilocks felt it was too hot, but that’s how Papa bear enjoyed his porge. Everyone’s on their own Jewish and or Religious identity journey. Despite being “criticized” for being “too Jewish,” you kept your Jewish pride and enthusiasm for your Judaism. Those browsing at the camp fair or at Hillel’s Leadership conference with you were simply showing where they were on the journey, and that Papa bears porge wasn’t for them at this point in their journey. Maybe Mama’s bears porge that was too cold or baby’s bears that was just right for Goldilocks is what’s just right for them. In the end it’s a matter of perception and education. “You’re ‘too Jewish’ for me”, is really what is being communicated. The fact that you’re questioning the encounters and what they mean continues a value Judaism teaches.

    Each sect of Judaism is like porge to Goldilocks, something that can be sampled and either left alone or totally consumed and digested. Judging something as “too Jewish” even if confused with “too religious” is just exposing that we are all at different comfort levels and in different relationships with our Judaism.

    Enjoy your journey and your porge will always be just right.

  4. Oyster said

    JAJ2:

    Two points of difference with you. One, is that there’s a big difference between being judgmental and not having the subject of your judgment know, and being judgmental and saying your conclusion to their face. That’s what happened here to LchaimLover.

    Two, what happens when the parents of Goldilocks tell her, “Never try the hot porridge! Never try the cold porridge! The porridge we give you is always right!”. If Goldilocks is never given a chance as a young child to try different porridges, she’ll most likely be stuck with the ones her parents give to her, which might happen to be some crummy porridge…

  5. anarchore said

    Too evil. I can’t wait until you pigs face the consequences for what you have wrought. It is coming, faster than a locomotive, with more force than tsunami. Your cult of nation-wrecking and supremacist destruction is over.

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