Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about what I feel is a universally Jewish experience. Do you ever watch a television show or movie, a sports game, a musical or something else and wonder if a specific celebrity is Jewish? The same can go for authors of books and news articles, philanthropists, wealthy personalities, composers, artists, essentially any public figure you might be curious about.
If you have wondered such a thing, you’ve probably googled the person in question and headed over to their Wikipedia page. You may have even visited jewornotjew.com to satisfy your burning curiosity or looked at the JN‘s Celebrity Jews column.
There’s a few reasons why we do this, and these reasons are certainly worth discussing.
We admire what they did and we want other people to recognize our capabilities.
Throughout history, it’s no secret that Jewish people have been persecuted, oppressed and humiliated by what seems like everyone. As a result, we feel it’s necessary to show descendants of those very same people that we are capable of amazing feats. We want people to know that we have succeeded despite our dark history.
We are uncomfortable if they do or say something anti-Semitic.
It’s always disappointing when we find out that one of our favorite gentile celebrities said or did something anti-Semitic. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better about something vaguely anti-Semitic if I know for a fact the perpetrator is Jewish.
A somewhat-obscure example is the song “Shiksa Goddess” from the musical The Last Five Years, a song about a Jewish guy who isn’t interested in dating Jewish girls after being forced into that lifestyle during his childhood. On first listen, I was a bit offended. After learning that the composer of the musical, Jason Robert Brown, was Jewish, this pill was definitely easier for me to swallow. I was able to empathize with the Jewish character singing the lyrics that the Jewish composer wrote, though it would have been easier to empathize had the composer been a Jewish woman.
We crave representation.
As a young Jewish professional trying to find my place in the world, it is thrilling for me to see Jewish celebrities, athletes, authors or anyone else thriving. Take an Olympic athlete like Aly Raisman, for example. Simply having the knowledge that she comes from a Jewish background, is proud of her background and she represents America at a worldwide competition as a Jewish athlete is incredibly empowering to me.
We relate to Jewish celebrities more than non-Jewish celebrities.
If we were raised Jewish, we are able to relate to people who were similarly raised Jewish. If we converted to Judaism, we relate to celebrities who too converted. Simply put, we understand their background, which engages us more in whatever story they are telling, whatever game they are playing or whatever piece of art they are presenting.