swann song

jews and judaism in american popular culture .01

now, …with harvey and sheila!

There was a time, it feels strange to write this… a gen­er­a­tion ago, when being Jew­ish was very “in”. The thing to be in Amer­i­ca. Amer­i­cans con­tin­ue to, even increas­ing­ly, con­vert to Judaism in the 2000s. How­ev­er, back in “The Six­ties” some forms of Jew­ish cul­ture were per­va­sive.
Hava Nag­i­la was a semi-pop­u­lar song and its melody was used both for seri­ous polit­i­cal songs as when Lena Horne sang Now!

…and for sil­ly lam­poons such as Allan Sher­man’s Har­vey and Sheila

you don’t have to be

And, in fact, you did not even have to be Jew­ish to enjoy doing “Jew­ish” things, such as eat­ing Levy’s rye bread.

You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's real Jewish rye

one in a series of adver­tis­ing posters for Levy’s real Jew­ish rye

This was so pop­u­lar an idea that (per­haps taste­less) par­o­dies of it appeared:

Hitler likes Levy's Jewish rye

Hitler likes Levy’s Jew­ish rye

Nonethe­less, times have changed and it is unusu­al to even find one loaf of Levy’s among the var­i­ous options.

lonely Levy's Jewish rye in 2009

lone­ly Levy’s Jew­ish rye in 2009

think different” ?

Long before Steve Jobs sug­gest­ed that we “Think Dif­fer­ent” the com­mon wis­dom was that, you might dress British, but you should Think Yid­dish.


Dress British; Think Yid­dish

Date: ca. 1967
Size: 3.175
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text Dress British
Think Yid­dish

But­tons such as that illus­trat­ed above were avail­able from shops on Mac­Dou­gal Street in Green­wich Vil­lage, NYC and else­where in major Amer­i­can cities. (In fact, I have four vari­ants of it.)

yenta in paris

Yid­dish words entered the main­stream of Amer­i­can lit­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion.
In 1964 Fid­dler on the Roof opened on Broad­way. It intro­duced (a watered-down ver­sion of) East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish cul­ture to main­stream Amer­i­ca and the world. One of the musi­cal’s more col­or­ful char­ac­ters was “Yen­ta” the match­mak­er. The Wikipedia sug­gests that “Yen­ta” is a per­son­al name. This may be a case of “which came first the chick­en or the egg”. The Yid­dish Dic­tio­nary Online reports that יענטע is a “woman, old-fash­ioned woman, sen­ti­men­tal woman”. The Mer­ri­am Web­ster dic­tio­nary, dat­ing the word’s usage in Eng­lish to 1923, long before Fid­dler, calls her: “one that med­dles”. Even the Urban Dic­tio­nary and Word­nik sug­gests this mean­ing. It is in this sense, as one who med­dles in order to bring peo­ple togeth­er (not as a per­son­al name) that she has become pop­u­lar­ized in Amer­i­can cul­ture. In fact (accord­ing to the Wikipedia dis­am­bigua­tion page) the word is used in com­put­er lin­go as well, with the same mean­ing of bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er.
There­fore, it is not sur­pris­ing to learn that in the age of the Inter­net, the word is asso­ci­at­ed with

  • a Jew­ish dat­ing ser­vice (in beta, even though it seems not to have been updat­ed since 2005)
  • the blog of Jes­si­ca Leigh Lebos which is designed to accom­mo­date all the Jew­ish sin­gles look­ing to hook up with like minds and hearts
  • an odd sort of pre­de­ces­sor to Face­book cre­at­ed (or at least last updat­ed) in Feb­ru­ary of 2000, three years before the cre­ation of Face­book. Its cre­ator, Lenny Fon­er (then at MIT), called it a “pri­va­cy-pro­tect­ed, dis­trib­uted, auto­mat­ic gen­er­a­tion of clus­ters of users who are inter­est­ed in sim­i­lar top­ics. This is a sort of coali­tion-build­ing or match­mak­ing sys­tem”. Uh huh.
  • the full-blown com­mer­cial site of Loren Elkins in “The Yen­ta Report” who stress­es the “med­dler” aspects of yen­taness in the sense that she can tell you all about what is of inter­est in Los Ange­les.

The med­dler, know it all, aspect of the word is what inter­ests me today on the 87th yahrtzeit (died 27 Hes­h­van 5683) of the great­est yen­ta of them all, Mar­cel Proust. (The same phrase was pub­lished on a but­ton made some­time in the late 2000s. Why? I do not know.)

Marcel Proust Is a Yenta

Mar­cel Proust Is a Yen­ta

Date: ca. 1967
Size: 3.175
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text Mar­cel Proust is a Yen­ta

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

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3 Responses to swann song

  1. I like it. Thanks
    Haim Dov Beli­ak

  2. Ellen Lampert says:

    I LOVE the but­tons! (And as a long time ‑way too long time — res­i­dent of Ger­many, I espe­cial­ly like the Hitler/Levy’s vari­ant — had­n’t seen it before.) Har­vey and Sheila is bring­ing back mem­o­ries of my Dad play­ing Alan Sher­man records! Are we real­ly THAT old?

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