Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Does This Blog Make Me Look Jewish?

Tonight's cocktail is called the Brighton Beach. It owes its creation to one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Weiner, whose new book, The Next Best Thing, comes out today! You can order it by clicking on the links to the right! She was either making fun of me on Twitter or trying to come up with a flavor that would encapsulate a Jewish woman our age who grew up in the New York City suburbs, like her. She actually gave me the recipe in rhyme, on Twitter, and I really hope she reads this post.

The rhyme is: "If life has got you down/ And peace seems out of reach/ Mix Manischevitz w/some Jager / it's called a "Brighton Beach." So, Jennifer, this one's for you.* (see below for proportions and tasting notes, compliments of McDreamy).

Last week, I started following Jennifer Weiner on Twitter. If you don't know who Jennifer Weiner is ... how are we friends again? No, seriously, she's one of the bastions of chick-lit, a term that I use reluctantly, because it's often used as a way of dismissing women who write about women's experiences, but I think we should re-claim it.  Her books (my favorites have been Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and Certain Girls) are smart, snappy, funny, and poignant, and they speak to a large swath of women, myself included. I would very much like to be her best friend, because sometimes I feel like she knows me, but then I have to remind myself that she doesn't know me and I don't want to creep her out.

Jennifer, this is NOT me! I promise!
Anyway, last week, Weiner tweeted about a review of her new novel, The Next Best Thing, in Tablet magazine that described her as a writer of "shiksa lit."** Her characters, the reviewer said, aren't Jewish enough. The review said Weiner uses Jewishness as "a token characteristic, one of many features meant to signal a protagonist’s difference." It suggested that Weiner's choice to make a character Jewish was no different than making a character overweight, unattractive, shy, or otherwise an underdog to gain sympathy, but that there was no Jewish self-awareness in Weiner's writing. How you can't be Jew-y enough when your novels have involved shivas (one with a booty call!), Jewish weddings, baby-namings, bat mitzvahs, and the like, I'm not sure. It's also worth noting that the reviewer didn't give any examples of writers she thought WERE Jew-y enough for her liking. Plus, it pissed me off when she implied that chick-lit fans are stupid, or that chick-lit is all we read. So she can jump up and bite me when she's finished telling everyone how Jews should write.

What I loved about Weiner's response was that she started tweeting Jewish raps like this:

  • That Tablet mag piece?/ Kind of mean, pretty jerky / When I'm as Jewish as a kosher/ barbecued Empire turkey
  • Tablet Magazine/Now you've pissed off my Nanna/You know she'll save the day/ Like she saves half a banana.
  • I'm a literary chick and I Seder with the best/I sit shiva like a boss/When a loved one's laid to rest.

And, when I tweeted that I'd pre-ordered her new book and requested a cocktail recipe, she totally tweeted me back, y'all. So I'm a fan.

At this point I should back up and mention that I'm Jewish. I know, I've mentioned churchladies and my mom's personal relationship with Jesus, but I converted almost 20 years ago. My ex is Jewish, though between the two of us, I'm the only one who belongs to a temple. Tink and Tweak are being raised Jewish. They're actually at Jewish day camp as I write. I light candles on Friday nights, I know how to make challah, and I sometimes go to services. I've been to Jerusalem and prayed at the Western Wall. I can even pop out some Yiddish when the occasion requires it. And, anyone who doesn't think I'm Jewish enough can kiss my tuchus.

It's fun to stand in two worlds and to see what kinds of assumptions people make based on who they think you are or should be. Because of my green eyes, small nose, Irish first name, and slight Southern accent, Jewish people often assume that my children are the product of an interfaith marriage, and they assume that I don' t know much about Judaism until I give them reason to think otherwise. Unlike Tablet Magazine, they're thankfully not dicks about it, though. It's also interesting that because of the aforementioned traits, people back home in North Carolina have no compunctions about assuming I want to discuss church, Jesus, and when Santa Claus might be visiting my children. And I'm not a dick about it when they do. I don't need other people to validate how I see myself, and I'm glad to see that Jennifer Weiner didn't let herself get pushed into that trap, either.

Bottom line, nobody can tell you who you are or what you have to say for yourself. That has to come from you. It's informed by your background and experiences, but everyone's voice is different. Religious upbringing, racial/ethnic/regional background, sexual orientation, gender identity, marriage, divorce, kids, education, jobs, metabolism, taste, sense of humor (which Tablet Magazine might want to look into) - all of this combines differently in every case. The bravest thing we can do is figure out what we want to say and say it.

By the way, if anyone has a Jewish grandmother who likes to get hammered, I have a whole bottle of Manischeweitz here that I'm definitely not going to be finishing. Bring her over; we'll kibbitz.

Come over, have some coffee, we'll talk, no big whoop!
*I searched for a cocktail called "Brighton Beach" and found an entry for "Sex on Brighton Beach," which was composed of vodka and sour cherry juice available only in Russian grocery stores. Because JW's required elements included Jagermeister and Manischeweitz, and because it has been eleventy-billion degrees outside and I didn't feel like looking for a Russian grocery store, I nixed that idea. I found a "Surfer on Acid" shooter that included rum, lime, and Jager, so I went from there and added blackberry Manischeweitz, hoping at least the berry/herbal theme wouldn't be too disgusting, and I didn't do it as a shooter because I wasn't sure it would stay down if I tried to drink it too fast or without the benefit of lots and lots of ice. The result was better than I thought, because, as hoped, the lime covers a lot of the Jager, the Manischeweitz is not too overpowering, and the rum at least makes the whole thing taste more like rum and less like Robitussin. I did 1.5 oz rum, 1/2 oz Jager (could have gone with less), juice of 1/2 lime (could have gone with more) and 1 oz Manischeweitz. The end result was actually not unpleasant.

McDreamy notes: "Overall, the cocktail presented a broad, if not brazen, presentation to the palate. The floral and herbal notes of the Jager were only slightly dulled by the tart sweetness of the Manischeweitz. The rum rounded out the experience by finishing on notes of sugar and a hint of dextromethorphan. It made me a bat, which hath eyes, yet seeth not. And I think I may have grown a second thyroid."

**A "shiksa" is a derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman, usually the one who wants to marry your son, the doctor.


  1. I'm not a big chick lit fan--no philosophical objection, just not my thing. But that article is dumb. My read is that "not Jewish enough" is just a fancy way of saying "I don't like her writing" or "I'm too deep for chick lit." Frankly, it seems kinda anti-Semetic because the critic seems to be resisting the common *human* characteristics that make good fiction work. Like we should be different?

    So STFU, Tablet.

    (My Jewish granny prefers an ice cold glass of Beringers White Zin. That's Jewish wine to us.)

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad I'm not taking crazy pills - the article seemed unnecessarily negative and pointless. I'd say it was anti-Semitic, but Tablet is a Jewish lifestyle/culture site. It seemed more of a projection of self-hatred or insecurity to me - anyone whose experience of Judaism that doesn't match up to what the author thinks it should be may as well be a shiksa. And by the way, I HATE that term. It's so insulting.

    This post didn't get as many hits as I'd thought given the Jager/Manischeweitz lead, but I was trying to go for a more universal sense that nobody can tell you who you are, even people who think they know who you are or should be.

    I have an unopened bottle of white zin in my house, too, left over from my mom's last visit. I was thinking about trying to make it into a dessert syrup, maybe for a strawberry or peach shortcake with ice cream. I bet your granny would like that. :)


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