Jews and Rednecks - what a combo!My roommate and I just watched the season premier of “Trading Spouses.” The premise was swapping a Protestant woman from Kentucky with an Orthodox Jewish woman from the Boston suburbs.

This episode could have been called, “The Vast Spectrum of the Republican Electorate.” While politics was never mentioned specifically, I’m going to take a leap and guess that neither racoon-hunters nor those who shomer negiah voted for Kerry. It just as easily could have been called, “Further Investigation Into the Mindset of Those Who Sang Along Enthusiastically to ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well.'”

Despite rhetoric of Judeo-Christian values, of the faithful of all faiths uniting against sin and fun, the message from this show was that much of the nation still thinks Jews are odd as all get-out. That class, profession, and region are not nearly as salient as Jewishness. The father in the Jewish family a physicist and the mother’s an engineering professor. I’m not going to say that looked entirely foreign to me, but that’s not quite the typical Jewish home. Or, more to the point, a science/academic family is something quite specific, regardless of religion or lack thereof. This was portrayed as further evidence of a particularly Jewish uptightness or nerdiness. In the Christian family, the mother is a nurse and the father is a prison warden. Which led to perhaps the most amazing identifying caption ever on any television program, ever: “Father/Prison Warden.” But while the Massachusetts mother sees differences in terms of region or locality, or attitudes towards education, the Kentucky mother sees this as about Jews versus regular folk.

Keeping kosher–as in, keeping a kosher home, not just saying “hold the bacon”-is certainly a challenge if it’s not something you’re used to. So it was to be expected that food would be an issue. What was disturbing, though, was the Kentucky mother’s insistence that kashrut–and Judaism in general–is not the “American way.” That’s bad news. While there was a fair dose of intolerance on both sides–the Massachusetts mother’s objection to hunting was hard to take, given that she spent ages trying to track down kosher meat (I mean, for crying out loud, anyone who can’t just be a vegetarian for a week has no right to claim PETA-level love of raccoons)–the Kentucky family was grounded in a confidence that they belong, that even their flaws are admirable, that a son’s refusal to do homework makes him well-balanced, whereas the Jewish family is forever on the defensive. The family’s are supposed to consider each other weird, that’s the point of the show, but this went further. Both families feel themselves to be American, but one sees the other as anything but. Being of a nerdy/academic Jewish bent myself, I’ve taken a brief break from homework to read a book by Pierre Birnbaum about “State Jews” in France, about the fused Franco-Jewish identity during the Third Republic. Which is a fantastic book. But the point relevant here is that French Jewish goverment officials kept thinking themselves French (legally, they were full citizens, and the Republic was officially secular), anti-Semites kept repeating that they weren’t as French as French Catholics. Long story short, there’s now a country where Jews do not have to face that particular issue. And no, that country is not the United States.

But, back to the show, it gets worse.

When the Kentucky mom’s stay with The Jews is over, she says the following: “I’m ready to go home. Where real people are.”

I’ve got nothing.

Cross-posted at WWPD.

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  • I don’t know. Being different is always fun. I haven’t seen this one yet, but my wife and I have watched some in the past and found them funny but very stressful. I’ll probably skip this one because it will just piss me off.

    What bothers me is that the obviously smart Jewish family goes on this stupid show in the first place to be tokens. My opinion about reality programs is if you’re in one, you are not a private person, and thus you deserve to be simple entertainment, with all the related trappings. I can’t stand that I’m attracted to the reasonably hot Jewish daddy’s girl on the MTV shows. I guess I’m hypersensitive about my Jewishness and don’t like it being a variable in some reality program’s plot line. I feel like my peeps are being pimped and that we were supposed to be taught a higher level of self-respect than that. Sometimes I find myself saying to friends, “yeah, we don’t do that, we’re Jews” or “yeah, that’s just what us Jews do”. I like that we’re different. I like that people find us strange, I like that we’re not ordinary. Of course there will be people out there like that Kentucky family, and that’s why we don’t live near them.

  • That is simply how it has been and always will be, we will never be excepted……. For the most part

  • I didn’t see this episode, but I want to put my goy, Southern two cents in. I grew up in a small town in NC. There were no Jews in our town at all. I had no knowledge of Jewish culture, religion – anything. There were two Catholic families and they were the spice. But as nerdy as I was growing up, I was completely ignorant of anything Jewish.

    Some people in my family could be “people out there like that Kentucky family”. I don’t really like hanging out with them either. But I am not sure that isolation is the answer. I think that common and shared experiences bring about deeper understanding. There was no place for me to learn about Judaism when I was growing up and develop that understanding. Luck for me, I am gay and had to learn about diversity and community and deep internal differences that are sometimes unseen. And look at me now – in Israel with a teudat zehut and everything.

    I think that it’s cool that there are some “out” Jews on TV.

  • Digital got that right. I’ve lived in the south longer than I suspect Phoebe’s been drinking, and I think the sentiment expressed by the KY family is fairly common. Worse, any Jew living in the South would be intimately familiar with this attitude and have made certain accommodations for it. (See for example: “The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South by Eli N. Evans).

    So I never watch these shows. They’re just as scripted as sit-coms and they’re just made to make the participants look foolish, no matter how educated or smart they really are. They make southerners all look like dim witted blood thirsty rednecks, and we’ve got plenty of real smart rednecks who think and act the same way. Really! But it’s always this city vs urban, rich vs poor easy contrasts and yes very scripted conflicts that they seek to ‘illuminate’ and it all comes off as so phony and staged. I want to know how dad enjoyed his non kosher meals with the Mrs. Daisy Dukes. Does she actually do the dishes too? Smoke in bed like the rest of the state? But seriously, it’s all trash, and stilted poorly thought out trash at that. But Jews as ‘strangers’ and the unknown? Geez, that goes way back as both a literary motif, and a community prejudice. I’m betting you’d get some of the same reactions if you scratched her goy Brookline, MA neighbors too. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Well, VJ, as one of her goy Brookline neighbors…

    This post puts me in mind of my grandmother. She outlived her husband by a number of years, and as her health declined, she spent much of her time sitting on her couch, reading mysteries and (mostly) watching TV. She was a newshound, and years of local news (including its ‘killer storm’-intensive local weather), left her firmly convinced that folks got shot at random, contracted Legionnaires Disease, and ran down each other on the roads with utter regularity. Oddly, this proved a source of consolation: though housebound, the world was clearly far too dangerous a place for her to risk venturing out the front door, anyway.

    Le moral (bien sur) is that TV is a rather dubious source of empirical evidence for how real people actually, well, live. Remember, Phoebe, dog-bites-man makes for lousy news and somnolent entertainment.

    So ditch the Birnbaum tome, head to Dunkin’ Donuts (there’s even a kosher one here in Brookline!) and give a Christian a hug. It’s gonna be OK.

    Promise.

  • I forget who said this, but after one of the last elections someone said something like “those Northerns need to stop coming down here and treating us like a an anthology experiment!” to which I replied, stop acting like apes and it will be easy. The show was really less about Jews vs. Jesus freaks than it was about a whole panaply of differences in class, ethnicity, education, religion, north/south, etc…

    While I saw that Jewess as intolerant and a whiny bitch, I think she was right. Her actions pointed out something that bugs the crap out of me: American Anti-Intellectualism. You do not value education, lady, your kid is a hick who will have the worst fake teeth just like his daddy post haste.

    I grew up in a farm in Maine and hicks do not have to be stupid, in fact most farmers and country folk are quite smart – you have to be to run a farm – if you think otherwise just try it. But these freaks were southern-pseudo-bourgeois-superfluous-man style who have more than enough to eat but partake in a “real American tradition”: torture. There is a reason most place have banned hunting with dogs. G-d bless the USA. (and I have hunted, so I am not some foo-foo liberal city clicker either)

    I do like that you all pointed out the vegetarian thing. I watched it with and Israeli and he, somewhat predictably, hated the Jews, while I, being from Maine, and firmly beliveing we should have let them all leave the union, just laughed my way through it.

    BUT! the real point here is if you think Jews (particuarly Orthodox) are normative, you are nuts, look in the mirror, We are a STRANGE STRANGE cult. But as my Rabbi pointed out, we would only be a cult if we didn’t make fun of it. Want proof, drop into any volume of the Bavli Talmud and start reading, you will find something to make you look at the guy in his knee-highs walking down 47th street and wonder if he thinks that is real.

    AND, one more thing, my little brother is a physicist, and he is STRANGE. So that might have had a lot more to do with how odd the dad was than anything else.

  • Bizarre. I grew up with the Jewish family. Phoebe, I can almost guarantee that they voted for Kerry. As an Orthodox Jew from the Boston area, I knew about two Republicans growing up, and I can’t believe that it’s changed that much.

    I also can’t believe that any reasonable family would want or agree to be on such a show, and I thought this family was reasonable. The whole thing is creeping me out.

  • Yeah, the anti-intellectual tradition in the South is still as strong as it ever was and almost as deep. If you want your school to be noticed, get a good football/B-ball team. And this goes for Universities too. And it applies to OK, KS, IA, LA, UCLA… [Sigh]. It’s a simple motif too, Nixon made hay from it, so did Reagan. I’m seeing a pattern here. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Ok, I am a little sports ignorant so forgive me…
    There are just 11 players on the field for football and 6-9 for basketball. So that means that at most there are like 100 guys playing these sports at a big university compared to thousands of students. So VJ are you saying that 100 people influence the intellectual climate for the thousands of other students? The football and b-ball teams are used to finance other non-revenue athlectics (per Title IX) and to generate alumni interest. All the advancements and academic publications coming out of Duke, UNC, and UVA (to name a few) don’t count? NC is home to the largest IBM operation in the world, one of GlaxoSmithKline’s largest R&D centers, and a new Dell operation. According to Dell, “The education system…were important in our decision to expand into North Carolina.” This is in addition to Dell’s current operations in Austin, TX and Lebanon, TN.

    I could come up with other examples, but basically I don’t think that you can sum up the problems of the South with your anti-intellectual generalization.

  • My husband and I watched this episode and I have so many things to say and not enough time to type them. First of all, two hours full of pregnant pauses and long reaction shots made it just plain agonizing to watch. Secondly, the banjo music coupled with the “Fiddler on the Roof” type music was just preposterous. Thirdly, they did a good job of making the southern family seem like in-bred idiots. They did do a good job of making the Jewish family look like they were aliens to the southern woman (and possibly the rest of gentile America). And, gosh, it was such a surprise that their rabbi showed up while they were having a mixed boy/girl party, just to get a donation for a charity. Fox missed out on a lot of opportunities to show some great human moments and real conflict. Wife Swap is much better, if you could call any “reality” show “better” than another.

    I was a little perplexed that some Orthodox traditions seemed to be completely overlooked – maybe it’s more practice in MO to shake hands with a man if you’re a woman, but I thought that wasn’t allowed. Also, how could Lisa Shatz even use a coffee mug in that house if she didn’t completely kasher the kitchen? And, the Shatz family shopped only at a kosher market – I’m sure it’s partly to support the business (besides buying kosher meat and things), but there are plenty of OU products to be had at the local supermarket. It just made them seem that much more “isolated.”

  • “Goy” (or “ger”) just means “nation”. It does not mean anything bad, like “pig” or “monkey”. It just means, member of another nation than our nation. No, it hasn’t always been said sweetly, given history. But that’s all it means. In Hebrew. “Jew” doesn’t mean anything bad either. It just means “Judean,” shortened by long usage.

    What should the Protestant lady have said, something PC, like “oh, now I understand we are all alike, kumbaya”? Well, we’re not all alike.

    Yes, I pray humanity will find its common ground someday. But we all like our own best. That’s ok. As long as you deal fairly with the Others and let them be them. I mean, they ARE them. That’s who they have to be. They have virtues, which deserve respect. We should all do our jobs, to be us. You be you, and I’ll be me. It is the way of the world. But there have to be some distances, good fences which make good neighbors, and closed doors, and a certain separation of the children, who are just learning who they are. And no hollering after 10 PM at night. Make that 8 PM. Make that 6 PM. People want peace and should have it. I was taught, sooner die than annoy a neighbor, no matter who he is.

    But everybody needs a home. So Isreal must stay Israel; this is why. I have faith.

    (The other guys have plenty of lebensroom as it is. They have a vast swathe of territory. If all they wanted was a permanent, respected home, life would be a lot easier than it is.)

  • Ummmm…..yes, “goy” means “nation”, but “ger” doesn’t; it means “stranger”, “convert” or “sojourner”.

    And “goy”, although used by Jews to refer to someone who isn’t Jewish, doesn’t necessarily mean “foreigner”. It just means “nation”, as in “goy kadosh”, “holy nation”, that is, us, the Jews.

  • This show, not surprisingly, is little more than exploitative hackwork, but it does elicit some revealing observations about the appropriate treatment and perception of people across ethnic and racial lines:

    “Goy” (or “ger”) just means “nation.” It does not mean anything bad, like “pig” or “monkey”. It just means, member of another nation than our nation. No, it hasn’t always been said sweetly, given history.

    Sure. Here are a couple of comments submitted here recently by someone named CactusJack, whose sole notable characteristic was how profoundly typical he was of those of a particular background and viewpoint:

    “in response to the Goy Russian in Israel who thinks she’s a Jew. If I think I’m a monkey, eat like a monkey, talk like a monkey–am I a monkey? No. If she wants to get the Jewish soul she has to convert plain and simple.”

    “the Mumzer status comes in when the woman committed adultry (had a formal marriage contract already in the making), sort of like how Big Joe had with Mary. That is what created the Mumzer status.”

    These, I suppose, are examples of such words being used not all that sweetly, which renders their meaning a tad less innocuous than their literal translation would suggest. And “goy” is hardly the only example of a word unfairly characterized as pejorative. Like “shvartze,” for example, which, strictly speaking, is simply the Yiddish term for black person. Of course, that use would pretty much be restricted to Jews right off the boat from Kishniev in 1903. Once you’ve lived next door to the shvartzes for fifty or a hundred years, the word generally takes on a somewhat different meaning. Nigger.

    And while some people reflexively minimize the difference between various groups, a more mature and honest perspective recognizes that there are a number of inherent distinctions that can’t be glossed over with political correctness:

    Yes, I pray humanity will find its common ground someday. But we all like our own best. That’s ok. As long as you deal fairly with the Others and let them be them. . . . . You be you, and I’ll be me. It is the way of the world. But there have to be some distances, good fences which make good neighbors, and closed doors, and a certain separation of the children, who are just learning who they are.

    As a basis of proposed guidelines for relationships between different racial and ethnic groups, that line of thinking has enjoyed a very illustrious history in the United States. Particularly in the South, where this reasoning was embraced and codified in a formal legal doctrine, called Separate but Equal. And this was precisely the reasoning offered by those who explained why black and white children should attend separate schools. And swim in separate pools. And shit in separate toilets. After all, they, too, earnestly prayed with all their hearts that people from all groups would someday be able to live without such barriers. (Funny, isn’t it, how few black parents recognized the wisdom of maintaining these distinctions?) But they also recognized how naïve and idealistic it was to try to impose the removal of these barriers too quickly. For the present, they realized that there had to be some distance, that good fences made good neighbors, especially when it came to the children. Of course, it’s not that they wanted it to be that way; it’s just that they were mature and realistic enough to acknowledge that it was simply the way of the world.

    I recall that my parents had a vivid lesson in that same wise theory of social relations soon after they’d been married, and not in the South, but in Worcester, Massachusetts in the early 50’s. Some weeks after they’d rented their first apartment, my mother had her first extended conversation with the landlady of the three- or four-unit building, almost immediately after which they were served with an eviction notice. The legal basis cited for the eviction was “Jewish cooking odors.” They actually had a trial before a housing court judge, who – though he expressed his disgust on the record – had no choice but to uphold the eviction.

    Though such an eviction could no longer be legally enforced anywhere in United States, that’s only a reflection of the Political Correctness that governs so many of our social relations. Back then, the law was still based on the recognition that we all like our own the best, and that good fences make good neighbors, especially among the children. No one would dream of forcing a landlord to put up with a tenant’s Jewish cooking odors. That just wouldn’t be neighborly.

  • Just a little bit of legal trivia for those of you who care… david smith made reference to the term “separate but equal.” That turn of phrase was first used in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education where the US Supreme Court overturned the decision in the 1896 antebellum case of Plessy v. Ferguson. In Plessy, the phrase “equal but separate” was mentioned and that became the foundation for racial segregation in most of the South. The term “separate but equal” was coined by the NAACP lawyers in Brown (future US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was one of the lawyers) perhaps to place emphasis on the “separate” reality of the situation, which was in practice anything but “equal.”

    There’s a difference between racial segregation and wanting to protect one’s Jewish identity and religious values in an environment that is overwhelmingly not Jewish. I was fortunate that my parents scrimped and saved and sent me to a Jewish school. We of course didn’t live in a ghetto and so I had non-Jewish friends but I never went to their homes for lunch or dinner. So yes, their was a bit of a self imposed separation – but to compare that to a state-sanctioned, race based separation is wholly innappropriate. david smith’s parents experience is a bit more apt but to whatever extent we kept our distance from non-Jews, it wasn’t based on prejudice or hate or ignorance. It was based on the very real concern that absent vigilance we could very easily melt into the prevailing way of doing things – so despite intense pressure, there was no Santa Claus and Christmas trees in our house and no trips to McDonalds or Burger King etc. That my East Indian and Jamaican friends didn’t keep kosher was not prejudice, it was fact.

    As a Canadian I was always sensitive to that dynamic – Canadians live right next to the US, a cultural and economic powerhouse. Canada has always had to protect it’s cultural industries against the likelihood of their being overwhelmed by the sheer economies of scale of our friendly neighbours to the south. Radio stations in Canada are forced by law to play 33% Canadian content, books and Magazines from the US also face similar restrictions – and it’s not because Canadians are racist and hate the US. It’s because it’s as if we’re in bed with an elephant, and we have to position ourselves gingerly lest we get overwhelmed and suffocated. That there exist any viable domestic music and cultural industries at all today in Canada is due to government measures first taken 30 years ago to protect them.

    Just a thought….

  • Another small note to add to ck’s strong comment above: CactusJack is a Kahanist who was visiting our site for a while. I’m not sure that quoting him is representative of anything at all other than a relatively tiny minority. Extremists don’t define us. They especially don’t define us when the overwhelming consensus of a community opposes their viewpoints.

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