How to Be Bitter and Ironic: Or, The Meaning of Being Jewish

On Sunday, my friend A. swung by so we could enjoy one of those lazy afternoons during which we both co-exist in the same square footage but don’t actually interact meaningfully for most of the time.

I was working; she was on the phone with her cousin. I was working; she was bemoaning the disgracefully non-existent service on her iPhone. She was borrowing my computer due to inability to check her email on her useless iPhone; I was painting my toe nails.

It was threatening to be a relatively unproductive afternoon (I don’t count showing my friend Facebook photos of some dude I made out with 4 weeks ago as being “productive,” no matter who he is) when I asked A. what I should do about a blister on the bottom of my foot.

“Well, I would poke a needle in it and pop it,” A. told me matter of factly. “Of course, they say you can get an infection from the needle..disinfect… Just put a lighter to it.”

I grimaced.

“Ok, I mean, do whatever you want. Maybe you don’t hate yourself like I do — and enjoy putting yourself in pain.”

“Well, that’s neither here nor there. But I’m not sure I feel like popping this particular blister.”

“‘That’s neither here nor there,'” She burst out laughing. “Oh my god, you do it, too!”

“Do what?”

“The bitter and ironic self-deprecating-but-not-really-thing! You know…”

“Of course I do. It’s a Jewish thing.”

“Yes!” She still sounded surprised. “But…Why?”

It seems obvious to me. And A. agreed. She even said she thought we’d revealed the Meaning of Being Jewish. Suddenly a very productive day!

Here’s what I said..

On the day a Jewish baby is born, its parents (and probably aunts, uncles and grandparents) declare it be the best thing since sliced bread. Why?

  • God promised Abraham as many offspring as there are stars in the sky. With the rate that the universe is expanding, we really have to work hard to keep up. Every new Jewish baby keeps us competitive in the space race against the cosmos.
  • Given how many people have tried to kill the Jews over the years, every new baby is a little victory over those Syrians. (What? You’re not afraid of Syrians? Clearly you are either oblivious, or a communist.)
  • Jews are the chosen people, the new baby is a new little chosen person!
  • Jews are prone to hyperbole

The problem for all little Jewish people is that you spend the rest of your life trying to live up to the reputation you had when you were four hours old, and you never do. You hear all the time how great you could be, if you would just take some initiative be great.

So, everyday, you feel like a total failure, not because you’ve actually failed at anything, but because you failed to be perfect, or worthy of being “chosen.” Now, what exactly does one have to do to be a chosen person? You have no idea, but based on how sick to your stomach you feel from all the anxiety, you’re pretty sure you haven’t done it.

So that explains why you hate yourself. But why is your self-hatred so funny?

Um, because you’re a chosen person! One of these days you’re going to get it right and totally hit one out of the park. You have serious, serious potential. Your inability to live up to it kind of sucks, but never say never, right?

Your emails may be filled with typos and you may frequently say the wrong thing at the wrong time. You may constantly spill on yourself and rarely brush your hair. You may have cried yourself to sleep a few times over parties you didn’t get invited to or law degrees you will never get.

But in reality, you can laugh about all that, because you are the smartest, most beautiful, most charming, talented, and kindest young lady in the world —according to your grandmother. And she’s not just saying that because she’s your grandmother–she’s entirely objectively. Really!

And self-hating or not, you’re not going to touch that blister. Because you know what your grandmother would say, “stop picking at it, dear. You could be so pretty if you just stopped picking at it!”


2 thoughts on “How to Be Bitter and Ironic: Or, The Meaning of Being Jewish

  1. What a wicked awesome blog you have! That's supposed to be a “Hi” from the Jew from across the ocean )) I found it at Svasti's blogroll.
    I think this strive to perfection is not totally Jewish though for I've seen a lot of people suffering from not being as ideal as parents wanted them to be. But maybe that's a different story. Have a nice day!


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