🎼 Bonus Unit: Jewish American Male Identity in Contemporary Music and Elsewhere (Fun!)

Antisemitic tropes have historically feminised the Jewish male and represented him as sickly and meek, without physical or sexual aggression, to create an image of the Jewish race as weak. The trope of the hyper-masculine Israeli soldier can be seen as a post-Holocaust self-corrective to these previous stereotypes.

While the Israeli soldier type inverts this antisemitic image, American Jewish comedians created a mainstream niche in which it is (arguably) reclaimed and neutered. Seinfeld and Woody Allen types built their brand in the late 20th century around the neurotic Jewish male who is pushed back and forth between his overbearing Jewish mother, various self-entitled Jewish American princesses, and the shiksa goddess/es he most desires.

Jewish rappers present their own versions of these cultural identities in harmony with or in contrast to traditionally African American hip hop tropes more overtly than the Jewish jazz musicians of previous generations. Sometimes opting to emphasise masculinity and virility a la the Israeli soldier type in classic hip hop structures, more often contemporary Jewish rappers flesh out the niche established in sitcoms like Seinfeld.

In this new mode, Jewish identity positions itself through and against black identity. Jewish rapper Lil Dicky (Dave Burd) has genuinely strong flow and the support of established artists like Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus Jr.), T Pain (Faheem Najm), and Chris Brown. He uses this platform to play against rap’s traditional bombastics, taking every opportunity to illustrate how he is the whitest guy in the room (and isn’t it a laff), in doing so recodifying hypermasculine tropes of black culture and hypomasculine tropes of Jewishness.
In contrast to the overt identity politics of rappers like Lil Dicky, contemporary music producers like Benny Blanco (Benjamin Levin) follow a tradition of Jewish producers catering to a predominantly goyishe audience. Though Benny does not hide his visual signifiers of Jewishness (Jewfro et cetera), such traces of his cultural identity are absent from his music proper.

That isn’t to say that one’s identity has to always be at the forefront of one’s work, of course. Music has been a popular profession since the earliest Jewish immigrants arrived in America, since most other roles that offered good money (if you can get it) were restricted. Early Jewish musicians and producers were part of a transformation from America’s Jews to American Jews to Americans. Benny Blanco’s use of a stage name is common to the entertainment industry, as well as a continuation of this tradition (things can be more than one thing).

The legacy of early Jewish producers creating music for the goyim is best recognised at its most extreme: in Christmas music. Irving Berlin’s (Israel Baline) White Christmas broke all sales records in 1942. It was followed by Jay Livingston (Jacob Levison) and Ray Evans’ Silver Bells, and George Wyle (Bernard Weissman) and Eddie Pola’s (Sidney Pollacsek) It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, amongst others.

New words

קרענקעוודיק sickly
דער ענוו meek
צוריקפֿאָדערן to reclaim
קאַסטרירן to neuter
די שיקסע shiksa
פֿאַר די גויים for the goyim
דער גילגול transformation
ווײַט קראַצמעך white Christmas

New idioms, expressions, proverbs

אַלע שוסטערס גייען באָרוועס All shoemakers go barefoot
עס וועט גאָרניט העלפֿן It won’t help at all

Grammar practice: diminuitive and iminuitive

דער מאַן man
דאָס מאַןדל little man
דאָס מאַנדעלע very small man
דאָס ליד song
דאָס לידל little song
דאָס לידעלע very small song
דער שפּאַס joke
דאָס שפּאַסל little joke
דאָס שפּאַסעלע very small joke

Do I
a) want him
b) want to be him
c) think I would feel better if I had been born in a shtetl and not Christchurch
d) wake up every day, put on my silly little outfit and live my silly little life poems like they mean something
e) sing along to imitate an imitation
f) say this with love
g) hope to reinvent myself
h) just want to leave tonight
i) know that love is how these ideas came to be
j) want to do this whole thing different
k) none of the above