Monday, August 1, 2011

Freak Out

An easy way to get through a secular college is by playing the freak card. Being frum, that's not too hard. 

"So, when you date, do you, like, have to kiss him?" 

Blink. "Um, no, there's no physical contact at all."

"So, like, you have to marry him?"

"No, we don't do arranged marriages, it's more like blind dates."

Wide-eyed horror? Or is it fascination?

I raised my hand once in class to expound on my experiences in a girls-only school. Thirty heads swiveled around to focus on me.  C'mon, a dinky girls' school excites so much interest? Nobody was paying attention when I said I had seen the Mona Lisa (feel free to skip it; it's small and mobbed by tourists).

For professors, it's not much different. 

For a creative writing class, I fictionalized brother Luke's shidduch dating experiences. Easy A. 

I wrote a paper on the significance of the moon in Judaism. Easy A. 

I did my presentation on English language on the current state of Yinglish. Easy A.

And so on.

Everyone relishes hearing about the freakish day to day lives of nuts. Proof? The success of Jersey Shore. A clip of a drunk Snookie falling off a bike was replayed over and over and over on serious news shows. Pathetic, but that's where the money is. 

But it is not a recent phenomenon. Anyone who looked different in a community in the times of, say, the Middle Ages, was guaranteed (if they were lucky) to be driven out of town after narrowly escaping being burned at the stake.

At least fascination with the freak has evolved past, to quote Shrek, "Get your torch and pitchforks."
My one theory is that the freaks make everyone feel better about their lives, while being entertaining. 

"Those Orthodox Jews are something else, y'know?" 

"Get a load of that Snookie; I'm not that stupid or drunk." 

"Check out that ogre! Man, is he bad looking. What's up with the green skin? Be a dear and hand me the pitchfork." 

Perhaps the preferred reaction should be compassion, rather than self-congratulation; empathy is the called for emotion. 

But then again, maybe Snookie has it coming.


Elisheva said...

This is hysterical and I love your writing style! Last semester in my college class I wrote a paper for my fragrance chemistry class about the fragrance components in the Ketores - easy A :)

Princess Lea said...

Gotta love the easy A's. Let's hear it for secular college!

Yedid Nefesh said...

haha, so true. especially in schools were they are constantly preaching the importance of diversity adn open-mindfulness... being jewish, and the only jew in the class rocks!!!

Princess Lea said...

It does, doesn't it? Sometimes I was even bummed when I saw another frummie in class. Shoot, now I have to actually do some work.

AppleTurnoversareDelicious said...

My friend is majoring in Medieval Literature. She throws in SOMETHING- ANYTHING about a Medieval Jewish Torah commentator (Rashi, Rambam etc) and she gets an A. LOL! :-)

Princess Lea said...

Professors love hearing something they don't know (well, sometimes they do). It jazzes up all those boring essays they have to slog through.

We are freaks! Own it with pride!

Shades of Grey said...

I went through this in high school. I was the lone Orthodox Jew in a student body of 400 and got into lots of interesting discussions with students and teachers about a large number of topics. One teacher was convinced that Manischevitz was the only, and best kind of Jewish wine in existence, and I participated in an interesting theological conversation right after 9/11 about whether the victims in the tragedy became angels or not (I told them angels are separate entities entirely, though I'm sure those people went to heaven).

It almost got to the point where any time a teacher mentioned something even remotely related to Judaism, the other students in the class would collectively turn to me for a rebuttal/commentary, which was pretty hilarious.

I also went on a Judaic-themed papers bender my senior year, starting with an analysis of theme of brotherly competition in Bereshis (Kayin/Hevel, Yitzchak/Yishmael, Yaakov/Esav, Yosef/Brothers) and including a paper on Moby Dick comparing Ishmael to Yishmael and Ahab to Achav. When we were asked to write an essay explaining our beliefs, I simply copied Rambam's 13 principles and wrote a few sentences about how I personally related to them.

All in all, it was quite the experience, and really helped me solidify my Jewish identity out there in the secular world. It's particularly funny for me to hear that others going through this as well.

Good luck out there, make us look good (and understood), and may the Force be with you!

Princess Lea said...

Actually I have been done with college for a few years already.

I can understand comparing Ishmael to Yishmael (wandering about the Earth on his own) but I'm curious how you compared Ahab to Achav. Was it his single minded pursuit of power and wealth?

As for Manshevitz . . . I just don't get it. They've never heard of Kedem?

Shades of Grey said...

It's not just the wandering part - I focused more on his idolatry with Quiqueg, which segways into his idolatrous worship, along with everyone else on the boat, led by Ahab of the white whale god that Ahab must kill in a pagan ritualistic way - after which Ishmael, like Yishmael, does teshuva in the end (Yishmael lets Yitzchak go first at Avraham's funeral) and Ahab being an unrepentant sinner, dying because of his idolatry.

Regarding the wine, kedem simply isn't out there in the secular media enough (or enough of what this gentile teacher paid attention to) in these parts of the country. Nor had he probably ever ventured near the kosher aisle in our grocery store. I also imagine most every single one of his students who were Jewish only used Manischevitz because of their conservative/reform background, most of whom probably don't know much either.

Manischevitz is a Jewish cultural icon (they even had major advertisements back in the day), while Kedem is not.

I also recall re-writing the ending to "The Wasteland" starring Eliyahu Hanavi, instead of writing a paper on the poem - it was (and is) rather cool, I must say.

Princess Lea said...

It's awesome when all those years of dozing off in elementary school pay off.

That is a great spin on Ahab - he is unrepentant in his obsessions.