Earlier today my Deli Truck, nicknamed Thunderin’ Thelma, was feeding attendees at a baseball tournament in Thornhill. It seems some of the fine people of Thornhill don’t appreciate my sense of humour. A few of them, my staff informed me, were offended by the little phrase on the driver side of the truck. “Sometimes you have to Jew it up”, it says. One woman called the deli and left an angry yet anonymous message. She was outraged that someone, “especially someone Jewish” would use that phrase. She went onto say she would “go on Facebook and obliterate me”. Wow.
When they returned from the event, I discussed it with my staff, none of whom are Jewish. They told me that one fellow asked if anyone at Caplansky’s is Jewish. He was told that I am, in fact, a card carrying Jew. Some might call me a Bad Jew based on my attendance in synagogue, observance of the laws of Kashruth, love of women regardless of faith and failure to keep the Sabbath. The truth is: I’ve never even seen Schindler’s List. Anyway, this fellow asks my staff if we’re trying to say that we’re “cheap”. Hasn’t he seen my prices? Wow x 2.
One of my truck staff asked me what “Jew It Up” means. “It’s a twist on the phrase ‘Do It Up’,” I said. As we all know “Do It Up” means party so “Jew It Up”, to me, means party Jewish style. I used the example of the t-shirts all the staff wear. The shirts are emblazoned with the phrase “Kickin’ It Old Shul”. “Shul” is the Yiddish word for “School” so the shirt means “Kickin’ It Old School” Jewish style. Or in other words ‘doing it the old fashioned Jewish way’.
Both of those phrases capture the essence of who I am and what I do. I celebrate Jewish food culture. It is my life’s work. I parade on the shoulders of my ancestors bursting with Jew Pride. My people have woven themselves into the fabric of our city and I’m kvelling (bursting with pride) like an idiot because I want the whole world to know. My great grandmother Molly Goodman used to make corned beef and pickled tongue sandwiches and cigarettes on Dundas near Spadina. My forefathers and mothers worked in sweat shops, pumped gas, sold lighting and women’s fashions, started businesses and helped make this such a wonderfully delicious multicultural city.
Jew It Up? Fuck yeah.
But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the controversy. Last sunday a fellow came into the deli and told Tenzin that if we didn’t cover up the offending phrase he’d sue. He also mentioned that he’s a lawyer. The fellow left his name and phone number. I called him and left a message but did not get a call back. If you’re reading this I urge you, nay, I BEG you: please sue me.
There was another recent incident too. When I was looking into opening a Kosher facility in the ACC a few weeks ago I was visited by a Rabbi and his “consultant”. As we’re discussing the finer points of my Jewishness and what’s involved with serving Kosher food, the “consultant” points to my truck. “I have a real problem with that,” he says. “I don’t understand,” I say. “Jew it up,” he says “many people use that word in a negative context.” “What’s the matter?” I say, “Are you ashamed to be called a Jew? You should be proud of your heritage.” That shut him up.
The fact is, I don’t really “get” why any Jewish person could be offended by my use of this phrase. Well, maybe I do understand. Sit back and let me tell you a little story…
Many years ago, in a small town not far from here, I fell in love with an amazing young woman. Let’s say her name was Jane. I was 19 when we met and fell for her hard. Jane was my first love. She was terrific in every way: smart, funny, beautiful, active and a great listener. Jane once told me that I was the first Jewish person she ever met. That didn’t surprise me. The enclave of the small town where she grew up, from what I observed, would never be described as “multi-ethnic”. Unless you meant “people from a variety of northern European countries”.
Sometime during our second year of dating Jane came to visit me at university. “My manager totally Jewed me today,” were the first words she uttered after stomping into my little apartment. My mouth gaped. Her mouth gaped. “Oh my god,” she said. “I’m so sorry. Until this moment I never thought of that phrase as referring to Jewish people.” Of course I forgave her. I remembered that at one point I used to use the word “Gyped” to mean “ripped off”. That was until someone pointed out that the word referred to Gypsies.
It doesn’t take a genius to point out that some words hold enormous emotional power. “Nigger” is a good example. The fact that some people use the word “Nigger” may shock and offend many people but it also takes some of the power, negative power, away by reclaiming that word. I also think it’s a matter of how you use the word. A friend once told me that Pakistani people often call each other “Pakis”. The difference is that when they do, they say it with a nice tonal quality not as a put-down. If I were to say “Pakis are awesome” there’s no way anyone could be offended, is there?
So, when I say “Jew It Up”, how is it possible that some people get so angry they want to obliterate me on Facebook and take me to court?
Deep sigh. Head shaking. Eyes rolling.