Last Friday, I reviewed what I liked about The Shiksa Syndrome. Unfortunately, the continuation of my review is not as positive.
In addition to stereotyping the Jewish New Yorker as an individual who eats Jewish comfort foods (i.e. lots of bagels) and throws around Yiddish words like “Oy Vey” and “mensch” (translated as woe is me and a person of integrity, respectively), it makes the assumption that Jewish men are endowed with a “shiksa syndrome:” that they prefer dating non-Jewish women. Or, as the main character, Aimee Albert, explains: “Because to catch a Jewish boy, a Jewish girl may pretend to be a goy.”(74)
Already offended by the derogatory use of “shiksa” and “goy” (someone who is not Jewish), the premise itself is upsetting. (Spoiler alert!) When Aimee decides to masquerade as a non-Jewish woman, she embodies particular characteristics that supposedly make her less Jewish: she’s quiet, she enjoys drinking cocktails instead of red wine and she originates from Scranton not somewhere “Jewish” like New York. Those are such hackneyed and tired conventions - I know many quiet Jewish folks that enjoy cocktails and come from northeast Pennsylvania. But Jewish women and men are not the only individuals subject to being typecast throughout the novel. Non-Jewish women post profiles on Jewish dating sites with usernames like “Shiksallure” in order to find Jewish men to date and are then lauded for their success. When Aimee’s friend Krista lands her Jewish boyfriend, Matt, Aimee’s family is ecstatic, particularly her brother, Jon:
“He’s a dream,” says Krista. “And guess what? He’s Jewish!”
My parents practically applaud. It’s always been a phenomenon to observe. When I told them Peter was Not [Jewish], it wasn’t a problem, but it also was not a reason to raise your glass in merriment. Conversely, however…
“Whoa,” says Jon. “Go Kris.”
“What does that mean?” I ask. But I already know. It means Jon thinks her guy is cool. Hunting outside his tribe, he brings back the coveted prey. Even without having met, Jon has more kudos for Matt dating Krista than if he was dating me. (109)
At the end of novel, the message that one should be true to oneself in all aspects of life comes through loud and clear. Even though the message ends up being positive, it’s too bad the novel is mired in such denigrating language and stereotypes while it leads us to that conclusion.