Enjoy Guilt During The Season of Guilt with New Book
The hot new book to have on your coffee table during the High Holidays this year is “Bad for Jews” by Scott Sherman, a hilarious account of which Jewish celebrities are bad, worse and the worst for the Jewish image. Clear away the Ansel Adams books and old copies of Reform Judaism Magazine and make room for the funniest book of the season.
Sherman is a staff writer on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” so expect great jokes and relevant comedy that is relevant to everyone from boychick to bubbe. So he delivers, but then goes on to make his writing appealing to all ages, which is a pretty good value for $13.99.
The book takes 50 Jewish celebrities and discusses why they are great or not so great for the Jews. Some notables are Judge Judy, Eliot Spitzer, Leonard Nimoy and, of course, Barbra Streisand. While all of the sections are fixed clearly in Sherman’s voice, they take on the perspectives of a child, parent or grandparent. The humor works because there’s a little celebrity for everyone. Moms can have Sarah Jessica Parker, dads can have Ron Jeremy, the kids can have the Beastie Boys and grandparents can have Neil Simon.
Sherman talks about the celebrities as if he is related to them. Not that he claims any knowledge of these people beyond a quick Wikipedia search, but since he discusses the celebrities in such a familiar way, you feel like you are related to stars like Uncle Jim Cramer (yes, he’s Jewish) and Grandpa Alan Greenspan. This technique taps into what readers already enjoy about their family members and projects those family experiences on to these famous people. Cousin Moshe becomes Jerry Springer, Great Aunt Deborah morphs into Orly Tate. (Yes, the birther lady is Jewish.) Sherman uses the family dynamic to make the book funnier.
Every section discusses what the big deal about the celebrity is and why no Jew wants to be associated with them. Jake Gyllenhall is called out for not having a family, yet congratulated on his good looks. Seth Rogen is scolded for being names Stoner of the Year by High Times, but is praised for playing characters that actually mention they are Jewish. This seems like the kind of two-sided conflicting praise that fills Jewish homes with happiness and dull pain. The book is so great because it taps into that dynamic that is common, or was common, in Jewish homes.
It’s like bringing home an A only for your mother to say “You got an A, wonderful, but why no A+?” This dynamic is a hallmark of Jewish humor, but Sherman really puts his heart into it and shows his love for people like Judge Judy and Fran Drescher. So it’s a soft way of making celebrities feel guilty. It’s not a hard guilt; it’s not a “You know, bubele, I survived the Holocaust just so that I could meet you” sort of thing. It’s more like, “You know, bubele, I really enjoyed all of your letters and phone calls, but could you could call less often?”
While done with love, the celebrities showcased in the book are ruthlessly cut down with the expertise and precision of a bona fide bubbe. Not bad for a boy. The guilt that Sherman wields is so well written you often feel guilty for the celebrity. Sherman uses what he knows about Jewish guilt to make the reader laugh about their own Jewish guilt.
The caricatures by New Yorker artist Andy Friedman are terrifically expressive, highlighting the Jewish features of each celebrity. Barbra Streisand’s caricature looks particularly divine. Friedman makes each person look right, drawing out the key features and giving the reader a nice face to look at while they’re deciding whether the Beastie Boys count as Jews or Buddhists.
The book serves well with coffee and cake because the reader can pick and choose what celebrities they want to read about. If they’re just curious, they can read the short lists of pros and cons that begin each section. It’s perfect for sharing and can easily be passed around during dessert after a fast-breaking meal. At a time where readers will want a pick me up—Yom Kippur—is always rough, “Bad for Jews” will cheer up even the most dour of service attendees.
Geoffrey Edelstein is a junior at Drew University, where he is the former life & arts editor and current managing editor of Drew’s student newspaper, The Acorn. In July, he reviewed “Zombies vs. Nazis.”