When I was in middle school, I was part of the school’s gifted and talented program. Two days a week for several months, those of us in the program would be pulled out of class to work on enrichment projects on a topic of our choosing, which we would then present to our parents and each other to educate them about our topic. (Because this program was run by a teacher with neither gifts nor talent, we had about zero guidance and the projects always stank, but that’s neither here nor there.)
In my particular grade, an astonishing number of G&T kids were Jewish, and in fifth grade, one of those kids chose to do his project on the Shoah. B was active in the local children’s theater, and thought it would be awesome to script and film a short scene about a group of Jews hiding from the Nazis to show as part of his presentation. This didn’t surprise me in the least—no matter what his topic was, B always did a video, usually starring himself—but what did surprise me was when he insisted he wanted me to play the Nazi.
“Uh, I’m Jewish,” I stammered. “Can’t I play a Jew instead?”
“No,” insisted B. “You look all wrong to be Jewish. It wouldn’t be believable.”
Another kid in G&T, A, was both Korean and Jewish, and was in the same Sunday School class B and I were. A was also, like B, active in the local children’s theater and a decent actor for his age. But B didn’t even offer him a part.
Thus I, a Jew, ended up playing a Nazi opposite a Gentile girl’s “Jew,” while a kid with far more acting experience than either of us, also a Jew, was relegated to holding the camera. Because a Jew thought A’s brown-skinned, Jewish self and my blond, blue-eyed, Jewish self couldn’t possibly be believable playing Jews, even in a shitty five-minute skit only our parents would ever see. That’s a hell of a lot of internalized anti-Semitism, right there.
So when I see shows like Glee, which cast blond, blue-eyed, Jewish actress Dianna Agron as a WASP cheerleader and WASP actor Mark Salling as her character’s Jewish love interest, I get angry. When the only Jews who can get cast as Jews are men with “Jewfros” like Josh Sussman and women with dark hair and prominent noses like Lea Michele (who is actually half-Sephardi and half-Italian, but plays an Ashkenazi stereotype), I get angry. Because that shit hurts people. It hurts those of us “non-Jewish looking” Jews who have to hear our Judaism constantly questioned, even by other Jews. It hurts those Jews of all types who internalize the idea that the media representation of Jews is somehow factual, despite their own experiences, observances, and friendships to the contrary. And it hurts all the more because the Jews who internalize that BS often grow up to spread it around even more—like Brad Falchuk, Glee’s Jewish writer and showrunner—and being effectively erased by your own people is about as damaging as it gets, because it leaves you with no safe space.
If you “can’t believe” a Jewish actor playing a Jew because of looks, there is something the fuck wrong with your beliefs.
If you “can’t believe” a Jewish person is in fact Jewish because of looks, there is something the fuck wrong with your beliefs.
If you “can’t believe” that Jews (like *gasp* PEOPLE) come in all body shapes, sizes, skin colors, and hair types, even when confronted with concrete examples, there is something the fuck wrong with your beliefs.
And in all of those cases, please fuck off.