Tag Archive: Hanukkah

  1. What T-Shirts Teach Us

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    When we wear T-shirts, we don’t tend to think much about the message on them, much less how that image, slogan or trendy graphic design can be used to understand a group’s cultural identity. But the collection in the exhibit “T-Shirt Talk: The Art of Reimagining Cultural Jewish Identity” at the Slifka Center does just that. Through its presentation of a variety of T-shirts from Jewish and non-Jewish organizations alike, the exhibit explores how what we wear can be understood as a representation of ethnicity more broadly. Each T-shirt depicts a separate aspect of the Jewish identity: Most of the slogans rely on punny plays on words, certain stereotypes about the Jewish culture, or that one font that looks like it’s Hebrew but isn’t. In doing so, the exhibit not only dissects the larger meaning of these messages, but also how they’re informed by modern culture.

    The exhibit is located in the airy expanse of the Slifka Chapel room. A sign that reads “Self-Awareness” introduces the first part of the exhibit, which seeks to showcase art that reflects an awareness of the Jewish culture and tradition. This portion of the exhibit displays T-shirts with slogans like, “Happy Hanukah Channuka Hakuna Fuck It,” with a Star of David at the bottom, or “I’m Jewish, wanna check?” followed by an arrow pointing downwards. I’ve never known much about Jewish culture outside of having attended maybe two bat mitzvahs. Probably because of this, I was unsure how to interpret the T-shirt; was it offensive to print “fuck” right before a picture a picture of the Star of David? If I’m being honest, I never knew how to spell Hanukah (?) either. I used to attribute that to not belonging to the culture; I had never considered that people who identified as Jewish would share my confusion.

    The tone of the T-shirt was cavalier — “fuck it,” because it doesn’t matter anyway. Overall, however, it artfully spoke to larger cultural issues, like how to reconcile tradition with modern, secular American society. I found that the circumcision reference had a similar effect. After briefly entertaining the idea that someone would read the shirt and decide to actually check, I realized through referencing the cultural commonality that is circumcision, the shirt could create a sense of unity that surpassed its surface, humorous quality.

    The second half of the exhibit is entitled “Cultural Appropriation.” Through this theme, the exhibit explores how aspects of Jewish culture and religion have been ingrained within pop culture today. I was surprised to see that cultural appropriation did not seem to be defined, in the context of the gallery, to be necessarily a negative thing, but rather a way of blending the understanding of Jewish culture with that of mainstream, secular/gentile culture. On this wall are shirts that display such slogans as “Get Lit,” accompanied by a picture of a menorah. Another selection is a frat tank that reads “Purple Drank” with pictures of Manischewitz, a type of Jewish wine. Purple drank references Lil Wayne’s favorite drink, which, plot twist, is not Manischewitz, but Sizzurp. In spite of this discrepancy, including Manischewitz in the picture was “a clever replacement,” according to the placard.

    A third shirt had printed, again in the pseudo-Hebrew font, “I’m so” followed by the Hebrew word “chai”, pronounced, “high”. Besides understanding a general enthusiasm for both marijuana and the Hebrew alphabet, I didn’t glean much cultural meaning from the shirt’s message, and I felt that the negative connotation of cultural appropriation could categorize it. In contrast to the first half of the exhibit, which had a clearly translated cultural message, some shirts left me unclear as to their larger implications.

    On the whole, “T-Shirt Talk” is an interesting and accessible foray into Jewish culture and its place in modern society. After chuckling at the cheesy puns and Googling things to understand references I was not savvy enough to understand immediately, I felt that I had gained greater insight into Jewish culture through a wholly unexpected lens.

  2. A New Home for the Holidays

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    All college freshmen have a common goal during their first semester: make a dorm feel like home. Everyone goes about this differently—some paper their bedroom walls with pictures of friends from high school, some hang their home state flags across their walls, some concoct makeshift versions of their favorite traditional home dishes using only Ramen, microwaves and plastic Tupperware. But come December, all these different approaches converge on one universal theme: holiday decorating. In order to decorate your place with ease, it won’t hurt to seek assistance from professionals such as the Painters and decorators south London.

    When I returned from Thanksgiving break, I was welcomed back into Durfee’s B Entryway by the smell of the pine wreaths hanging on suite doors. My own common room table was littered with celebratory Hanukkah gelt, and, as the week went on, multi-colored wax that had dripped from a clumsy suitemate’s menorah. One especially crafty friend went so far as to buy seven red felt Christmas stockings and write each of her suitemates’ names on them in gold glitter glue. Farnam residents had decorated the front of their building with the customary twinkling Christmas lights, this year spelling out “JE LUX” before Thanksgiving break had even begun. And these holiday decorations extended far beyond the dormitories: by early December I saw music stands covered in wrapping paper, a small Christmas tree dripping with candy canes on the band room table, and a wreath obscuring the milk machine in Stiles dining hall.

    These festive ornamentations are not only a means of making what is still foreign—our novel living quarters—familiar, but also as a way to make our new cohabitants into a community. Used to being home for the holidays, we prefer making our friends into a second family to mourning our distance from our first one. Like carrying a couch up four flights of stairs, fighting off cockroaches in the shower and jointly dealing with overzealous neighbors, cooperative decorating is a way for a suite to come together as more than just a group of roommates.

    Of course many of us miss our parents, our high school friends and our homes all year long. But the holidays are a time of love for those closest to us—and especially those in close proximity. It’s easy to say that the hassle of going out to buy a Christmas tree or carrying a menorah on Metro-North isn’t worth the mere two weeks of holiday cheer that these decorations will provide. But I would argue that those who are too lazy or too apathetic to decorate miss out on a valuable experience—not just the potential beauty of the room itself, but also the chance to make a residence into a home.