October 30, 2008
Hey, Hipster Jew—you probably think this book is about you
If you count yourself among the Heebsters and Sheebsters, you're proud to be a Jew and have no reservations when it comes to flaunting your J-bling. If this is all new to you, welcome to the world of hipster Jews.
That's the thinking behind Lisa Alcalay Klug's new book, "Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $12.99), which seeks to catalogue hip Jewish trends, from He'BrewBeer to Heeb magazine, while looking at Judaism and its culture through a post-denominational lens.
Also referred to as "The Heebster Handbook," Klug describes "Cool Jew" as "a field manual for 21st-century Jews." With chapters ranging from "Heebster, Know Thyself" to "Heebster Spoken Here," the book captures the social and cultural zeitgeist that defines modern cool Jews. "Cool Jew" picks up where the do-it-yourself "Jewish Catalog" series left off, aiming its content at the iJew who feels no shame in giving the gift of a virtual matzah ball to a Facebook friend.
After writing articles on Jewish culture for several Jewish newspapers, Klug decided it was time to compile all aspects that make Jews "cool." She spent two years writing the book, which drew on 15 years of Jewish trend spotting.
Klug's own Sheebster practices extend to teaching Kabba Lah Lah yoga at the Jewlicious Festivals and judging at the Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off. Based in the Bay Area, she also spends time in Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York.
Unlike 1982's "The Official J.A.P. Handbook," which relies heavily on anti-Semitic clichés as the basis for its humor, Klug says "Cool Jew" follows her father's ideology of being proud of Judaism.
Born to immigrants from Poland and Panama, Klug is also a descendant of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, a 19th century Zionist from Sarajevo.
It's "all about celebrating who you are ... in a joyful way," she said.
Between numerous "Hebrew Hammer" illustrations and "ShaBot 6000" cartoons, the "Cool Jew" takes a half-joking approach to Jewish lifecycle events, cultural mores, history, food and religious practices.
The Jewish Television Network (JTN) interviewed Klug last month
Want to know what message the different black hats or kippot intend to communicate? Klug provides the "Headwear Decoder: What the Lid Says About the Yid," which identifies head-covering styles, who wears them and what their spiritual conviction is. For example, the black leather kippah -- worn primarily by Modern Orthodox Jews -- might just be for the "wannabe Hell's Angel."
In the subsection on Sukkot, "Recycle, Reuse, Reschmooze," Klug provides fun post-holiday activities and suggests what to do with your now-unholy lulav and etrog. "Play bookie and collect bets on whose etrog stays yellow the longest," she writes.
Klug also draws postmodern parallels between Jews and other cultures, including the Japanese, Hawaiians, Mayans and Rappers. In one quiz she asks the reader to determine whether lyrics were written by Bob Marley or Matisyahu. For instance: "Five descends from on high in the shape of a lion; burn the sacrifice up right and right under Mount Zion." (Spoiler alert: It's Matisyahu.)
While the book is intended to be funny, Klug says that most of the information she provides is based on reality. In fact, directories of kosher products and religious customs contained in "Cool Jew" can serve as a helpful guide for Jews looking to express themselves and non-Jews interested in learning more.
Klug says, however, that the main message of the book is actually quite simple.
"You don't have to work hard to be cool. You just gotta be a Jew," she said.
Lisa Alcalay Klug will appear Nov. 6, 7 p.m. at UCLA Hillel, and Nov. 9, 10 a.m. at the American Jewish University Celebration of Jewish Books.