I can still tell you about this thing I noticed on Purim, can't I.

Artscroll puts out a Children's Megillah, also a Children's Haggadah.

There are little "Did you know??" boxes on a lot of the pages, with enthusiastic-looking children asking questions and learning things. Boys and girls, score gender awareness points Artscroll (and you never thought you'd hear me say that did you).

All these little boys and girls look like your classic peanut-butter-and-jelly American kids - see pictures here - blonde or light brown hair, white skin and chubby red cheeks, little snub noses.

Now, in the Purim book, there are some Villains, right? You remember the story. Evil people. Check out the picture. What's fascinating is that the evil villains in Artscroll's Children's Megillah have dark hair, big noses, strange hats - in fact, they look awfully similar to how anti-semites tend to portray Jews.

That is, here's a Jewish book in which the Jewish kids look like classic American kids as portrayed by white Americans, and the non-Jewish villains look like classic Jews as portrayed by white Americans. Artscroll's illustrators have chosen the classic presentation of the Evil Middle-Easterner, which is an old anti-Semitic trope inherited from Europe.

Suggests that they think of themselves as white European-Americans, which is interesting; it's not so long since American Jews were a Non-White Ethnic Group.

I'm mostly just struck by a certain irony here. I'm familiar with the dark big-nosed sneaky-looking character primarily as a Jewish one, from anti-Semitic propaganda. It's somewhat disconcerting to find it in a Jewish book, representing non-Jews. It could be deliberate irony, I suppose, but that's a bit subtle. I'm more inclined to read it as a group of assimilating Jews taking on the cultural role of "white folks" and with it the tacit permission to use ugly stereotypes of Middle Easterners.

I mean, okay, it's a story with villains, and you have to make the villains look villainous somehow, but I'm not sure that classical anti-Semitic polemic is the healthiest way to do it.


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February 2017

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