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To think it's rubbish that you can tell if someone is of Jewish descent?

(134 Posts)
brentlondon Wed 18-Apr-18 16:07:26

I'm not talking about stereotypical features etc. as I'm pale and ginger with a very ordinary surname...

I have a very good (Jewish) friend who claims he can tell if someone who isn't Jewish has a Jewish background. Be that a Jewish grandmother or something. Without taking him too seriously I asked him whether it was some special power he possesses but he is adamant it's something he is able to do. He guessed it about me, or so he says.

A few years ago someone told me that it was very likely that I have some Jewish ancestry.

The other day I got chatting to a local reform rabbi by chance and we got talking about my background and history. I mentioned that I am of partly "Jewish" descent. He remarked that he "wasn't at all surprised".

AIBU to think this is rubbish and that you can't tell. I mean, I can take a guess if someone is of Irish descent but that's because of features and a surname. Surely this kind of thing is impossible and they're having me on?

IAmWonkoTheSane Wed 18-Apr-18 16:08:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ILookedintheWater Wed 18-Apr-18 16:11:31

There have been Jewish people all over the world always. Chances are that almost everyone in Europe has some Jewish Ancestry (and some Catholic, come to think of it).

MrsTerryPratchett Wed 18-Apr-18 16:13:02

I have a high hit-rate for Scots-Irish/Polish guesses. And that's a lot of my family.

Being pale and ginger isn't any indication. I remember reading somewhere that there were a lot of Jewish people in the Balkan states who were very pale and there are famously a lot of red-heads in Venice.

Human migration is interesting!

YreneTowers Wed 18-Apr-18 16:18:24

I'm not sure you can. I've had people comment on my supposed Jewish ancestry (I look like a plain, homely version of Nigella Lawson), but as far as anyone in my family is aware, I have none.

Clawdy Wed 18-Apr-18 16:25:58

Not sure about this . I remember someone years ago saying my dad looked Italian, and after he died, we found out from his sister that their granddad was Jewish.

tidiot Wed 18-Apr-18 16:32:21

I'm of Scottish decent and have average features, but I am often asked 'are you Jewish?'. Once by my friend's German uni housemates, a few times on nights out (not sure if that counts as a chat up line?) and even been approached by Jewish outreach (leaflet types) back in Edinburgh!

Pinkvoid Wed 18-Apr-18 16:39:01

My Jewish ex was pale and ginger but randomly the only son in his family (six boys) to have ginger hair. The rest were olive skinned with dark hair.

My DF is Jewish and looks stereotypically Jewish. I don’t feel ‘ashamed’ to say that and he would readily admit it himself. He looks a little like Adrian Brody who incidentally isn’t Jewish but ‘looks it’. So yes, it is very obvious he is a Jewish man. Obviously the stereotypes do not fit every Jewish person in the world hence you and my ex being ginger and pale.

I look very much like my DF except with slightly lighter olive skin, green eyes, a smaller nose and more ‘feminine features’ so I have no idea if it’s obvious I am from Jewish ancestry or not. I have had a whole host of things thrown at me over the years from looking Iranian or Syrian through to Romany Gypsy and yes, Jewish.

peacheachpearplum Wed 18-Apr-18 16:43:43

I started a new job and the cleaning lady looked at me and said, "You look like a (named a county in Ireland) girl to me." I said that was where my father was from and she said she knew it as soon as she looked at me. I was a bit stuck for words.

bonbonlavie Wed 18-Apr-18 16:50:49

Is it any different to being called Patrick O'Brien or John Paul Flaherty and people knowing you're likely to be catholic?

At the end of the day, does it really matter?

YearOfYouRemember Wed 18-Apr-18 16:53:26

This is interesting to me as I worked for a Jewish family. Mum - dark hair, very slight olive skin. Dad - dark hair, white. DC1 - dark hair, looked Mediterranean. DC2 - red hair, very pale. DC3 - blonde, blue eyes.

MiddleAgedMe Wed 18-Apr-18 17:04:16

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

AdoraBell Wed 18-Apr-18 17:21:59

I have Jewish ancestors, and Scottish. A woman in a cafe 30 years ago who told my friend she had something European in her genes and said I don’t confused, my mother’s family came here from Eastern Europe in the 1800’s.

GetOffTheTableMabel Wed 18-Apr-18 17:26:58

Jewish people quite often assume my DH is Jewish. Both he & I can (sort of) see why but he is not aware of any Jewish ancestry.

VladmirsPoutine Wed 18-Apr-18 17:28:09

Even if some people can tell, what difference does it make? Some people just 'know'.

EssentialHummus Wed 18-Apr-18 17:31:10

I’m Jewish and think that I can tell.

FlickingVees Wed 18-Apr-18 17:31:28

Most people think I’m Jewish, I have oliveish colored skin and curly ‘jewfro’ hair, and some parts of my DH’s family have some Jewish heritage.
His family look very ‘Jewish’, some darker skinned with very dark hair, some pale with reddish, light brown, curly hair.

I think there’s a darker Italian look, (Sephardi and Mizrahi), and a reddish, curly haired look (Ashkenazi).

My Jewdar, if you can call it that, is pretty good. Most people think we’re Jewish, and invite us to share Passover etc. with them... We’re atheist but accept the invites. Most are Reform Jews, so not so strict.

Helmetbymidnight Wed 18-Apr-18 17:34:26

Aww people want to claim you as one of their own - it often means they think you're nice!

FourFriedChickensDryWhiteToast Wed 18-Apr-18 17:35:42

I can have a pretty good guess tbh.
But then i was raised in North

Dubdoor Wed 18-Apr-18 17:37:15

I'm pale and ginger. My maternal grandmother was Jewish (so technically I am I think).

FourFriedChickensDryWhiteToast Wed 18-Apr-18 17:39:12 my Polish ex BIL, he is v pale and ginger with a certain 'look'. Not that i ever asked him, it might have been considered rude. Lots of Polish people changed their religion for obvious reasons.

mindutopia Wed 18-Apr-18 17:40:42

I’m Jewish and I kinda get what you’re friend is saying. I can pretty much guess if someone is Jewish. But I don’t mean like have some Jewish ancestry from some great-great grandmother (after all Jews don’t necessarily have a ‘look’ as there are Asian Jews and African Jews, etc who don’t look physically like your stereotypical Jew). But there is oddly something universal about North American/European/etc Jewish culture and mannerisms that I can pick up on. So in a room full of people, it’s not too hard most of the time to pick out the other Jews. We call it ‘Jewdar.’ But it’s more to do with shared culture and idiosyncracies (hard to explain) and not really genetics per se, if that makes sense. I definitely can’t figure out if someone’s a fifth generation descendant of someone who was Jewish. But it is probably true, given there were so many forced conversions to Christianity, that lots of people have Jewish ancestry and wouldn’t know it.

nooka Wed 18-Apr-18 17:42:19

People claim to 'know' all sorts of things. Same with people saying they have a great 'gaydar'. Some people are very good observers and we all give out clues about ourselves whether in our looks or behaviour, but most just guess. Sometimes they will guess correctly and sometimes they won't, but every correct guess confirms their belief in their amazing detective abilities.

Simply agreeing you might have some Jewish ancestry isn't that big a deal surely? Lots of British people have mixed ancestry after all. If you really want to mess with your friend you should ask him if he can tell which group he is spotting - can he tell if your apparently Jewish ancestor is Ashkenazi, Sephardic or Mizrahi for example?

stopgap Wed 18-Apr-18 17:46:20

I think this is stepping into dangerous territory, but anyway, I’ll bite.

My husband is Jewish, and has olive skin and a beard. The Lubavitchers make a beeline for him in NYC whenever they are doing recruiting, beckoning non-religious Jews to return to the fold. They’ve asked me, too (I’m of Italian descent, but have been mistaken for everything from Lebanese to Brazilian) but perhaps once or twice, whereas it’s a guarantee for my husband.

Also, not everyone, but 90 percent of the people in his family are of short stature, which is somewhat typical for Ashkenazi Jews.

FellOutOfBed2wice Wed 18-Apr-18 17:46:50

Can’t answer your question but my Dad is of Jewish decent and looks stereotypically Jewish. I don’t, I much more take after my maternal Irish/Scottish side but I was picked out of a crowd by an elderly holocaust survivor and told I had Jewish eyes and asked if I’d lost family in the holocaust. So maybe there’s something in it.

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