The Shmooze

Wearing (Jewish) Heart on Her Sleeve — Or T-Shirt

By Anne Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

Anne Grant collects T-shirts. Not just any T-shirts. Jewish T-shirts.

The 23-year-old has roughly 100 of them, purchased through eBay, donated by friends, gathered from bar mitzvahs.

It all started about a year ago, when a friend showed her the Hillel sweatband she had gotten from the University of Pennsylvania. “I thought the object was really fascinating because it seemed to be appropriating from fraternity culture,” she said.

Anne Grant

Slowly but surely, the collection grew, and Grant started to find meaning in the seemingly innocuous items. “I realized that this had potential to be a visual culture project,” she said. And so, Shmattes was born.

This emphasis on cultural Judaism was highlighted in the Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of American Jews,” in October 2013. The “negative” reactions she saw in the American Jewish community spurred Grant to redouble her collection efforts.

“I’m one of those people who identifies as culturally Jewish. It really irked me reading the Pew study and seeing culturally Jewish people getting the shaft from Jewish institutions. I’m of the mind that you can’t throw trips at people in the hopes of molding them into the kind of Jew you want.”

Grant, who says she “wasn’t raised Jewish at all,” actually ended up majoring in Jewish studies at the University of Virginia. She’s now pursuing a PhD at Vanderbilt University focusing on cultural Judaism.

Anne Grant

The T-shirts, she said, are “a means of tracking the ways in which cultural Jews are defining what it means to be Jewish outside the institutional tracks.”

“These are people who are becoming creative and innovative. They feel very Jewish and they’re not very sure why.”

Her favorite shirt is a purple tank top that reads “Purple Drank” in bold pink lettering, with three bottles of Manischewitz replacing Lil’ Wayne’s favorite “Sizzurp.” First runner-up is a design superimposing the Three Stooges on the bodies of Run DMC.

In November of last year, she was contacted by Lucy Partman and Chino Kwan of Yale’s Slifka Center to organize an exhibition, which ended in late March 2014. Towards the end of the summer, if all goes well, they’ll move to the Brown University/RISD Hillel gallery.

The Yale exhibit broke the shirts down into three categories: Cultural appropriation Hillel shirts and Positionality.

Items like the “Purple Drank” shirt, which use a common cultural concept and apply a Jewish inside joke, fall into the cultural appropriation slot.

Anne Grant

Hillel shirts, with their positive slogans and Hebrew translations of university names, deserved their own wall, Grant explained. “They show the hebraization that we see in Jewish institutions,” she said. “To be an American Jew, you need to have some baseline support of Israel.”

The “Positionality” category is a little more obscure. “They’re very self-aware,” Grant said. T-shirts with messages like “I was told there would be Christian girls here,” and “Silent nights are so boring,” fit in here.

“They’re talking a little shit about Christianity and being a minority within a Christian world,” Grant laughed.

Though she hopes to make the collection accessible to as many people as possible, Grant says that it is first and foremost geared towards the college set.

“I wanted this to go to young people first because college students are bombarded with messages about what it means to be Jewish in a “correct” way,” she explained.

“And…it’s a very college article of clothing.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: tshirt, jewish, hillel, anne grant

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.