(JTA) — The lead author of a Twitter account that imagines a world in which most people are Jewish knew her Easter thread would go viral when Michael Twitty, the Jewish culinary historian and celebrity chef, shared it with his 70,000 followers.
The 27-tweet thread by @JewWhoHasItAll, posted on April 13, explains common Easter practices, the history of the holiday and the origins of some of its more visible symbols, such as chocolate eggs and the Easter bunny — all in the form of a letter to Jewish teachers who are accustomed to having predominantly Jewish students.
Easter mass, for example, is referred to as “Christian shacharit services,” using the Hebrew word for the prayers that Jews say each morning. Referring to leavened foods that are forbidden during the Jewish holiday of Passover, another tweet says, “Easter has no restriction on eating chametz, and indeed, many of the traditional foods contain chametz.”
And in a story familiar to anyone involved in planning synagogue events for children, the thread explains, “Some Christian shuls hold a special egg hunt activity for children, so that Christian children have a chance to meet other Christian children and do something fun together.”
The thread was a breakout moment for the five-month-old account, run by a quartet of Jewish writers who maintain their anonymity online primarily to shield themselves from antisemitism. The tweet was shared thousands of times on Twitter and more on Facebook, where the tweets were compiled into a single letter that circulated widely and elicited praise from Jews and Christians alike.
“I want you to read this very carefully written thread, especially if you are Christian or Christian-ish….just read,” wrote Twitty, who grew up wanting to be a Christian pastor before becoming a prominent Black and Jewish voice in the food world. “If you go …huh…..you’ve understood the assignment.”
The assignment, according to the authors of @JewWhoHasItAll, is “to make people more aware of the dominant culture, more aware of the Christian-normative society that we live in and just how much of what they accept as just normal, typical American stuff just isn’t universal.”
We spoke to one of the four people behind the account about its origins, the viral success of the Easter thread and why the satirical exercise in cross-cultural translation is hitting the spot with Jews and Christians alike.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
JTA: I’m curious about the origins of Jew Who Has It All. When did you decide to start doing this?
Jew Who Has It All: This has been kind of the end result of almost a lifetime of what I call my annual season of angst, which starts every year right before Rosh Hashanah when I know that non-Jews just will not acknowledge our major holidays. It runs through the day after Christmas when we know that non-Jews will finally stop centering Christmas after months of it. Last year, in November, I realized what I really need is a satire account like Man Who Has It All, but that does Jewish stuff. [@ManWhoHasItAll is an influential account that says it aims to subvert the “established sexist narratives women endure.”] My friends and I started bantering on Facebook, and then we ended up becoming a writers group on Twitter.
I still have a hard time thinking of myself as any sort of funny person. I think of myself as the writer and editor and then I have three other writers on it.
Why do you think @JewWhoHasItAll resonates so much with people? And the Easter thread in particular?
I think it’s resonated with Jews and other minorities all along because it’s just kind of validating the experience that so many have had. It’s validating to us to see how many Jews and other minorities are really seeing themselves in this. They understand what we’re doing. And I think it resonated now with Christians as well, specifically because it’s pretty clear we’re not making fun of them, I think. Usually, I think it’s hard for some people to understand that they’re really not the butt of our jokes, and we try to make that clear. And we have a companion account, Jewsplainer, that goes in and tries to make it clear that nobody’s really the butt of our jokes. [Jewsplainer translates Jewish expressions into plain English.] It was just us being respectful and just expressing it or describing it from our own perspective, our own frame of reference.
Where’s the most surprising place that you saw the Easter thread shared? Who’s been the most surprising fan of this work?
We do have some long-term Christian followers, several clergy members. One reverend even asked if he could be one of my friends. It’s really great because I think it shows that they really understand what we’re doing and I think it’s reassuring that we’re meeting our goal of not being offensive.
Do you think that everybody recognizes that it’s satire? Because it’s in the bio, but people don’t always read.
People definitely don’t. We constantly have a lot of people who respond to it in earnest, even people who have been following us for a while and know we’re satire — sometimes people maybe forget. We do have to explain or go in and remind them, like, it’s satire. [Some] people just don’t get that it’s satire or don’t understand the satire, even if they understand that it is satire or think that it’s wrong despite being satire. We once had, actually, a Jew who repeatedly argued with us even though, three times, we told her that it’s satire. We told her once, we reminded her two other times, she kept arguing with us. So I think it doesn’t really reach everyone.
You said you don’t want Christians to be the butt of the jokes. And I think this type of satire works because it’s coming from a minority identity group, you know, the punching up, not punching down thing. This has fulfilled a very specific niche, so I’m curious about your thoughts on that.
I think other minority groups could have certainly done this and I’m constantly hoping that we’ll meet the Muslim Who Has It All or a Buddhist Who Has It All. I don’t think that Christians really have a perspective of how Christian-normative society is.
I think, really, if there were a butt to all of this, it would actually be more the atheists and anti-theists who keep pushing the Christian-normativity and the Christian hegemony while rejecting it. So in their rejection of Christianity, they continue to center Christianity by insisting that all these things are really secular. This wouldn’t exist from a dominant perspective, because it’s sort of like the fish that asks, “what water?” and it’s all around them, and they can’t see it.
Our goal is really to make people more aware of the dominant culture, more aware of the Christian-normative society that we live in and just how much of what they accept as just normal, typical American stuff just isn’t universal, or isn’t general American stuff. But you know, there are real Americans who are living life differently and we have these different perspectives. We have different traditions, we maybe do or don’t celebrate holidays differently and it is all equally valid and equally very American.
What do you make of all these politicians tweeting on the first night of Passover with inappropriate imagery, like bread and menorahs and sufganiyot, Hanukkah doughnuts?
I have several thoughts on this. Sometimes it’s people who have good intentions. Sometimes it’s people who just don’t know. And really in this age, I think it’s not entirely forgivable because there are ways to learn. And I think these politicians especially, they have the resources, they really should be able to give us the kind of appropriate greetings with the appropriate imagery.
Have you encountered any sort of harassment or really mean tweets or DMs or anything like that?
Yes, yes, I have. There have been tweets that were reported before we ever saw them. But we have seen several blatantly antisemitic tweets at us. There’s one with the Gordon Ramsay GIF that says, “Why don’t you just jump in the oven?” which, you know, I’m pretty sure it’s not how Ramsay intended that. But now that’s how it’s being used. We’ve also had several people who say, “Well, I used to support Jews, but look how hateful they are. Now I hate them too.” And it’s like, well, come on — clearly they weren’t allies to begin with.
Anytime anybody is making a joke about anything, there’s going to be people upset.
That’s right — not everyone’s going to like us, not everyone’s going to understand us. We hope that at least we’re doing right by people by not trying to offend and we do try to put our money where our mouths are when we say that other people could be learning about Jewish traditions and Jewish holidays, imagery, all of that. So we try to do the same before we write any of these holiday explainers. We try to make sure we at least are getting things right.
I didn’t know the thing about the empty Easter eggs [symbolizing an empty tomb]. I learned something new.
A lot of people learned something also from our Christmas one. One category of people that get offended are the ones who think I was just making things up. And it was [this tweet about how] the date of Christmas was set, so that the first day of the year would be eight days later for the bris of Jesus and it used to be the Feast of the Circumcision until the Catholic Church moved it. But that is actually, as far as I know, true. And people were really surprised to learn that.
Everyone says, “Oh, no, it’s because of the Winter Solstice or Saturnalia.” But neither of those dates are December 25. But you know what is?