Did Jew Know?: A Handy Primer on the Cus­toms, Cul­ture & Prac­tice of the Cho­sen People

  • Review
By – February 24, 2014

As #Did­JewKnow is a sig­nif­i­cant force in the Jew­ish Book Council’s social media cam­paign, the staff was delight­ed to find an entire book titled with the same pun. Did Jew Know? A Handy Primer on the Cus­toms, Cul­ture & Prac­tice of the Cho­sen Peo­ple is an eye-catch­ing book of humor for the mil­len­ni­al generation.

The book is well designed over­all, with charm­ing visu­als and attrac­tive blurb box­es for the facts and non-sequiturs that pep­per its 176 pages. Pun enthu­si­asts will rev­el in Stone’s clever dic­tion, and read­ers will be unable to resist chal­leng­ing those around them to the suc­cinct and intrigu­ing quizzes con­clud­ing assort­ed sec­tions. But as much as Did Jew Know dri­ves toward amuse­ment, its con­tent is clear­ly thought­ful­ly pre­pared. Stone is gen­er­al­ly care­ful to note dis­tinc­tions between dif­fer­ent Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties, as well as where and how those lines blur. She deliv­ers infor­ma­tion in sim­ple, digestible gen­er­al­iza­tions and then intro­duces the sub­jects’ com­plex­i­ties, acknowl­edg­ing excep­tions, vari­a­tions, and grey areas. Through the self-dep­re­cat­ing selec­tions and remarks, Did Jew Know? boasts pride in the her­itage and achieve­ments of Mem­bers of the Tribe — even before the Tribe came to be.

While Stone man­ages impres­sive­ly to avoid offense, more seri­ous read­ers may find Did Jew Know a bit too irrev­er­ent in its expla­na­tions of tra­di­tion­al cus­toms and retelling of Jew­ish and Bib­li­cal his­to­ry. For the casu­al peek­ers and the unin­formed, how­ev­er, the book is decep­tive­ly com­pre­hen­sive, cov­er­ing a wide breadth of prac­tices and triv­ia with enough cheek to keep the con­tent inter­est­ing. The author demon­strates a good grasp of what vocab­u­lary and knowl­edge is cru­cial in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions — what terms and tra­di­tions one might encounter at a Jew­ish funer­al or mourner’s home, for exam­ple — as well as which top­ics hold the most curios­i­ty among her audi­ence. For those with­out a rab­bi to ques­tion as she did with her sources to cre­ate this pub­li­ca­tion, Did Jew Know? holds many of the answers just such a read­er­ship might seek. This quirky, con­tent-packed minia­ture vol­ume is well worth hav­ing around as both a resource and a source of impromp­tu enter­tain­ment for all who chance upon it.

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.

Discussion Questions