When it comes to quizzes on facebook, I often pass them by. But I’ll have to admit that I came across a recent facebook quiz that drew my attention. While I’m not interested in what philosopher, artist, or actor I most resemble, I am interested in a kind of quiz that would let me know whether or not I’m a schlemiel. In fact, I’ve always been interested in whether I or any of my friends would be dubbed a schlemiel. I’m not alone, however, in my interest. To be sure, when I tell people that I write on the schlemiel, they often do three things: 1) they ask for a definition of the schlemiel; 2) they ask me if I’m a schlemiel; and then they ask me if 3) they are schlemiels. In a sense, I am the one who is often asked to give a quiz on the schlemiel the minute I’m asked about what I do.
For this reason, I was happy to see this quiz which has the tagline: “Which Yiddish Word Describes Your Personality?” It’s not exactly a schlemiel quiz, but it prompted me to wonder whether or not the quiz would tell me that my Yiddish word is “schlemiel.”
When I took the quiz, I could see that there may be a pattern of answers that would lead it to dub a person a schlemiel. I saw questions that asked what kind of film I liked most, so I chose “Annie Hall.” When it gave me several options as to what Jewish comic character I identified most with (and most of the characters are from Seinfeld) I chose George, the prototypical schlemiel of the show. Moreover, I chose things that I thought a schlemiel would choose.
But in the end, to my chagrin, I learned that the word that best fit me was…mensch.
However, is it really so bad to be a mentsch? I wondered what I had done wrong, after all, I am a schlemiel theorist. What went wrong?
Before I could formulate an answer, one of my facebook friends wrote something that I found to be very insightful about me and my desire to be identified as a schlemiel:
“What kind of schlemiel wants to be a recognized as a schlemiel? A mentsch.”
The way I read this witty observation is that it says a lot for humility. In fact, that makes sense when we are talking about schlemiels in the Yiddish tradition. Most of them don’t think of themselves as schlemiels and many of them, because they are so sincere and caring, are like mentsches.
Daniel Boyarin, in his book Unheroic Conduct: The Invention of the Jewish Male, suggests that a mentsch is simply an effeminate male who cares for and often takes care of others before he or she takes care of him or herself. This sounds a lot like I.B. Singer’s proto-schlemiel, Gimpel. He trusts people and wants to help them. But he is betrayed. Perhaps the only difference between Boyarin’s ideal mentsch and Singer’s schlemiel is that Singer knew full well – in the wake of the Holocaust – that in a world filled with evil and deception, maybe the mentsch is the real schlemiel. And the irony is that we need to change, not the schlemiel.
That said, this schlemiel-want-to-be-who-may-really-be-a-mentsch would love to find out if anyone who has read this post and taken this test has been dubbed a “schlemiel.” If so, let schlemiel theory know.
We’d like to find out, by way of trial and error, what magic combination of choices will yield a schlemiel. Please let me know! Have fun!