Call Your Zeyde

The New Great Schlep

Mira Sucharov looks at a new inter-generational pro-Obama effort aimed at Jewish Democrats.

Jewish Democrats are hoping a Yiddish-tinged video parody, inspired by a billboard hit and drenched in inter-generational nostalgia, will serve to get out the vote for Obama in the final stretch of the election race.

Call Your Zeyde” is the latest effort from the Jewish Council for Education & Research (and their political ad outfit Schlep Labs), which launched “Wake the F*ck Up,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, to great fanfare last month, as well as a more recent video titled “Israelis on Obama” (and subtitled Roomers, Shmoomers, The Man’s a Mensch).

Starring Michelle Citrin, otherwise known as Rosh Hashanah Girl, the video delivers pro-Obama lyrics sung to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit single “Call me Maybe.” In it, Citrin’s Bubbe—Yiddish for “grandmother”—is evidently distressed that her husband is still an undecided voter. She phones her Obama-supporting granddaughter, with a desperate plea: “Call Your Zeyde!”—Yiddish for (you guessed it) “grandfather.”

Citrin quizzes her grandfather on political issues: “Do you like your Medicare?” she asks. “Yes, I like my Medicare,” he tells her. And Citrin informs him: “Romney wants to cut our Medicare.”

Gutten himmel,” he replies, exclaiming “good heavens” in Yiddish. “What a shanda!”—an embarrassment.

But Zeyde has a rejoinder: “But what about immigrants?”

Citrin: “Yeah, what about them? You and Bubbe were born in Poland.”

“And what about….gay marriage?” “Wait,” Citrin pauses. “Did you think Shira was just my roommate?”

As for the issue of Israel, Citrin explains to her Zeyde, the “flyers” distributed by “liars” are “lashon horah”—evil gossip.

Like “The Great Schlep,” JCER’s breakout hit of the 2008 campaign starring comedian Sarah Silverman, “Call your Zeyde” taps into the bridging potential between Jewish generations. Though this time it’s with carrots (Zeyde “likes the attention,” Bubbe explains) rather than with sticks. (The Great Schlep hinted that grandchildren should threaten to stop visiting their grandparents in Florida in the event that they vote Republican.)

While polls show that American Jewish voters favor Obama over Romney by a wide margin, some Republicans have attempted to make Israel a wedge issue. Obama’s reference to visiting Yad Vashem and Sderot in the third presidential debate may have been seen by some as a pandering attempt to placate Jewish voters in the face of these apparent concerns. Others were simply impressed by his perfectly fine pronunciation of the Hebrew words.

Still, I can’t help but wonder: what’s with all the Yiddish in the video? There’s a much higher-than-average ratio of Yiddish to English even for Jewish-themed popular art forms. (I admit I even had to look up “Gutten Himmel.”) Is the video actually intended to connect with young voters for whom Yiddish is fast becoming an ancient relic? Or is it really meant for Baby Boomers and their aging relatives?

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As Jonathan Lipman, a spokesman for JCER told me, “The amount of Yiddish in the video is definitely meant to connect with all the Bubbes and Zeydes out there, but that is balanced by the very of-the-moment song that we chose to parody. Like other Schlep Lab projects, this video is meant to spark a conversation between generations. Plus, as everyone knows, Yiddish is funny.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

In an age where voter turnout threatens to be lower than it used to be (but higher than it's been in the past), and where scholars have long known that voting in and of itself is not necessarily a rational act (the chance of a single video tipping the balance in favor of one’s preferred candidate is minuscule), the way to underwrite a get-out-the-vote campaign among Jewish Democrats may very well lie in connecting to their funny bone while also hitting their kishkes (gut).

Picturing your Zeyde admitting that the president does have a heymishe neshama—a warm and inviting soul—may be just as motivating as the Rock the Vote campaigns of years gone by. JCER is clearly hoping that a bit of nostalgia for the past may help voters stride toward their preferred future, iPhone in one hand, and a spoonful of Bubbe’s chicken soup in the other.