A window into the world of crunchy chasidism

A window into the world of crunchy chasidism

If you were wondering why a man dressed as a European lord aristocrat of a Rembrandt painting was being filmed on 13th Avenue in Borough Park a while back, the answer has arrived in the form of an eight-minute Yiddish-language video commercial for — wait for it — Doritos.

The film, created by the Brooklyn-based Schwartz Brothers Media, centers on a “puritz” — the Yiddish word for the landowner who basically owned the town where a Jewish community lived in Poland or Russia. (The word is transliterated, not translated, in the video’s English subtitles.)

“Any good puritz needs to harass the townsfolk from time to time,” he explains in an opening soliloquy outside his castle.

After rejecting the classic ideas of kicking them out of town (“then who will I torture?”), throwing them into the dungeon (“it’s too crowded”), or raising taxes, he decides to go into town to find an idea.

And then, thanks to the magic of film, he leaves his residence overlooking a lake and enters Brooklyn.

There, he discovers a world of Orthodox Jews — kids, elderly Torah scholars, guitar players, theater goers — who all are snacking on Doritos. (The made-in-Israel variety, with Hebrew labels).

Returning to his castle, he writes his edict with a quill pen: “All citizens must hand over their yummy Doritos.”

In the next scene, we see the reaction to the decree: a day of mourning, Tisha B’av style. “I’m sad and I mourn,” chants a man sitting on an overturned bucket, “How do you live without the Doritos crunch?”

The film ends with — spoiler alert — the Jews being defiant, sending the puritz only empty Doritos bags, and the message, which happens to be the slogan used in other Yiddish-language Doritos videos, “Gei Krachen!”

That literally means “Go crunch!”

But it is also a play on the very vulgar Yiddish expression, “Gei kaken afn yam,” meaning “Go crap in the ocean.”

There’s an awful lot to unpack here.

Seeing a video in which mourning for Jerusalem is transformed into mourning for a highly processed snack food, you understand the repeated (and unsuccessful) efforts by charedi rabbis to ban WhatsApp, the means in which videos like this can spread in a community whose leaders try to restrict Internet access and strictly censor what can and cannot be advertised in print publications.

Ironically, the roots of this high-budget advertisement probably lie in the Orthodox world’s attempt to impose their values on Doritos commercials targeting secular Israelis.

In early 2022, Israeli charedi leaders called for a consumer boycott of the snack after the Strauss Group, one of Israel’s largest food manufacturers, which has the local license to manufacture Doritos, ran a series of ads on social media with the message that “there is more than one type of family,” featuring, in the words of a report in Israel Hayom, “straight couples, gay couples, single parents, and a religious-secular couple.”

“For the sake of the mental and spiritual health of the coming generations, we must boycott Doritos, which is trying to influence the natural family group by advertising its products,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King tweeted at the time, with Rabbi Baruch Efrati of Efrat urging his followers not to associate with “this type of evil. It is forbidden to recognize those who live like this as a family.”

While such consumer boycotts tend to have mixed results, they’re certainly a good incentive for a company to spend a little bit more money advertising to the community of would-be boycotters.

As one Jewish studies academic commented on the video, “this is basically the first 600 pages of Marx’s Capital.” Viewing it, one walks away convinced of the truth of the Yiddish Marxist expression: “אַלץ וואָס איז האַרט צעלאָזן אין דער לופט”. Or in English, “All that is solid melts into air.”

The video is at bit.ly/YiddishDoritos.

Larry Yudelson

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