So the most common question I get is around the handle “Jewish Redneck.” People think it’s an oxymoron and that the two terms are mutually exclusive.
How I got the name was pretty simple: A few people started asking me if I was a Jewish Redneck, then referring to me as one. I have a truck, I use typical southern/Texan terms like y’all and coke (small “c” referring to all sodas, or pops as you will) I like shooting guns, I like to work with my hands, I *love* my cowboy boots and I am, most certainly, a religious Jew. So where does that leave me?
I never gave much thought to the name until I started getting the questions about the apparent incongruence of it. To me it was easy; I was both. And then it hit me. Much like other times in my life I realized my vocabulary definitions weren’t necessarily the equivalent of others around me, the rebel flag being the zenith of those incongruent declarations in my life.*
So what is a “redneck?” The term originated in the late 1800s as a reference to poor, white farmers, the salt of the earth if you will. They worked the fields and through a combination of the red southern dirt and the sun, their necks became red far beyond that of the rest of their skin. In the 1910s-1930s the term was co-opted by coal miner unions, then unions in general, and went so far as the simple placement of a red handkerchief/bandana on someone denoted their union membership. Taking it a step further the red bandana went on to be associated simply with a hard working class person, blue collar if you will. Didn’t you ever wonder why you always saw red bandanas and not a million other colors?
To me redneck had much the same connotation. Someone who worked hard, put their nose to the grindstone and did what had to be done, not necessarily what they wanted to do. They believed in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, no more, no less. These were family men (and later, women) who believed in G-d, honesty, family, freedom, etc. Are these not the same exact ideals that Judaism teaches us? They are. Family, faith, honesty, these create a shared ideal between Judaism and “redneck.”
So although they seem to be mutually exclusive at first brush, they’re not. I can daven (pray) with a southern drawl, go to shul in my cowboy boots, and work on the roofs of Habitat for Humanity houses while secretly singing Fiddler on the Roof in my head. No matter what the pieces of your life are on their own they still add up to you, so be the best Jew, redneck, whatever, that you can.
* NOTE: To this day I refer to it as the rebel flag, because that was what it was to me growing up. It didn’t have the connotation of slavery or oppression, and certainly wasn’t the “Confederate flag.” Instead it was simply an emblem for southern pride and represented what I consider a core American value; that is, the right of a people to self-determine their future. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I began to understand what this symbol meant to other people. Based upon that new understanding, I don’t endorse the rebel flag as an appropriate sign of southern pride.
The “Confederate” flag is not the red flag with a blue “X” on it encrusted with white stars. That is actually “The battle flag of the Confederacy” which was adopted for the battle field since the actual Confederate flag was very similar to that of the United States, thus causing much confusion in battle. Since the Southern states were considered “rebels” for trying to leave the Union, the association with those who rebelled against the dominate power came into being. Also, “Stars and Bars” is also not the proper term for the battle/rebel flag, but actually refers to the Confederate States of America national flag as well.