All Jews Are Ashkenazi

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If there is a Jew in any mainstream media (and the odds are better than you might think), he or she will most likely be portrayed as Ashkenazi, even when that portrayal does not fit that character's background or the setting. Oy vey!

This means that the Jew will be white and apparently of Central or Eastern European descent, will probably eat gefilte fish and bagels with lox, and may drop Yiddish words into their speech. The names of Jews will almost always end with -berg, -man, or -stein. These "Jewish names" are actually Polish and German names adopted by Ashkenazi Jews to fit in. The trope is so pervasive that we tend to think only Jews have these names.

In real life, while seventy to eighty percent of the world's Jewish population are in fact Ashkenazim, there are many other Jewish cultures, including the Sephardim (Iberian), the Mizrahim (Middle-Eastern; there may, depending on who's counting, be more Mizrahim in Israel than Ashkenazim), the Temanim (those from Yemen in particular), the Kaifeng Jews (Chinese), and the Habashim (Ethiopian). Indeed, there are Jews from almost every country and culture, with their own distinct names and customs. And this is not even counting converts, who can (and do) come from every cultural background imaginable.

The trope has its origins in America, where Jewish culture, especially in New York and Los Angeles, is dominated by Ashkenazi tradition. ("Ashkenazi" is pronounced like "Fozzie", not "Nutsy".) This was not always so, however. In 1850, the considerable majority of Jews living in English-speaking countries were Sephardim, which can make works from this period with Jewish characters a bit confusing (even leaving aside the near-constant antisemitism). It was only in the 20th century that a great deal of Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the United States to flee from persecution in Europe, particularly from the Nazis.

Note that this trope is not about the simple presence of Ashkenazi Jews in a work, but rather about the implicit or explicit assumption that all Jews are of Eastern European descent—for instance, by having Jewish characters speaking with Yiddish accents where their background and/or time period would make this improbable.


Examples of All Jews Are Ashkenazi include:

Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Avoided in an issue of the Marvel G.I. Joe Special Missions comics. Some Sephardi Mossad agents are masquerading as South American bandits in order to capture a Nazi war criminal. Recondo sees right through their cover.
  • Rule of Funny-based Asterix example - Ashkenazi Jews in Jerusalem in 50 B.C.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Israeli culture is rife with Yiddishisms (e.g. "feygele") despite Yiddish (both language and culture) being largely foreign in Israel (except amongst Ashkenazi Charedim).
  • Used extensively in Mel Brooks's History of the World, Part I for comedy. Even the Spanish Sephardic Jews in the Inquisition song absurdly speak in Yiddish accents with smatterings of Yiddish such as "Oy gevald!" But none of the film even pretends to try to be taken seriously.
  • In Agora, Jews are mostly European looking, though some do have Mizhrahim and Sephardim features.
  • Played puzzlingly straight in The Infidel where a British Muslim taxi driver figures out he is actually Jewish by birth. Rather than making him a member of the well-established Persian Jewish community (actor Omid Djalili is of Iranian descent and looks it), they gave him an inexplicably anglo-Ashkenazi birth name and background.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle features a number of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, however in one scene Jewish galley slaves of Barbary pirates sing "Havah Nagilah." The song is actually written in the early twentieth century to and is more a part of Ashkenazi culture. This is probably just an instance of Rule of Funny.
  • Similarly to the above, the prequel book to Kyril Bonfiglioli's "Charlie Mortdecai" series All the Tea in China partially averts this, but also kind of plays is straight for Rule of Funny reasons. Mortdecai is loosely based on the famous art dealer Joseph Duveen, and was given the same background, that of descent from upper middle class Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands. However, the ancestor character behaves like a (somewhat offensive) Askenazi Jewish stereotype, including his use of Yiddish as a Second Language.
  • Both in play and averted in George du Maurier's Trilby. Svengali, the villain, is Ashkenazi, but there's a highly-praised minor character who is Sephardic.
  • Michael Chabon:
    • Played straight in the novel The Yiddish Policemens Union. The community of Sitka is heavily based on Ashkenazi culture. This is justified by the fact that the city-state is populated mostly by descendants of Jews who fled the Nazis.
    • Also seen in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in a New York City setting where it makes sense.
    • The whole point of Gentlemen Of The Road, however, is to avert this trope. The two main characters are a Frankish and an Abyssinian Jew who travel to the Khazar khaganate, a Turkic nation that practiced Judaism.
  • Most characters in Ephraim Kishon's stories are Ashkenazim (as the author, who immigrated from Hungary), but there are exceptions, like the Yemenite Jew Sa'adya Shabatai.
  • Inverted mightily in Eric Flint's alternate-history novel 1632 and the Ring of Fire shared universe: Rebecca Abrabanel, the main viewpoint character from the year 1632, is a Sephardic Jew. Unusually well-educated (for the era), she gives the readers a quick infodump on the cultural basis of Sephardim mannerisms during her first appearance in the book.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of Mad Men, one of the executives remarks that the Israelis don't look anything like New York Jews, who would largely be Ashkenazi. Don Draper later asks a New York Jew to tell him about Israel, and she admits that she doesn't know much about it, besides advising him not to cross an Israeli.
  • Rachel Berry of Glee fits this, because in order to figure out whether or not Puck was Quinn's baby daddy she told Quinn that her cousin was worried about her baby having Tay-Sachs, and tells Quinn that she only has to worry about the disease if the father of her baby is Jewish. This is despite the fact that Rachel Berry's actress, Lea Michele, is actually a Sephardic Jew. (Ironically, Quinn's actress, Dianna Agron, is actually Ashkenazi.)
    • However, it is heavily implied that she just made up a pregnant cousin; also, Puck is never stated/implied to be Ashkenazi or Sephardic or any other type.
  • The supposedly-Israeli businessman Ari Frankel in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia not only has a Yiddish last name, but also speaks completely unaccented American English. While there are a few natural-born Israelis who can do this (usually American-educated or born to American parents), the obviously non-Israeli actor hardly portrayed a typical person from Israel.
  • An uncertain example from House: While the ethnicity of Lisa Cuddy is typically only hinted at, she's often at the butt of anti-Semitic jokes made by titular Jerkass House.
    • Both she and Wilson are said in-show to be Jewish, but the denomination isn't given.

Music Videos[edit | hide]

  • This music video intends to avert this trope, by portraying a wide variety of Jews, most of whom are not Ashkenazi (or even white). Sung by Y Love, a black Orthodox Jewish convert and rapper

Videogames[edit | hide]

  • In L.A. Noire, the prime suspect in one of the cases is a Jewish jeweler. Though his swarthy complexion and decidedly un-ashkenazim name "Kalou" suggest that he is of Sephardic descent, he still peppers his speech with Yiddish.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Ranma 1/2: The Abridged Chronicles makes one of the characters Jewish, turning said character into an Ashkenazi Jew who uses Yiddish words in daily conversation (complete with Yiddish-to-English subtitles).

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Archer features a black Jewish agent named Conway Stern, who sports an Ashkenazi last name despite the fact that his ethnicity would suggest that he is either an Ethiopian Jew or a convert. It's later revealed that his entire identity is a cover anyway.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • About 80% of Jews worldwide are Ashkenazi.
  • In decades past, this trope used to be more played straight among Ashkenazim in both Israel and the United States, where non-Ashkenazi Jewish culture and traditions (particularly those not groomed in the Western World) were seen as un-modern, if they were acknowledged to exist at all. This changed with a cultural renaissance in the 1980s.
    • In some cases, non-Ashkenazi immigrants to America would change their names to "more American" Ashkenazi ones—thus, it's perfectly possible to meet American Jews of, say, Iranian descent who have a last name like "Goldberg". By contrast, Ashkenazi Jews who immigrate to Israel often change their names to be more Hebraic (for example, the father of a prime minister of Israel was born with the name "Mileikowsky", but changed it to "Netanyahu").
      • American Jews get even more difficult to tell apart on this basis because many Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Central and Eastern Europe had adopted Slavic (or Hungarian) surnames, which didn't go over too well in the early 20th century when Poles and Russians were amongst the most reviled immigrant groups. Thus, they ALSO often adopted more Germanic names such as those ending in -berg or -stein.
  • This trope was mostly inverted in Western Europe prior to the 18th century or so, where most Jews were Sephardi.