font of Jewish wisdom

by marjorieingall on July 1, 2010

I found this essay by designer Jessica Helfand, “Why is this font different from all other fonts?” fascinating. Designer Len Small of Tablet called the phenomenon of “Jew-ish” typefaces “the vague ghetto-izing of Latin letters to Hebrew handles; the pouring of shmaltz onto font.”

I just finished next week’s Tablet column (as usual, it’ll be published Monday), which deals with American Jewish camps and their love of Israeli folkdance. I think there’s a parallel to the font thing here. Seeing all these very young Jews waving their arms in the air, snapping, doing the “mayim step” — it’s like this fetishization of an Israel that doesn’t exist. Like the kova tembel, the bucket hat associated with the quintessential Israeli out in the fields, it’s a faux personification of Israel clung to by Jews in the diaspora who want to connect with a romanticized idea of Israel rather than the real thing. It’s well-intentioned but vaguely condescending…and utterly unreal. Just like the fonts Sholom, Hebrewish, and (shudder) Circumcision.

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