Coen brothers and Bob Dylan went to Zionist summer camp

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Joel (l) and Ethan Coen
Joel (l) and Ethan Coen

Terry Gross interviewed the Coen Brothers the other day for their new film, and there was a lot of Jewish geography, i.e., Jews talking to Jews about what social milieu they’re from in the U.S.

It turns out the Coen brothers went to a Zionist summer camp, Camp Herzl. Growing up in an academic family, I escaped Zionist indoctrination, but I’m always curious about how it worked. American Jews need to take this indoctrination apart to understand who we are as religious supporters of settler colonialism.

And the Coen brothers are plenty sophisticated, but some of the patter here walks the line between insufferable and amusing– judge for yourself. Shegetz is Yiddish for a non-Jewish man, applied to Justin Timberlake. (P.S. Many gentiles consider the words goyim and shiksa offensive.)

GROSS: I read in an article he [Bob Dylan] went to the same summer camp that you did, I presume not at the same time. But…

COEN: No, not at the same time. That might even be urban or Midwestern myth, but yeah, that was the myth.

COEN: No, it’s not myth. I think it’s on – who was it that wrote the book about him, Sean Willentz. I think if you go on his website, or some other website having to do with Dylan, there are very early photographs of him at Herzl Camp.


COEN: That’s funny.

COEN: Which is the camp in Webster, Wisconsin, that we went to.

COEN: Yeah, where we both went. But yes, no, Bob went before us. He’s older than us. We’re catching up, but he’s still older than us.

GROSS: So I have to know, is this the kind of summer camp where you sing songs with lyrics about how great the camp is, and then there’s team songs with how great the team is?


GROSS: Aw, shucks. I wanted to think of him as singing those songs.

COEN: No, you sang – it was Zionist summer camp, and you sang Zionist songs in Hebrew.

GROSS: One of the people in your cast is Justin Timberlake, who plays a folk singer who’s…

COEN: Turning from the Jewish theme.


COEN: We’re pretty sure Justin didn’t go to that camp.


COEN: No, unless we’re very much mistaken, the man is shegetz….

There’s also a bit about Allan Sherman as informing a generation of young Jews, and this:

GROSS: Because you edit together, you – I don’t know; I shouldn’t say because, because I don’t really know why you do this, but you edit together and you edit under the name Roderick James. Why did you need, like, a pseudonym to edit and does that name refer to anybody? Where does that name come from?

COEN: It doesn’t refer to anyone. It’s just something we grabbed out of the air. I don’t know; we just use the pseudonym cutting because our names are in the credits so many times already that adding one more just seemed like bad taste. Yeah, that’s really the reason.

GROSS: It’s a very un-Jewish sounding name. I’ll say that.


COEN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

COEN: Yes. It certainly is. In fact, we sort of invented a whole persona for this guy…

I wonder how non-Jews feel hearing empowered Jews having this kind of inside conversation. Thinking of my own youth, my Jewish friends and I would have felt excluded and resentful if we thought gentiles in good jobs sat around doing gentile shtik. This reminds me of the specifically Jewish complex, per Kafka:

“springing from the confusion that the natives are too alien to one, thus distorting reality, and the Jews too close, distorting reality, and therefore one cannot treat the latter or the former with the proper balance.”

Thanks to Peter Voskamp.


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Shegetz is not the only word in Yiddish for non-Jew, isn’t it? What about goy? Goy is so much nicer than shegetz.

My guess is that most people would react by asking what is shegetz.

yeah. shegetz. haha. shiksa. haha. what a pair of insufferable pricks. I had hoped that the coens had moved beyond their earlier insulting, condescending misanthropy (unlike aronofsky who’s irredeemably frozen there apparently), the ‘westerns’ a seemingly mature improvement. guess not. ‘this American Life’, I believe, did a summer camp show a while back with a segment featuring one of these Zionist youth camps. as I remember an interviewee was describing the Nazi ‘boogey man’ trauma… Read more »

Laying with a Shiksa/Shegetz is like laying with a creepign thing, a lizard, a beast: shegetz, like its feminine counterpart shiksa, comes from the Hebrew sheketz (“detestable,” “abomination”, “loathed”, “blemish”) shiksa is etymologically partly derived from the Hebrew term שקץ shekets, meaning “abomination”, “impure,” or “object of loathing”, sheygets originally had no connection with gentiles or young people. It began as the Hebrew shekets [שקץ], a reptile or amphibian, an abominable or detestable creature, the… Read more »

i think it’s interesting they chose the name Roderick James as their joint name as editors. and when they say they ” invented a whole persona for this guy…” i find this very interesting, psychologically, and wonder what that joint persona might be. and here’s why. they live in a world where everything is not jewish and it’s likely, probable, as with most jews, that there are parts of their being and personalities and lives… Read more »

Shegetz and shikse are unacceptable words. People who know their meaning should not use them and people who don’t know their meaning should learn their meaning and stop using them. Sometimes people want to vent their anger or artistic bent with the use of verboten words. But I think Coen (which one?) is probably ignorant of its etymology. He should be taught and consider changing his behavior. Not all of their movies are great. But… Read more »