Jewish girls T-shirts tee off many, but sell like hotcakes

Last year, a line of Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts decried by Asians as racist was rapidly pulled off the shelves.

This year, a line of Urban Outfitters T-shirts decried by some Jews as exploiting stereotypes of Jews as moneygrubbers and Jewish women as spoiled princesses is also flying off the shelves — into the closets of willing buyers.

The Philadelphia-based chain is hawking a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo “Everybody Loves a Jewish Girl” along with images of dollar signs and shopping bags. Also available are “Everybody Loves a German, Irish or Italian Girl” tees, featuring images of, respectively, a beer stein, shamrock and pizza slice.

According to Ted Marlow, Urban Outfitters’ president, it’s all tongue-in-cheek.

“If you have been in our stores, you’ll notice fun, humor, irony and irreverence are not topics foreign to us. That being said, bias, sacrilege and ridicule were not our intention,” he said.

“The intention is to sell T-shirts carrying a note of humor in today’s market. And we’ve had every success in that regard. They’ve sold.”

The initial run of 1,200 “Jewish girl” T-shirts soared off the shelves. Both the San Francisco and Berkeley Urban Outfitters sold out of the tees, and j. was forced to mail order the very last one from Santa Cruz.

“It’s just a stereotype. I don’t think it’s that bad,” said Courtney Walsh, an employee at the Santa Cruz store. “I think it’s just a T-shirt. I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Several Bay Area Jews and Jewish organizations would beg to differ, however.

“That’s pretty bad. That’s an unbelievably bad idea from them,” said Sarah Lefton, founder of an offbeat Jewish-themed apparel company, Jewish Fashion Conspiracy.

“With a shamrock for the Irish and pizza for Italians, you’d sort of expect a bagel for the Jewish T-shirt. And they come up with a shopping bag and money. That kind of stereotype isn’t even funny when Jews make it on each other.”

Added Rose Gabaeff, assistant regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, “It perpetuates negative stereotypes about Jewish people and Jewish women, and we find that offensive.”

Marlow said he has received very few complaints, and none from young people, Urban Outfitters’ desired demographic.

“We have gotten some calls, but not from our specific customers. Out of 1,200 shirts, we’ve received three calls, so, the fact is, 1,197 customers didn’t register it that way,” he said.

“We got a call from a rabbi who is in Montreal [who was in the store with his daughter]. Our director of stores is Jewish and from Montreal, so she called him. But we’re not merchandising for the rabbi father. Our core customer is 24, 25 years old.”

This argument does not sway Gabaeff, however. If a product is offensive, how does the age of those who bother to call and complain matter?

Lefton adds that most leaders of the Jewish community don’t often set foot inside an Urban Outfitters.

“This could possibly be a case of the old Rainbow Grocery boycott. Something goes on, people don’t know about it, word gets out and people will be outraged.”

The ADL sent a letter to Urban Outfitters on Monday, Jan. 5.

Marlow said he plans to order a second run of the “Jewish girl” T-shirts but will probably redesign them to exclude the dollar signs.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.