Reader, I'm a Jew-ish woman (half Ashkenazi, half Irish), so naturally, one of my favorite pastimes is learning that some of my favorite beloved celebrities and fictional characters share my ethnoreligious heritage. It's just the way the universe works. As Twitter user and author, @hannahmosk once put it...
Through Wikipedia, rabbit holes, and hidden backstories, over the years, we've learned a number of our favorite fictional characters are chosen people, too. Fantastic 4's The Thing. Kitty Pryde from X Men. Even Yosemite Sam, whose Jewish background came to light after President Trump flubbed the pronunciation of his namesake park, calling it "Yo-Semite."
Yet, according to a recent article from the Jewish feminist publication, Hey Alma, another iconic fictional character could crash your Hanukkah party this year -- everyone's favorite self-described onion-like, Scottish DreamWorks All-Star, Shrek.
For years, the internet has been locked in an intense argument over Shrek's heritage, a debate that has spanned generations...
And even brought up questions regarding his, um, private life.
Yet to understand where Shrek stands on the scale of Jewish-ness, one must look to his background. Before he was the star of a $3.5 billion movie franchise, he was the subject of a book by the "King of Cartoons," William Steig. Steig, the man who would ultimately birth Shrek, was born in 1907, the child of Jewish Eastern European immigrants who escaped anti-Semitic persecution, according to a write up from The Contemporary Jewish Museum. He spent his childhood in The Bronx before becoming an illustrator for The New Yorker in his early 20s, after selling the magazine a comic to help his family, who, according to Hey Alma, "lost everything" in The Great Depression. Throughout his 73-year tenure at the publication, where he worked until he died in 2003, he had more than 1,600 of his drawings published in the magazine, with his artwork gracing 120 New Yorker covers.
While his work had generally had more adult themes (no, not like that), in 1990, he released a children's book titled Shrek! about a green ogre whose name doubles as the romanization of the Yiddish word for "terror." The book has basically the same plot as the beloved movie, but with a Jewish mom (Jewish moms and grandmas make everything better) fortune-tellers, and swallowing a whole lighting bolt. However, according to Hey Alma, the story goes much deeper than just Yiddish names and Steig's heritage. The entire tale parallels Jewish history and scripture.
Shrek's solitude in his Swamp and subsequent annoyances from fairy-tale creatures exiled by Lord Farquad is an allegory. "Shrek's swamp is basically a fantastical shtetl in the Pale of Settlement, the region the Russian Empire 'allowed' Jews to live in from 1791 to 1917," notes author Arielle Kaplan.
Yet the similarities don't stop there. Shrek and Donkey's quest to get Princess Fiona parallel a story from The Book of Numbers (Bamidbar 22:22-34), where "a two-timing prophet who voyages on a talking donkey to aid King Balak of Moab." The narrow bridge scene, where the dynamic duo of Shrek and Donkey are afraid of falling into a pit of lava, yet complete the task with patience and teamwork, according to Kaplan, is a callback to a Hebrew song entitled "Kol Ha'Olam Kulo," with lyrics that translate to "The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all."
Believe it or not, I'm no expert on Judaism (I only know how to bake a dank loaf of challah and host a Passover seder, where I somehow keep the food hot throughout the whole 40-minute ordeal while simultaneously managing not to burn down my apartment), so for all the deets, I'd highly recommend checking out the Hey Alma essay, linked here.