It had been seven months since my last Shabbat at Hillel, and six months since I learned that my camp would be closed for the summer. That’s when my friend Daniel called me with an idea in October.
“Isn’t it weird that there’s no comedy publication for Jewish college students?” he asked. “There’s a million meme pages, but no good, quality satirical news. That should definitely exist.”
“I love it,” I told him. “Count me in. But I can’t make it a priority. It’s midterms week.”
But somehow, by the time exams were over, I had written around 15 fake Jewish news articles and just like that, The Schmear was born.
Since October, our team has expanded to include nine students and our Google Drive has grown to include well over 100 articles, ready for the Jewish world to see. And while working on The Schmear, something unexpected happened: After months of emotional distancing, I felt close to the Jewish community again.
As a sophomore at Princeton, I’m an active member of my campus Hillel and a year-round intern for my summer camp. My family is involved in our synagogue’s Zoom services. I’ll admit, even during the pandemic, Judaism was never very far away. But as Zoom fatigue grew, and other Hillel board members opted for gap years and left me with more responsibilities, Judaism had begun to feel like an obligation, or just more homework to keep up with.
During the second half of the fall semester, I wrote nearly 60 articles, ranging from autobiographical and comically self-aware pieces on students who return to camp year after year and bore their friends with stories of their gap years, to uncomfortably relatable bar mitzvah mishaps, to opinion pieces on the struggles of being a Jewish college student. As my writing portfolio grew, I was inspired to recall the Jewish experiences of my pre-pandemic life, and with every article that lovingly made fun of some trivial piece of Jewish culture, I remembered why that culture always had been — and still is — so important to me.
Over the last few months, I reconnected with friends from my Orthodox elementary school, my Conservative camp and my Reform youth group, all because I’ve written articles inspired by our experiences together that I wanted to share with them.
I’ve also made new friends on The Schmear team. Our group is made up of some of my friends and Daniel’s, many of whom didn’t know each other before. Our writing team consists of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, day school and public school alumni, northeasterners, southerners, midwesterners and Californians. Each of us has different anecdotes to share and different writing styles we excel at, but our love for Judaism and humor has made us a pluralistic comedy machine.
In January, we officially launched our brand. We began posting on social media and releasing a newsletter with some of our best articles each week, and we’ve seen steady growth in our following. Our readers love what we’re doing, and my guess is that it’s for the same reason we love doing it. Whether they take the time to read our full articles or they just giggle at our punchy headlines before they keep scrolling, The Schmear gives them something to laugh about.
But I believe it’s about more than just being funny — although, objectively, we are hilarious. The reason we all love The Schmear is that it serves as a reminder of the weird and lovely ways we are united in one big community. For people who have not been in a room full of other Jews in over a year, it can be uplifting to have flash memories of things we haven’t thought about in so long, like a baby crying in synagogue, or competing with friends to see who has found their Jewish names fewer times in a gift shop.
The Schmear is a reminder of the weird and lovely ways we are united in one big community.
It’s nice that, in addition to missing the ways we used to have holidays and simchas, we can discover all these inside jokes we didn’t even realize we had, and that regardless of background or religious practice, there are moments of being Jewish that we can all relate to.
I’m back on campus this semester, and I’ll be at camp this summer. I’m lucky enough that my own Jewish communities are not so distant anymore. But now that I have The Schmear, I know that my community is more than my personal friends. It is a world of people I’ve never met who share my values and some of my experiences, and who enjoy knowing that they are not alone.
It’s my job now to make them laugh, and I promise I am up to the task.
Liana Slomka is a sophomore at Princeton University, majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology.
Debates over Israel, mental health challenges, anti-Semitism, creating a strong Jewish life — young Jews experience a lot in college. The View From Campus is a column for them to tell The Jewish Week, and you, all about it. Want to write for us? Send a draft or pitch to Lev Gringauz at email@example.com.