How This Old Jewish Men Became the Internet Sensation in 202121.12.2021
The most bizarre thing about a year filled with strangeness is that you can almost set your timer to a Jewish man of a certain era going viral on the Internet. Larry David has been the man of the year this year more than once. The photo of David sipping espresso martinis with Timothee Chalamet and the news that David was chomping on Alan Dershowitz at a Martha’s Vineyard grocery shop are both well-remembered. You’ll almost certainly remember Curb Your Enthusiasm’s star trying to make a call while he sat front row at New York Fashion Week’s Staud show.
The year of Old Jews Go Viral isn’t just of Larry. It also includes the 1.5 million people who follow Mandy Patinkin’s wife Kathryn Grody via TikTok and the 305k followers they have on Instagram. Twitter is in a panic over the announcement that Mel Brooks, 95, will finally deliver History of the World II. Every other week, a new Elliott Gould photo goes viral. It’s a stunning Bob Balaban and Richard Lewis. It’s the changing philosophy that Adam Sandler was a sartorial savant. James Caan’s amazing, intimidating Twitter account signs off every tweet with his signature: “End of Tweet.”
Bernie Sanders is the reason 2021 really is the year for the old Jewish man. In January, the famously cranky senator of Vermont started the ball rolling by simply sitting in his parka with his mittens at President Obama’s inauguration. The meme of 2021 was created by the simple act of sitting there in his parka and mittens. Just as that picture was about to lose steam, Shawn McCreesh took a photo of Sanders with his shirt sleeves up, half-eaten diner food in his hands, and a piece of notebook paper in one hand. McCreesh calls the photo “The Man and His $6 Trillion Dollar Plan,” and it went viral immediately. McCreesh states that the photo captured something that people loved about him: “There was something so charmingly low-tech about that piece paper.” His loopy scrawl was worth trillions of dollars in government spending. He arrived at the diner disheveled, without any press aides, and with it crumpled in hand.
McCreesh’s story is dominated by one word: disheveled. Sanders is known for not caring about the opinions of the public about him and his appearance. This is a man who doesn’t mind talking about the fact that he doesn’t call people to wish happy birthday. In our culture of image-is-everything, we love to see him. The thing that makes the old Jewish man so attractive, like David, who sometimes plays Sanders on SNL. It’s how little he cares about what anyone thinks of him.
Noah Rinsky, the owner of Old Jewish Men’s Instagram account, says that Larry David’s laissez-faire style is fashionable. Rinsky began taking funny videos of his father just hanging out at the house and started the account. Rinsky was living in Lower East Side at the time. He noticed a certain style in older men walking quickly from one place to another. He’s noticed over the years that his older men are almost trendy. He says, “With Covid people are more relaxed with fashion, more forgiving.”
It’s not uncommon for us to want to look like old Jewish men. Rinsky is a photographer who primarily documents the 55-and over crowd. But he quickly points out that Rinsky’s work is more about a feeling than anything. Rinsky says that you don’t have to be Jewish or old to be an old Jewishman. That kvetching is something anyone can do regardless of their bar mitzvah status, without fear, and with no clashing patterns, is what he believes. He says, “It’s an attitude.”
It is not unusual for older people to be stylish. Iris Apfel is a symbol at 100. Photographers like Ari Seth Cohen and Mordechai Rubinstein are very good at understanding that style changes with age. Aime Leon Dore to Ralph Lauren have all used the AARP crowd as models and inspiration. Fashion is only one thing. OJM is a completely different organization. OJM shines a light on something that was, for a long period, culturally significant within baseball. You probably know this if you are Jewish. They give a lot of energy, and express it primarily through their lack of fucks. They are comfortable with their own style, so it doesn’t really matter if they don’t.
The account Chinatown Pretty also showcases the easy-going looks of seniors who live in Chinatowns. While it is true that seniors have a style and beauty that transcends one culture, it is evident that accounts such as OJM or Chinatown Pretty are gaining popularity at a time of increased crime targeting Jews and Asians. Because they focus on what interests their subjects, these accounts are more successful than parody. They highlight the uniqueness of older people. Rinsky, for example, has been in the news for holding “protests” outside of places requesting more public toilets and cheaper pastrami. It’s not a lot, but it’s still quite a few. A sandwich at Katz’s costs 25 dollars and there aren’t enough toilets.
Rinsky decided earlier this summer to literally take the party offline. Rinsky hosted the first OJM party at an old suit shop in the Lower East Side. A jazz band performed, and there was also a man selling custom-made Nikes. There was also a spread of bagels, lox and black and white cookies, as well as a cooler with beer and hard cider. Everyone looked great. (Among the attendees, I saw the jewelry designer Susan Alexandra and Liana Satenstein, Vogue writer, Interview Editor-in-Chief Mel Ottenberg, designer Batshevahay, several Hasidic men, and a man dressed as if he’d just popped from P.G. Wodehouse’s Drones Club, and a 70-year-old man I spoke to about Katz’s Deli’s excessive price. Invites promised pickles, air conditioning, and unlimited access to the toilet. The party delivered on two of the three promises.
This was July’s end. You’d think that everyone would have moved on to something else now, considering the way trends change. We can’t seem to get enough of the old Jewish men even after a few months. Uncut Gems’ Wayne Diamond was tapped by the Rowing Blazers to star in a recent campaign. Hamsa Club began selling a shirt that paid tribute to the 1996 Vibe magazine Death Row Cover. Instead of Suge, Dre and Snoop, you had Adam Sandler and Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld. And of course, Larry David. LD has really established his position as the undisputed king among the old Jewish men. Kith created a collection for Curb Your Enthusiasm inspired by Kith, which sold out in minutes. David also went on a sports talk program to make a compelling argument for the removal of goal posts. He said, “They are not football players.” “I’m sure that they’re wonderful individuals, but they’re no football players!” This is where the line between pure belief and deeply held beliefs remains razor-thin.
One clip shows why David’s popularity has remained steady for more than 20 years, since it first aired on HBO. It also shows why we cannot get enough of other older, less well-known Jewish men. The David in Curb Your Enthusiasm may be a distorted version of David himself. He is a man who thinks a particular way, dresses a specific way and acts a particular way. If people don’t like this, that’s their problem. This is the lifestyle Rinsky discusses in regards to his Instagram account. It’s also why Bernie Sanders photos often become memes.
It doesn’t really matter if these are old Jewish men, older Chinese people documented by Chinatown Pretty or senior citizens from any other background. There’s a certain coolness that comes with age. It is something you only get from hard work. It is the antidote for our overly “on” times, when everyone is trying to grab attention by taking 50 photos to get one great photo up on Instagram. “These people are the most important reason we care about them. They don’t care much what our opinions.”