The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Fearing the Schnorrer

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on October 2, 2010

I serve on the board of our small local Conservative synagogue. I’ve noticed a phenomenon in collective event planning:

keeping away the schnorrers.

Schnorrer is a Yiddish word meaning freeloader. The schnorrer is the mooch who always has to use the men’s room right before the bill arrives. This guy can smell a table full of baked goods from miles away. He heaps his plate high before he can be told the buffet is for paid ticket holders only.

Inherent to the concept of the schnorrer is his sense of entitlement. He did a laundry list of things for the club, the school, the neighbors e.g. so they should host a beautiful banquet for him.

He (or she! Schnorring is an equal opportunity pastime) also warms to a sense of righteous indignation when told to leave. The schnorrer is shameless. She’ll walk right through the regular section to the special, roped-off VIP section and grab a plate of pastries and a couple of bottles of fancy mineral water, even if she’s dressed in a magenta sweatsuit and everyone else is in black tie, and she will (guaranteed) become extremely offended when told by some poor volunteer/intern that she has to leave.

So that’s the schnorrer.

Remember that, then think of a correlative Jewish concept, fear of overpaying.

Fear of overpaying isn’t even necessarily about money. The money you have left is evidence of how good a deal you struck. It’s a side benefit to the good feeling you have, knowing you combined a $10 off coupon with a 40% off coupon plus pointed out a small stain to the salesgirl to shave off an extra $5.

Fear of overpaying spills over into:

1) not wanting to be taken advantage of or taken for a ride;


2) not wanting to miss out on a freebie.

Did you just eat an entire meal? Did that meal include dessert? Are you so stuffed you had to covertly unbutton your top button?

As you walk through the restaurant to your car, if you happen to spot waiters passing trays of stuffed mushroom appetizers for another event, and if you are dressed up enough that you really do authentically blend, and your wife and sister in law really want to see the event room in action anyway, do you grab four stuffed mushrooms and pop them in your mouth? Because you can? Because to not do so would be to miss out on a freebie.

You’d be an idiot to not eat the stuffed mushroom.

(And your wife and sister in law have practically signed the contract already to have an event there, so to check out the event room under real life conditions is practically like being invited. The waiters circulating with passed appetizers would be rude to NOT offer you some.)

So that is part one: the mind of the schnorrer, with the correlative fear of overpaying.

Now picture a hard working, beleaguered board of directors, trying to plan some event. Let’s say it’s a “Welcome! New Members” event. Let’s say coffee, tea, bottled water, soda, and ice cream bars will be served. Let’s say they are really good ice cream bars (the same kind sold to the general public for $1 at bingo.)

Would it be outrageous to worry overmuch that some people who are ALREADY members (and not “new” at all) would walk through the room and grab an ice cream bar? Do you station someone to turn them away? Collect money, but only from those who don’t deserve to be there? What about a person who brings a new person with them?

(Because you know in their “Don’t leave a freebie on the table” mind, they definitely deserve an ice cream bar. They’re bringing in an entire new family to this organization. What’s one little ice cream bar?)

It gets to the point where entire events collapse — just simply don’t even take place — because of fear of the schnorrer.

I have noticed a definite generation divide over who worries overmuch about the schnorrer.

(Remember, a Jewish synagogue’s board of directors is one place where folks in their 40s are the upstart young kids, often by 30 or 40 years.)

The older generation’s worry about getting taken for a ride bumps up against the congregation’s inevitable schnorrers’ desire to get something for free.

The young people (i.e. those in their mid-50s or younger) don’t care so much. We are likelier to walk into a store and pay whatever the price tag says. We don’t drive to four different places or go out of our way to travel 70 miles to buy something for $15 less from someone’s brother in law.

I don’t know the exact reason why but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the internet.

So there you have it: a piece of Jewish sociology in a nutshell, complete with a new Yiddish word. Just don’t call someone a “schnorrer” or he might be so offended he’ll throw his (free) plate of freshly carved roast beef with horseradish sauce (bonus points if carved by a guy in a tall “chef” hat) at you.

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