Instead of spreading holiday cheer, Nordstrom created a Chanukah controversy last week with a women’s sweater the retail chain was forced to pull from its inventory following customer complaints.
The words “Chai Maintenance” and “Hanukkah J.A.P.” were stitched on the front of the sweater, leading to a Facebook campaign to remove the item.
J.A.P. is an acronym for Jewish American Princess, considered by many to be a slur; it is part of a stereotype depicting Jewish American women as high-maintenance.
Within hours of the Facebook campaign, Nordstrom removed the item from its website.
“The sweater is offensive, as it plays on Jewish stereotypes of women, and we’re surprised that it made it through the vetting process,” said Eric Wachter, associate director of ADL’s Washington regional office. “We are pleased that Nordstrom immediately recognized the potential offensiveness of this sweater and promptly removed it from the shelves after it was brought to their attention.”
Nordstrom said in a statement that the chain “made a mistake by not looking more closely at the words on the sweater” before posting it and that it was “terribly sorry for offending people.”
Erika Dickstein, a member of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, said she was surprised that the retailer would sell an item with “an old, ill-informed, awful stereotype,” but she credited Nordstrom with acting quickly to take it down after people complained on Facebook.
Dickstein, who works in Internet marketing, said that her first thought upon hearing about the offensive sweater was to urge people to circulate their displeasure via social media and by “bombarding” Nordstrom’s Facebook page with comments that it is not OK to disparage Jewish women.
“I think I said something like, ‘It doesn’t elevate any of us when we spread negative stereotypes about anybody,’” Dickstein said. “Would we want this done about Muslim women or Catholic women? What would that look like?”
While Nordstrom no longer sells the item, Amazon is currently selling a similar sweater with “Chai Maintenance” at the top but without “J.A.P.” on the bottom.
She contrasted what she considers the real controversy of the Nordstrom’s sweater with what she considers a faux controversy about Starbucks’ supposed war on Christmas: The coffee chain decided to nix wintery symbols in favor of a solid red cup.
“I found it to be interesting that this broke at the same time, basically the same day that the red cup controversy at Starbucks broke because that was such a non-issue,” said Dickstein.
“I think it’s a very different thing because whereas the controversy about the red cup is that we’re going from having a non-Christmas symbol to having no symbol. Here, we have something that legitimately is a negative stereotype about Jewish women.”