(RNS) The Jewish musician got a nose job in a bid to make fun of Jews who get nose jobs. Now the Jewish plastic surgeon is under investigation. Even as he offers free nose jobs to young Orthodox Jews to help them find a husband.
Some American Jews, meanwhile, are denouncing the whole episode — especially a “Jewcan Sam” video that started it all — as perpetuating an old stereotype that doesn't need any more publicity.
The doctor in question is Michael Salzhauer, known around Miami as “Dr. Schnoz.” Several months ago, he commissioned a music video on rhinoplasty that was written and performed by The Groggers, probably the only Orthodox Jewish pop-punk band in the nation.
As part of the deal, Salzhauer offered a free nose job to anyone in the band. The lead singer — as the video makes abundantly clear — took him up on it.
“Tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating” is what Salzhauer, an Orthodox Jew himself, calls “Jewcan Sam.” “The message is 'don't have plastic surgery to please someone else because that never works out.'”
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, however, deemed the video “inappropriate and offensive” in a March 13 statement, and has opened an ethics investigation.
More generally, Jewcan Sam has revived debates about Jewish stereotypes and prompted questions about whether rhinoplasty patients are cutting off their noses to spite their Jewish faces.
Andrew Rosenkranz, the Florida director for the Anti-Defamation League, called the five-minute video “hurtful” for featuring a Jewish young man who is rejected by a fetching young woman because of his beaky nose.
“For hundreds of years Jews have been depicted negatively with distorted features, including large hooked noses,” Rosenkranz said. “It's a physical trait that is associated with the image of the Jew as someone who doesn't belong, someone who is alien.”
“Jewcan Sam” — the name is borrowed from the Froot Loops cereal mascot Toucan Sam — has scored more than 100,000 views on YouTube. It landed L.E. Doug Staiman, the lead singer of The Groggers and star of the video, an appearance on the CBS show “The Doctors,” and has sparked a serious debate in the Jewish press, with some even calling Salzhauer a “self-hating” Jew.
Staiman, from Queens, N.Y., has received similar criticism, and finds it “ridiculous.”
“We're all Orthodox Jews and very proud Jews,” he said, and suggested Jewish civil rights groups have more important things to worry about.
“Isn't there a KKK rally you've got to break up somewhere?”
Staiman and Salzhauer have also argued the video is not the commercial for plastic surgery that its detractors make it out to be. It's a satire, they insist, and one that doesn't always present rhinoplasty in the gentlest light.
The video follows the yarmulke-wearing Staiman as he tries to resist a knife-wielding surgeon — played by Salzhauer — and his thuggish orderlies. Everywhere he goes, he faces pressure to get a nose job. At one point he bumps into a bush clipped in the shape of scissors.
After the nose job, Staiman doesn't get the sexy girl. (The video was filmed both before and after Salzhauer performed the operation.) But he does get a different sexy girl.
Is it a mixed message on rhinoplasty? Yes, said Staiman, whose band has a reputation for making edgy music videos on themes in Jewish life, and not always taking clear positions on them.
“There are definitely people who have abused plastic surgery and there are people who have used it a proper and appropriate way,” he said.
Though nervous about his own nose job, which he said he debated at length with his parents and band mates, he went through with it — partly to make himself feel better about a nose he didn't love, and partly because he didn't want to change the painstakingly written script for “Jewcan Sam.”
“It's going to sound kind of crazy,” he said. “But it was easier to get a nose job.”
Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization of Orthodox Jewish groups, has not seen “Jewcan Sam” and doesn't comment on YouTube videos. But plastic surgery, unless intended to address a severe malformation, does not generally conform to Jewish values, he said.
“The Jewish ideal is to be 'sameach bichelko,'” he said, using the Hebrew term for “happy with what we have.” “None of us should allow others to make us unhappy about what God has given us, whether it be in terms of income, family, talents — or facial features.”
Salzhauer knows his philosophy on plastic surgery — he performs more than 200 nose jobs a year for a mostly non-Jewish clientele — isn't the traditional rabbinic one. “But are you Jewish because of your nose?” he asked.
“When you start identifying yourself because of the way you look,” the doctor said, “you've lost part of the essence of what a religious creed should be.”
From personal experience, Salzhauer said he's seen how plastic surgery can change a life, and that's why he embarked on his next project, which, like “Jewcan Sam,” has ignited a lively debate.
Salzhauer is now offering plastic surgery “scholarships” to single Orthodox Jews looking for a spouse. They'll need the support of their traditional matchmakers, and parental approval if they're under 18.
While Salzhauer's pro bono patients come from a variety of backgrounds, the scholarships are targeting the community he knows best, and women in particular, he said.
“There is a glut of girls,” he said, “and the boys are being very picky.”