Jonathan Brooks

Jonathan Brooks in 2018

We received an email from a concerned reader on Sunday.  “As a concerned Jewish person living in the Circle City,” he wrote. “I was wondering if NUVO would be removing your content surrounding chef Jonathan Brooks.”

This reader is incensed because Milktooth restaurant owner and chef Jonathan Brooks posted on Instagram a post about blood libel.

"If I'm not “really Jewish” then how would I be so familiar with the taste of children's blood?" he wrote Thursday, using the name “thebeastgodforgot,” on Instagram Stories.  

Brooks, who is rebranding his restaurant as Jewish deli-influenced, was defending himself with a remark referencing blood libel against a charge of appropriating Jewish food to make a profit.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “Blood libel is the allegation that Jews murder non-Jews, especially Christian children, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals: most blood libels occurred close to Passover  …”

In the Middle Ages, many Jews were murdered as a result of the false accusations that Jews used blood as an ingredient in their matzo meal. What might be particularly galling for some about this particular post is that it occurs only two weeks before the Jewish observance of Passover, which begins at sundown on March 27.  

Brooks seemed more defensive than apologetic in his remarks to The Indianapolis Star: “I’m Jewish and my pastry chef is Jewish. That’s the food that we grew up with. The joke was that we weren't Jewish enough to cook our own food.

“Yes, it's an off-color joke,” he continued. “Jokes can be off-color. That doesn’t make them wrong,” Brooks said. "No one has to follow me on Instagram.”

He then told the IndyStar that his remarks were meant to be sarcastic, describing them as “ridiculous”, and said he wasn’t trying to be offensive. 

As a Jewish friend pointed out to me recently, there is something disingenuous about this remark. Brooks, she said, invited the controversy with deliberately provocative remarks and then acts surprised when there’s blowback.

Indianapolis has been down this road before with the chef and entrepreneur who has achieved national recognition in The New York Times and other publications for his innovative menus. 

Most of the controversy isn’t food related.  

After muralist Jules Muck, aka Muckrock, painted a mural of two copulating bunnies on the side of his restaurant Beholder, igniting a storm of controversy on social media, Brooks posted the following on Facebook: “Everyone can hold & suck. ‘It’s not my favorite mural’ WHO FUCKING ASKED. Go do your own thing…. And you’re welcome for the rising property values. Bye.”

Brooks was reacting to both criticism of Muckrock’s work for not being appropriate for the E. 10th St. neighborhood where it resides and the fact that Muckrock is not a local artist. (About a year later Muckrock stepped into another controversy when she was accused of employing racist caricatures in her work.)  

Another more persistent allegation against Brooks was that Beholder was a restaurant that few in the neighborhood could afford, that he was playing a role in the gentrification of the area, and that he wasn’t doing enough for the local community.  

Yet Brooks employs local chefs and relied on local artisans and artists for his businesses, and has helped put Indy on the culinary map. I'm a fan of Milktooth —  and being Jewish myself —   I’m curious about what kind of spins Brooks will put on old deli staples like bagels and lox and chopped liver.  Will one remark on social media prevent me from checking out his revamped restaurant? A lot depends on his next steps.

Many in the Jewish community don’t consider references to blood libel a joking matter because anti-Semitism isn’t yet a thing of the past. Consider the heightened security requirements faced by many Jewish schools, synagogues, and community centers in Indianapolis and all across the country. These security measures are in place for a reason. 

The Anti-Defamation league saw a doubling in anti-Semitic incidents from 2015-2019, including acts of vandalism, physical assaults, and shootings.

But to answer the concerned reader’s email, we’re not going to remove our content that mentions Brooks, and we hope that these articles provide some context to the current controversy. Deleting these articles would not only be a galling act of self-censorship, but it would also go against the spirit of press freedom that Jews and Gentiles alike have enjoyed in the U.S. for so long. 

 

 

Managing Editor

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.