Friday, October 27, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Always the Question

“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”

“Hobn kinder iz shver ober hodeven zey iz nokh shverer”
Yiddish proverb

Is it Good for the Jews? Yidn ask this question, even when times are (seem to be) good, which might seem strange and somewhat neurotic. Neuroses have causes, and in this case historical causes. An article, by Stanley Fish (“Is It Good for the Jews?”; March 4, 2007) in the NYT gives some insight as to why this question is often raised:

A community in which this question is central and even natural will be a community with a sense of its own precariousness. (No one ever asks, is it good for the white, male, Anglo-Saxon graduates of Princeton; it’s always good for them.) Its members will think of themselves as perpetually under assault (even if the assault never comes), and as the likely victims of acts of discrimination and exclusion. (“No Irish need apply.”) As a result it will turn inward and present to the outside world a united and fiercely defensive face. It will be informed and haunted by a conviction that no matter how well things may seem to be going, it is only a matter of time before there is a knock on the door and someone comes in and takes it all away.
This is about history, and the knowledge of how history can and does repeat itself. When this has happened so many times in the history of the Jews, no matter how secure things might appear, one can never know with certainty that it can’t happen once again, that it can’t be taken all away. When we are asking whether this leader or policy is good for the Jews, what we are also asking and evaluating is whether it is bad for the Jews. This is the ultimate fear that plays out in our minds.

When anti-Israel views are on the rise, especially at university campuses filled with mass confusion, and when there is a known correlation between anti-Israel views and anti-Jewish views, there is good reason to ask what is happening. Of course, there are legitimate criticisms of Israel, as there is of any nation in the world, in terms of its policies. But, more often than not, the criticism is unmerited and unwarranted and seems based on things other than government policy. No, davka, Israel is among the better nations in the world.

Mayle, something else is responsible; something both palpable and intangible. Its message of hate comes from both the extreme left and the extreme right; it is not really political, although it seems so. Sure, the hatred is irrational, but isn’t it always? There are always the same questions—Why is this happening? Is there something that we Jews can learn from the past? There are a few good answers, the same ones that have kept us in times of trouble.

You can be assured that mass assimilation, mass conversion, mass appeasement or the destruction of Eretz Yisreal (ארץ ישראל; “Land of Israel”‎), Chas veshalom (חס ושלום, ח"ו; “Heaven forbid,”), are all equally the worst possible ways to protect us or decrease the hatred against us. It might seem counter intuitive, but Jews need to be more Jewish, not less and think more about the needs of our community before wandering around to others. Yes, charity begins at home. Yes, davka, we can learn from the history of the Jews of the power of unity and of sticking together.

When you include the intangible factor of belief in God and the promises of the Torah, it becomes trickier to prove, although faith has undeniable ameliorating effects and should not be discounted. Belief, in my view, does not mean that one should avoid making plans for all eventualities, including defeating our enemies and defending ourselves from any acts of aggression. Even then, the underlying hope is always shalom or peace; such is an ever-present and eternal hope, a messianic one, if you will.

As a parent, I have an added responsibility of preparing the next generation, which includes teaching my children the moral values that are necessary for them to apprehend the world and navigate it in a proper way. For me this means with a particular bent of mind, understanding with increasing clarity and knowledge what our responsibilities are and with whom are our our chief affiliations. Yes, it’s always a good time to pick a side, but this has nothing to do with politics or political parties. Es iz bloyz eyn sort fun Yid; der eyner vos vil tsu lebn a Yid.

Peretz ben EphraimOctober 27, 2017