Remembering when Jews were popular

One of the things that was most obvious about the Mumbai massacre was the extraordinary effort the attackers — who were ostensibly upset about the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir — made to kill Jews.  Not only did they seek out Jews in the hotels, they planned carefully and in advance to attack the single Jewish outpost (Chabad house) in that entire city of 20 million people.  Then, once they got their hands on those Jews, they subjected them to torture so horrible, even doctors hardened to death and suffering found it indescribable.  For more on the manifestly deliberate attack against the Jews, you might want to read this Dennis Prager column, which spells out the evidence that the terrorists specifically targeted Jews, and seeks to find a reason for that tactic.

What many have noticed in the wake of the Mumbai horror is the way in which the mainstream media has been downplaying two things:  First, the Islamist nature of the attack, to the point at which media writers got incredibly excited by the fact that one — yes, folks, one — of those involved was actually Indian and not Pakistani.  I think that this raises the faint hope in media minds that the guy was Hindu (pardon me while I giggle incredulously here) and not Muslim.  Second, the media has been trying very hard to pretend that Jews were not a deliberate major target in this attack on a city of 20 million Indians and 50 Jews.  The media prefers that Americans don’t notice that the killers were trying for their own little Holocaust, wiping the Jews off the Mumbai map.

In an interesting rumination on this last point, Mladen Andrijasevic wonders if the New York Times, which led the charge for this “Jews, what Jews?” idiocy, is underestimating or correctly gauging New Yorkers’ Juda-philism or Juda-phobism:

Has The New York Times got it right? Has the feeling of being in the center of the universe on a late Saturday evening in the West Village or Upper West Side near ZABAR’S, cleaning up the various unwanted sections of the just arrived Sunday edition, has this feeling of being alive made all New Yorkers insensitive and inhuman? How is it possible that millions of New Yorkers read this obvious lie and did not react? Is it ignorance, is it habit, is it stupidity or is it just cowardice? How spineless can you be?

At least the New York Times has a certain bizarre subtlety to its “who cares about the Jews” approach.  Not so the UN, which is gearing up for its annual hate-fest against the Jews, an exercise that attracts increasingly lower levels of attention from around the world.  Not only has it gotten rote (“yeah, yeah, the UN hates the Jews”), but many nations like to nod their heads in agreement (“well, of course they’re hated, because their an evil, apartheid, imperialistic Nazi state”).  All of which makes me a little bit nostalgic for my youth in the late 1960s and 1970s.

If you were around in those decades, you’ll remember a time when America was in love with all things Jewish. Popular culture was awash in hugely successful books, songs, and shows that reflected favorably on American Jewish culture. For example, when I was a kid, everyone read and quoted from Dan Greenberg’s incredibly funny book, How to be a Jewish Mother. I had a friend who would just double over with laughter every time she thought of the appropriate Jewish mother response if she comes into the living room and finds her daughter necking on the couch with a boy: “Leave this house and don’t come back until you’re a virgin again.”

Another great (hugely) popular Jewish book of the 1960s was Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, a book that is a dictionary, a joke book, a cultural history, and a religious history book all rolled into one. (If you haven’t read it yet, you should.)

Anyone over forty also remembers Allan Sherman, the guy who became famous singing “Hello, Muddah; Hello, Faddah” and other ridiculous lyrics to familiar music? His records are still available, but in the 1960s they were a cultural phenomenom.

Certainly, no one needs to be reminded of what an enormous hit Fiddler on the Roof was: smash Broadway show, hit movie, and revival after revival. It still does get revived periodically (as was the case in 2004 in New York), but can you imagine it opening as a first run show now, in the same world that lauds a show about Rachel Corrie?  I certainly can’t.

So much of the entertainment world generally had a Jewish gloss, with the popular entertainers of the 1920s still held in some degree of reverence during my childhood and youth. Tin Pan Alley, and Broadway, after all, were heavily Jewish (Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rogers, the Gershwin brothers, Moss Hart, George Kaufman, Lerner and Loewe, and on and on and on).  Indeed, just today I heard Tommy Dorsey’s “And the Angel’s Sing,” and was reminded of the wonderful Klezmer influence on Big Band music.

Pop culture comes and goes, and I certainly don’t mind — indeed, I think it’s a good thing — that other cultures are getting their moment in the pop culture sun. What I do mind, dreadfully, is how hostile so much of the world is now to things Jewish. Rachel Corrie is a martyr, anti-Semitism is popping up all over, churches boycott Israel, and the New York Times pretends that it was mere coincidence that the lone Jewish enclave in Mumbai was singled out for an attack that surpassed all the others in sheer brutality.  I miss the time when the Jews were a beloved people, and their culture a thing to be enjoyed and admired.

I also miss the fact that Western culture, especially America, once looked fondly on Israel too.  Israel was not then an evil, imperialist, apartheid, Nazi state.  Instead, it was viewed as a plucky democratic nation, made up of survivors from Pogroms, the Holocaust and refugee camps, that had bravely beaten back the nationalist Arab bully boys. Israel was David to the Arab world’s Goliath. Israel was also tremendously admired for turning a blighted desert into the land of milk and honey, for its successful socialist experiments (in the form of the Kibbutzim), and for its sponge-like ability to absorb Jews who were still being harassed and murdered in the Arab world.

Still, speaking of Israel, I am reminded that the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish poison has been seeping into our culture for a long, long time now.  Back in 1974/75, Ephraim Kishon, an Israeli humorist (and Holocaust and Communist survivor), wrote a very funny short story called “Unfair to Goliath” (contained in a book of the same name). I can’t find my copy right now but, if I remember correctly, Kishon used the David and Goliath analogy that was so frequently popping up then in reference to Israel, and blended it with the murmurings about how Israel somehow had an unfair advantage over those poor, densely populated, oil rich Arab nations that were perpetually attacking her. It’s a funny story, but sadly prescient.

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  • nathan

    My favorite pro-Israel movie was Cast A Giant Shadow starring Kirk Douglas as the American Colonel Mickey Marcus who became the first Aluf or General of the Israel Defense Forces. The movie featured cameo roles by John Wayne and even Frank Sinatra. There is a scene where Sinatra, an American pilot, drops seltzer bottles on the Arab forces, trying to fool them into believing he is bombing them. Yeah, Hollywood liked Israel back then.

  • David Foster

    A very high % of those with strong anti-Israel opinions also have generalized feelings of contempt for American society…Israel is despised specifically because it embodies so many traditional American ideas and ideals.

    The old-time anti-Semite disliked Jews because he felt they were too different from his own society–the modern anti-Semite dislikes Jews because they are too close to the archtype of his own society.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Not in my family they won’t. Neither in my circles of friends.

    Funny thing, though, the Jew-haters also hate those other people that love and feel a sense of obligation to the Jews (as a tribe, that is), people such as conservative Christians, that is. I suspect that we are all hated for the same reasons – because the Books that we hold dear hold us all accountable to a higher authority from which we cannot hide. We are a reminder to those that hate us of something that they would deny but to which they must ultimately be held accountable as well. They hate us because they hate themselves.

    Now, “Jews” hating Jews I really don’t understand. The New York Times owners and many of the slavish acolytes are Jewish. Is it self hate that they express? Is it the Stockholm Syndrome? Can anyone help me to understand this?

  • kali

    Two theories to throw in here, not so much about Jew-hatred as Israel-hatred.

    First, the Israelis abandoned their socialist experiment. Instead of a plucky little proletariat working the soil with a song of universal brotherhood on their lips, they became capitalists. Successful capitalists. They were no longer proletarians, but owners. And because to the average intellectual, the only way to make money is to steal it from someone else, then the Israelis were stealing from the Arabs.

    Second, propaganda. At a guess, we’ve been inundated with subtle and not-so-subtle anti-Israeli propaganda for over thirty years. There’s the natural bias of news services using local stringers with local sympathies, then there’s what Saudi money has bought. Does anyone know how much Saudi money has directly or indirectly flowed into our universities? How many think tanks, advocacy organizations, retired politicians and diplomats have they bought? (I’m looking at *you* James Earl Carter)

    The end result is that the story of the Israelis is now firmly associated with the story of European colonialism, and as my daughter’s Social Studies teacher can tell you, that was an era unique in world history for its vileness and oppression. Ergo, the Israelis are vile oppressors, and the only way for a Jew to escape that association is to become the loudest voice in the chorus condemning them.

  • suek

    Hmmm. I don’t understand Jew hatred. It seems to me that they are responsible for much if not most of the good things we have in the world in the way of civilization and progress.
    That said, I wonder if it’s because there is an increasing separation between being Jewish and following Judaism. There’s also an inclination to reject your separateness when there’s no rationale for it. And awareness…Jews who are not exactly Jews seem to me to be rejecting their religious heritage, and in doing so are hyper aware of their own Jewishness – which they are rejecting. We’ve seem some commenters here that “used to be” Catholic, who are more vocal in condemning Catholicism than those who have never had any connection to the Church. I think it’s something of the same phenomenon, though I don’t really understand it. Sort of the old “when you point at someone, you have 3 fingers pointing back at you” thing.

  • David Foster

    Whatever the original reasons for the hostility toward Israel, it is now self-sustaining through the mechanism of identity politics. If you work in certain industries (academia, entertainment, journalism, arts, most of the “nonprofit” world, etc) you are *expected* to be hostile toward Israel and toward much of American society. Some people have the courage to resist this, but they are the exceptions.

    It’s often been observed that Evangelicals are generally strong supporters of Israel, and this has generally been credited to theological factors. Another factor, though, is that Evangelicals are usually outside the force field of opinion that centers on academia, the NYT, and PBS/NPR, and hence are not exposed to the same social pressure that exist in this world.

  • suek

    If you enjoy Mark Steyn’s writing style as I do, you might enjoy this article:

  • Mike Devx

    You terrible, terrible persons! So many terrible persons on this blog!

    Don’t you know that all cultures are equally worthy? Haven’t you listened to what the teachers have programmed, I mean taught, to your enlightened children?

    If I hear ONE MORE PERSON tell me about the per capita number of patents and successful companies in Israel, compared to the per capital number of patents and successful companies across the entire Muslim world, I swear, I will puke. Actually, the number of people who have told me about this is zero, because we suppress that sort of irrelevant information; but if even one person ever tells me about that, all I can say is, puke puke puke.

    So repeat after me: All cultures are equally worthy, and equally important to the very meaning of civilization, civilized behavior, and the progress of mankind. Regardless of their actions, their words, and all evidence.

  • suek

    Yeah yeah yeah….!!!

  • Ymarsakar

    Now, “Jews” hating Jews I really don’t understand.

    It is just like Americans hating Americans, Danny. In a different cultural context.

  • Ymarsakar

    So repeat after me: All cultures are equally worthy, and equally important to the very meaning of civilization, civilized behavior, and the progress of mankind. Regardless of their actions, their words, and all evidence.

    That’s nice: up until the nuke is dropped. Then there will be a rather large difference, so des neh.

  • cottus

    I have to admit I always thought the popularity and support for Jews back in my generation was due to their success, hence better placement in regards to the levers of society.

    The recent rampant antisemitism among otherwise educated sections of the American populace just flabbergasts me. Kali puts her finger on it (how many does she have? 20 or so?) – I call it strategic advertising.

    But having grown up as about the only goy in a very (VERY) competitive public school environment dominated by Jews what is even more confounding are the actions and statements of practically all powerfully placed secular Jews. Cluelessly following in the disastrous steps of the descendants of Gerson von Bleichröder, who ardently sought to be good Nazis, I guess – just trying to stay ahead of the curve.

  • Mike Devx

    cottus et al,

    This is an honest question: Isn’t the behavior of American liberal Jews exactly the same as Israeli liberal Jews? It seems to me they all believe that if we’re just somehow nicer to those who seek to harm us, everything will simply turn out all right. And they see the mistakes of Jews as making Jews unworthy of peace and freedom from their enemies, all the while excusing the far worse atrocities of those enemies – the enemies who seek the complete eradication of all Jews from the face of the entire earth. Isn’t that what the liberal Jews, wherever they are, hold as their belief system?

    “Who am I to judge? How am I to know, when nothing can ever be truly known?” is a part of their filter on existence. This abdication of individual responsibility – in favor of bestowing responsibility on some one else, as does a child – remains apalling to me. They seem to view the benefits of civilization, all around them, as if it arose by magic and is therefore the natural state of things. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but when we abandon the ideas, memes, and philosophies that cause the benefits of civilization to flourish, I think we end up with squalor, barbarism, and poverty.

  • Danny Lemieux

    “Perhaps I’m a cynic, but when we abandon the ideas, memes, and philosophies that cause the benefits of civilization to flourish, I think we end up with squalor, barbarism, and poverty.”

    And we should may do so, MikeD.

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