Comparing and contrasting immigration and assimilation in the Middle East

Let me preface this by saying that I have a super-smart, really well-informed cousin.  He’s the one who used to be a prison chaplain and, based upon that experience, came up with a profound insight that I use over and over (most recently regarding the terrible beheading murder in Oklahoma):

It is not a contradiction to be a Muslim and a murderer, even a mass murderer. That is one reason why criminals “convert” to Islam in prison. They don’t convert at all; they similarly [sic] remain the angry judgmental vicious beings they always have been. They simply add “religious” diatribes to their personal invective. Islam does not inspire a crisis of conscience, just inspirations to outrage.

My cousin was brilliant all over again this morning, when I posted on my Facebook page an image showing that, while everyone focuses on the small number of Palestinians who refused to assimilate into Israel, the world ignores the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Arab and Muslim nations from 1948 onward:

The real displaced people of the Middle East

Here’s my cousin’s incredibly erudite, off-the-cuff comment about immigration and assimilation in the Middle East:

The main difference between Israel and the Arabs is a question of humanity toward refugees. Israel was in dire poverty in the era of Mizrachi (i.e., Sephardic immigration from 1948-57). No UN relief money was given to Israel to assimilate 900,000 Mizrachi refugees, who arrived with no money, and no possessions, but with plenty of medical problems (especially eye infections).

The existing Ashkenazi leadership in Israel was horrified by the Mizrachi refugees’ medical problems, lack of language skills( a specially bad problem with Yemenite refugees), and domestic violence. Impoverished Israel first settled the Mizrachi refugees in tent camps, then in hastily constructed settlements on the frontiers.

Within three generations, the results of assimilation are overwhelmingly obvious. Israeli is a homogeneous country, bound by a single Israeli culture and is one of the most educationally and economically successfully nations in the world.

The exact reverse happened with the Palestinians. They have been afforded UNRWA refugee status for 66 years. This contrasts with the UN’s behavior to all other refugees after WWII, who were only given refugee status for 5 years. The Arabs’ recurrent wars against Israel are partially facilitated by UNRWA, especially insofar as it provides safe houses for terrorists and their weapons and produces “educational” curriculum that features genocidal, virulent hatred of Jews.

The Palestinian refugees, rather than making their way to a new, safe land, retreated 10 to 20 miles at most from the homes they abandoned. This contrasts with the thousands of miles that the Mizrachi Jews had to traverse to find safety.

The Arabs have waged an anti-Israel propaganda war based upon the continued existence of these UNRWA supported Palestinian “refugees.” Because of their peculiar status, one that encourages them to think of themselves as perpetual victims and displaced people, the Palestinians have been their own worst enemy. A good example is the fact that Kuwait expelled 400,000 Palestinians after Yassir Arafat openly supported Saddam Hussein’s war on Kuwait. (An act that provides that another good example of Arab/Muslim support for ethnic cleansing!)

Please say Shema for Israel at 7 P.M. Israel Time

Israeli soldier prayingThere is a project afoot for Jews all over the world to say the Shema for Israel at 7:00 p.m. Israel Time.  (That would be Noon on the East Coast and 9 a.m. here in California.)  The idea is that this most powerful prayer, if said by Jews all over world at the same time, will have an effect:

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. In an undertone:

Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.

V’shinan’tam l’vanekha v’dibar’ta bam And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them

b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Uk’shar’tam l’ot al yadekha v’hayu l’totafot bein einekha. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

Ukh’tav’tam al m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

V’hayah im shamo’a tish’m’u el mitz’votai And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments

asher anokhi m’tzaveh et’khem hayom that I command you today

l’ahavah et Adonai Eloheikhem ul’av’do b’khol l’vav’khem uv’khol naf’sh’khem to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul,

V’natati m’tar ar’tz’khem b’ito yoreh umal’kosh v’asaf’ta d’ganekha v’tirosh’kha v’yitz’harekha. That I will give rain to your land, the early and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.

V’natati eisev b’sad’kha liv’hem’tekha v’akhal’ta v’sava’ta. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle and you will eat and you will be satisfied.

Hisham’ru lakhem pen yif’teh l’vav’khem v’sar’tem va’avad’tem Elohim acheirim v’hish’tachavitem lahem Beware, lest your heart be deceived and you turn and serve other gods and worship them.

V’charah af Adonai bakhem v’atzar et hashamayim v’lo yih’yeh matar v’ha’adamah lo titein et y’vulah And anger of the Lord will blaze against you, and he will close the heavens and there will not be rain, and the earth will not give you its fullness,

va’avad’tem m’heirah mei’al ha’aretz hatovah asher Adonai notein lakhem. and you will perish quickly from the good land that the Lord gives you.

V’sam’tem et d’varai eileh al l’vav’khem v’al naf’sh’khemuk’shar’tem otam l’ot al yed’khem v’hayu l’totafot bein eineikhem. So you shall put these, my words, on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them for signs on your hands, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

V’limad’tem otam et b’neikhem l’dabeir bam And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them

b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Ukh’tav’tam al m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

L’ma’an yirbu y’maychem vi-y’may v’naychem al ha-adamahasher nishba Adonai la-avotaychem latayt lahem ki-y’may ha-shamayim al ha-aretz. In order to prolong your days and the days of your children on the land that the Lord promised your fathers that he would give them, as long as the days that the heavens are over the earth.

Vayo’mer Adonai el mosheh lei’mor And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying…

Dabeir el b’nei Yis’ra’eil v’amar’ta aleihem Speak to the children of Israel and say to them

v’asu lahem tzitzit al kan’fei vig’deihem l’dorotam v’nat’nu al tzitzit hakanaf p’til t’kheilet they should make themselves tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their clothing throughout their generations, and give the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue.

V’hayah lakhem l’tzitzit ur’item oto uz’khar’tem et kol mitz’vot Adonai va’asitem otam v’lo taturu acharei l’vav’khem v’acharei eineikhem asher atem zonim achareihem And they shall be tzitzit for you, and when you look at them you will remember all of the Lord’s commandments and do them and not follow after your heart and after your eyes which lead you astray.

L’ma’an tiz’k’ru va’asitem et kol mitz’votai viyitem k’doshim lei’loheikhem In order to remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.

Ani Adonai Eloheikhem 
asher hotzei’ti et’khem mei’eretz Mitz’rayim lih’yot lakhhem leilohim
Ani Adonai Eloheikhem
I am the Lord, your God
who lead you from the land of Egypt to be a God to you.
I am the Lord, your God.

(If my short notice means you missed the deadline, please say the shema anyway, at any time. It can’t hurt.)

Israeli folk dances and Chinese culture

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABack in the early/mid 1970s, I, like every good American Jew, did Israeli folk dancing.  Our family was very serious about it, so much so that we’d usually attend the annual get-t0gethers in San Luis Obispo at which the top Israeli choreographers would introduce their new dances for the year.

At one of the annual events, a choreographer introduced a new dance called “Li Lach.”  I loved it because it was a bright, energetic dance that periodically broke out into a polka.  I am a big fan of polkas and waltzes and, back in the day, could do them pretty darn well.  Li Lach was also fun because the chorus was the word “why” repeated over and over again, which meant that the dancers would swing joyously around the dance floor, polkaing and hollering out “why, why, why!” at the top of their lungs.

Fast forward forty-odd years:  I’ve made a playlist on Spotify that has hundreds of my favorite songs (many of which I share here on “just because music” posts).  These songs span decades, genres, and countries.  After I added Bashana Haba’ah to my playlist, it occurred to me to search out Li Lach.  I couldn’t find it on Spotify, so I turned to YouTube.

Sure enough, there on YouTube was the song Li Lach.  Unfortunately, it’s not a straight out recording but is, instead, the background music part for a video showing amateur Israeli folk dancers in a big gym.  (If anyone can find a straight recording, I’d sure appreciate that.)  For some reason, too, the recording is speeded up, so it makes the whole thing sound like an Alvin and the Chipmunks version of the song.

Despite its failings, I found the video fascinating for two reasons.  First, the choreography hasn’t changed in forty years.  And second, it’s a Chinese group doing the dancing.  That made me laugh until, with perfect timing, I read in PJ Media that the Chinese are fascinated (in a good way) by Jews and Judaism . . . so maybe it’s not so funny after all:

Over the past couple of decades the Chinese have become more interested in the Jews.  Of late the Chinese regime has been bringing Jewish scholars and theologians to the People’s Republic to discuss Torah, Talmud, Mishnah and even some of the more mystical tracts.

Read Michael Ledeen’s whole post to see his intriguing theory about this new love affair.

The need for loud, swift action in response to John Kerry’s libelous statements about Israel

Yom Hashoah 2Today is Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — a day on which Jews and all civilized people around the globe commemorate the 6 million who died at the hands of virulent antisemites. Israel takes this day very seriously.

For those unclear on the whole Israel concept (Obama, Kerry, and State Department, I’m speaking to you), Israel is the only liberal democracy within the Middle East. It’s the only nation in that region that allows all people to worship freely, that accords full rights to women, and that protects all minorities, including sexual and racial minorities, from discrimination, even while extending to them the full panoply of available civil rights. When its neighbors kicked out around 1,000,000 Jews in the years after 1948 in order to make their nations judenrein, Israel took in every single one of those refugees (distinguishing itself from the surrounding Arab nations who refused to take in the tens of thousands of Arabs who fled Israel after the UN recognized its statehood).

Showing what a crude bastard he is (which is separate from his being a stupid, malevolent, narcissistic gold digger), John Kerry chose Yom Hashoah as the day on which to announce that Israel is on the verge of becoming an apartheid state. This is is the same John Kerry, of course, who has been repeatedly stating that it’s all Israel’s fault that his misbegotten peace talks failed, never mind the fact that Palestinians demanded concessions before negotiations began, refused to give up anything, refused to negotiate, continued to celebrate mass murderers, and recently allied themselves with a terrorist group.

This is also the same John Kerry who appears incapable of realizing that the only reason that the Palestinian territories, Gaza, and the surrounding Arab nations aren’t apartheid nations is because they skipped the whole “discriminating against minorities” part.  Instead, they simply slaughtered or expelled their Jews and are now working towards the same end with their Christians.

John Kerry has gone from being merely a pathetic buffoon to becoming a grave national embarrassment, at least from the viewpoint of ordinary Americans who value freedom and recognize Israel as a light unto nations, especially situated as it is in the heart of the globe’s darkness.  Sadly, the only thing keeping Kerry in office is the fact that the Democrat Party power structure, from the President on down, wholeheartedly (and with increasing openness) agrees with Kerry’s sentiments.

Although Obama et al are becoming less coy about their old-fashioned, virulent antisemitism, they are not entirely immune to public pressure, provided that enough of the public puts pressure on them.  We are the public and it’s time for us to raise our voices.  The Emergency Committee for Israel has issued a good statement to that point:

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the specter of Israel as an “apartheid state.” Even Barack Obama condemned the use of this term when running for president in 2008.

Yet this was no gaffe. Secretary Kerry’s musings on the Jewish state’s dire future have become a regular feature of his public remarks. His latest prediction follows other statements in recent months that have in effect threatened Israel — never the Palestinians — with a list of disasters should his diplomatic efforts fail: violence, isolation, delegitimization, boycotts — and now “apartheid.”

It is no longer enough for the White House to clean up after the messes John Kerry has made. It is time for John Kerry to step down as Secretary of State, or for President Obama to fire him. And it would go a long way toward repairing the damage Kerry has done if his predecessor as Secretary of State, who is the likely Democratic Party nominee for president, explained why this kind of rhetoric had no place in her State Department and why it will have no place in her presidential campaign.

If you would like to see John Kerry forcibly retired, call (202) 647-4000.

UPDATE:  This seems like an appropriate place for Dennis Prager’s video about the Middle East conflict:

You can learn a lot about a country based on the way it treats its enemies

Palestinians smear their fallen enemies’ blood on their hands, dangle bodies outside of windows, and have candy-strewn parades celebrating the bloodshed when their enemies fall into their hands. Israelis teach their enemies to walk again.  (I apologize for the long commercial before the video, but you may want to wait it out, because the video really is worth seeing.)

The above video is from Time Magazine online which lately has been doing something very peculiar: publishing a handful of fair and balanced articles and videos. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I hope it’s a trend, not an anomaly.

Will God punish the world’s Jews because American Jews worship a false idol?

Obama at the Western WallI had lunch today with two friends, both conservative, neither Jewish.  Since we were talking politics, both asked me a question I hear repeatedly from non-Jewish conservatives — How can Jews support Obama?

It occurred to me — and this is a very depressing though — that Jews are repeating an old pattern.  American Jews are Jews in name only, insofar as theirs is, at best, a superficial association with the religion.  I’m a bit of an anomaly, in that I don’t practice the religion, but believe absolutely in its conservative strictures.

If I remember my Bible correctly (and with my memory, that’s a big “if”), the Bible is very clear:  when Jews start worshiping false idols, they are punished and they are punished horrifically.

BDS rallyThe most false of all false idols, of course, is the type of assimilation that sees Jews claiming to be Jewish while rejecting the Jewish God.  This is a type of assimilation that sees them losing all the way around.  They never fully integrate with their neighbors, even though that’s their primary goal, and they also break their covenant with God.

American Jews, by worshiping Obama as a false idol have set themselves up for another round of punishment.  Even worse, the consequences of their actions will fall most heavily, not on them, but on Jews in Europe and the Middle East.  While most Americans (outside of Ivy League colleges) are not antisemitic, the antisemites in the rest of the world are smart enough to know that Obama gave them a free pass.  As has always been the case, from the Bible through to the Holocaust, a core of true-believers will survive, and the rest are in for a hell of a time.

As you can see, Obama’s actions, not to mention rising anti-semitism around the world, make me nervous.

Whew!  I just depressed myself.

Quick link to a good read

If you’re a politically conservative Jew looking for intellectual food on the internet, or if you’re just a conservative (not Jewish) looking for more to read on the internet, check out The Jewish Voice and Opinion, a publication that has been promoting traditional Jewish thought and conservative politics for 25 years.  Here’s how it describes itself:

The Jewish Voice and Opinion speaks out forcefully and unashamedly for the unique concerns of what we have termed “classical Judaism.” As a politically conservative Jewish publication, we take as our mission to present news and feature articles not generally available elsewhere in the Jewish or secular media.

Now in its 25th year, The Jewish Voice and Opinion has been influential in religious and political circles throughout the United States, Israel, and elsewhere. It is often quoted and reprinted. It has been admired, feared, often debated, but never ignored.

Please check it out.

Will American Jews listen?

A friend sent me this article by a former Israeli soldier who know works for StandWithUs, an organization that counters the antisemitic and anti-Israel bile that pours forth on American campuses under the banner of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement.  The hatred he experiences is staggering, all the more so because it is so irrational.  It is pure, undiluted hatred, of the type Jews have had the misfortune to face repeatedly over too many centuries:

To give you a taste of the viciousness of the BDS attacks, let me cite just a few of the many shocking experiences I have had. At a BDS event in Portland, a professor from a Seattle university told the assembled crowd that the Jews of Israel have no national rights and should be forced out of the country. When I asked, “Where do you want them to go?” she calmly answered, “I don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t have any place else to go. They should not be there.” When I responded that she was calling for ethnic cleansing, both she and her supporters denied it. And during a presentation in Seattle, I spoke about my longing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. When I was done, a woman in her 60’s stood up and yelled at me, “You are worse than the Nazis. You are just like the Nazi youth!” A number of times I was repeatedly accused of being a killer, though I have never hurt anyone in my life. On other occasions, anti-Israel activists called me a rapist. The claims go beyond being absurd – in one case, a professor asked me if I knew how many Palestinians have been raped by IDF forces. I answered that as far as I knew, none. She triumphantly responded that I was right, because, she said, “You IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them that you won’t touch them.”

Such irrational accusations are symptomatic of dangerous anti-Semitism. Yet, alarmingly, most mainstream American Jews are completely oblivious to this ugly movement and the threat it poses. They seem to be asleep, unaware that this anti-Jewish bigotry is peddled on campuses, by speakers in high schools, churches, and communities, and is often deceptively camouflaged in the rhetoric of human rights.

It seems appropriate to include here a link about the medical care Syrian civilians are receiving in Israeli hospitals that turn no one away.

Feel free to be inspired and to donate to StandWithUs, an organization that uses every penny wisely.  (I just gave my mite and hope that it helps.)

Shana Tova to everyone!

Tonight marks the first night of Rosh Hashanna, the Jewish New Year.  More specifically, tonight is the 5,774th year that Jews have honored this particular holiday.  It is, so far as I know, the oldest continuously operating calendar in the world.

Tonight also marks a Jewish New Year that sees the world balancing delicately on a thin red line, one that Obama drew a year ago, and that he today denied.  To those who point out his unequivocal words, he says “Pish tosh.  Truth is now, as it has ever been, defined by my needs at any given minute.”  It’s nice to own your own reality.

Because the red line at issue is in the Middle East, Israel and her Jewish subjects are always the Arabs’ first target, never mind their own ills and failures.  As has happened many times in the past, some Jews, both in Israel and the diaspora, wonder if there will be a “next year, in Jerusalem.”

But while this New Year happens to fall during a worrisome time, Rosh Hashanna is be definition a time of hope and renewal.  Yad Vashem reminds us of this with its collection of New Year’s cards from the years immediately before, during, and after the Holocaust.

I was particular struck by the cards the Jews created in 1940 in the Lodz ghetto (renamed Litzmannstadt after a German general).  Despite the ever-tightening noose the Nazis were putting around Poland’s population, the residents still took time to observe this essential moment in the annual calendar:

New Years card from Lodz Ghetto

I doubt many, if any, of the people in that picture taken in better times survived the war:

On September 8, 1939, the Germans occupied Lodz and renamed the city Litzmannstadt (after the German general Karl Litzmann, who had conquered it in World War I). Lodz was home to 223,000 Jews on the eve of World War II. At the war’s end, no more than 7,000 Jews from the Lodz Ghetto had survived the camps.

Seven thousand survivors out of 223,000 once vital, living people may sound like a depressing start to the New Year, but I have a point.  From those 7,000, as from all the other pockets of survivors across Europe and, from the Arab pogroms, across the Middle East, came one of the world’s most spectacular countries.

Israel is spectacular by every metric:  It is a thriving, pluralist, inclusive, liberal democracy that emerges like a glittering stone from a surrounding swamp of tyrannical medievalism.  It grants equal rights to all citizens, has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, has an armed force that is the wonder of the world (thanks, of course, to decades of American support), and contributes to scientific, technological, and agricultural advancements at a rate far in excess of its small size.  If you visit it, you find a dynamic, fun-loving people who are fiercely devoted to LIFE.  Unlike its surrounding neighbors, Israel is not a death cult; it’s a life force.

Many have tried, but none, ever, whether Babylonians, or Romans, or Germans, or Muslims, have succeeded in snuffing out completely this light unto the world.  And when this light in the world survives, we are all, every one of us, made better and brighter because of it.

So every year is a Happy New Year because Jews have survived for 5,773 years and will undoubtedly bring their ferocious will to live and to contribute to the world’s well-being for another 5,773 years.

Shana Tova, my friends!

God’s Chosen People

Michaelangelo hands of God and Adam

There’s a guy where I exercise who’s nice, but I’ve never really warmed up to him.  He’s not part of the ownership or the management team, so it’s never really mattered to me what I think of him.  Last week, though, I discovered that my subconscious might have been sending me messages when I couldn’t make myself like him.  After a tirade against capitalism, for ObamaCare, and in favor of restrictions on all things that could affect Global Warming (yes, let’s get rid of the sun!), he said, “And another thing….”  He then started to inform me how pernicious the message is that the Jews are “God’s chosen people.”

My exercise place is wonderful, so I wasn’t about to upset the nice dynamic there by getting into a debate with a hard-core Leftist.  Those debates usually end badly:  the Leftist doesn’t change his mind, while any people in the vicinity who aren’t hard-core but are still Left (this is Marin after all), get very upset and start thinking with their navels, not their brains.  The best way for me to handle situations like this is to leave, think my arguments through, and then have those arguments ready for the inevitable round two.  This blog is where I think my arguments through. . . .

Apropos his anger that Jews think they’re special (along the lines of “Who are they to claim they’re God’s chosen people?”), it occurred to me that both the Left and antisemites are ferociously ignorant about their Old Testament.  Here is what the Bible tells (and all of you, who are more Bible literate than I, please correct me when I’m wrong):

Before he formed the covenant with the Jewish God, Abraham was polytheistic.  Ur, his original homeland, was certainly polytheistic.  God did not originally appear as a monotheistic God.  Instead, he just appeared as a divine being who selected Abraham (or, as he was initially, Abram).  If Abraham joined in a covenant with God, aligning his family with God, and circumcising all males as a sign of that covenant, God would treat Abraham and his descendents well.  Provided that all of them, through the centuries, abided by the covenant (and circumcision is a harsh demand) they would have land and good fortune.

The Bible acknowledges more than once that there are other gods swirling around in the ancient world.  For example, when Jacob and Rachel flee her father, Laban, Rachel takes her father’s “Household Gods.”  Significantly, in the Ten Commandments, God himself acknowledges other Gods.  It’s just that, as to the Jews, if they wish to keep the covenant, he must be the only God they claim and worship:

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Those words make sense only if there was competition. Otherwise, God would have said, “There are no other Gods, but for me.”

While God promised much to the children of Abraham, he also placed heavy burdens upon them in addition to circumcision.  In a time when people were comforted by a panoply of gods, all of whom were physically present and whose favors could be bought with human or animal sacrifices, the Jews had just one abstract God in whom they had to believe, regardless of his invisible nature.

During the Greek occupation in Palestine, the Jews could not partake of the physical libertinism that characterized the Greeks.  Jews could not hold on to slaves for more than seven years, and had to treat their slaves humanely, which placed them at an economic disadvantage compared to others in the ancient world.  They were prohibited from eating all kinds of foods, which may have conferred some health benefits on them (e.g., no trichinosis), but which also limited their ability to thrive.

And so it goes, rule after rule that gave the Jews a spiritual advantage, but that limited their options in the ancient world.  In exchange, absent periodic miracles, such as the exodus from Egypt, being God’s chosen people wasn’t so great:  they were isolated and often at war with the world around them, their lives were constrained by God’s stringent rules, and God was big on punishing individuals or whole groups for any failure properly to abide by His rules.

The end result was that, in the ancient world, Jews were considered everything from fellow imperialists, to slaves, to an occupied people.  The one thing that they weren’t considered to be, though, was arrogant and special.  Indeed, in the ancient world, they were considered foolish for hewing to one invisible God rather than taking advantage of the panoply of gods then benefiting everyone else.

What changed was Christianity, which looked at the Jewish God and the whole notion of monotheism and concluded that it was a good idea.  The early Christians were Jews and, when they split from Jews who didn’t recognize Christ’s divinity, they still considered themselves God’s Chosen People — only they were even more chosen because they had taken Christ as their savior.  Suddenly, the Jews’ claim to be God’s Chosen People seemed (a) wrong and (b) arrogant, considering that both Jews and Christians were claiming the same God as their own.

All of which is to say that the Leftist at the dojo was wrong when he sought to insult Jews because they somehow think they’re “special.”  That’s not the issue at all.  Jews have simply chosen, for thousands of years, to abide by a very challenging covenant that Abraham made with a God who came to Abraham and said, “If you pick me, and you play by my rules, we’ll be a team forever.”  In the beginning, everybody thought Abraham made a bad deal by letting himself and his descendents get tagged by this jealous God.  It was only with the passing of time that others began to think that they’d like to be tagged too.

Certainly now, Jews do not display religious arrogance.  They do not demand, either with words or swords, that others worship their God; and they do not enslave or tax or otherwise discriminate against those who don’t.  Yes, amongst themselves they think they’re doing the right thing, but so does every group, whether religious or otherwise.  Why bother to be a group if you don’t have special bonds that distinguish you from others?  But there’s a profound difference between thinking “Yup, I’m engaging in correct religious behavior,” and thinking “You all are evil and doomed.  You deserve to die and then go to Hell.  And while you’re on this earth, I have the right to make it a Hell on earth for you.”  Now that’s arrogant.

Asian high schools and the lost American Jewish arts of scholarship and laughter

Lowell High School

My old high school, Lowell, in San Francisco, was celebrating its current building’s 50th anniversary, so the school had an open house. Before this morning, I hadn’t set foot in the school since I graduated (one in a class of almost 1,000 other students), and I was curious to see whether it matched my memories and how much it had changed. I also wanted to show my children, who bask in the glory of well-funded, small, suburban public schools, what a big urban school looks like.

My children were impressed by the school’s size but, mostly, they were impressed by the number of Asian kids and adults roaming the halls. When I went to Lowell, I think the Asian population was about 40%. The year I graduated, Lowell was one of the top ten high schools in the country. A few years after that, diversity mania struck and the City Board of Education, which has always hated Lowell’s academic prowess (since it highlights the problems in the other City-run schools) imposed a quota on Asians. The school sank like a stone in national rankings. Intrepid Asians sued, the quota was struck down, and the school went back to being very, very Asian – and, it is once again, one of the top schools in the nation — and 51st in the country — although, for budget reasons, it can’t compete with well-funded public schools in the suburbs.

One of my children commented that, being Jewish, I must have stood out in this “Asian” school. In fact, I told the kids, the contrary was true. Back in my day, the two largest identifiable groups at Lowell were Asians and Jews, so much so that there was a joke in the school that, if Yom Kippur and Chinese New Year fell on the same day, they’d have to close the school. I said that I don’t think that nowadays Jews boast such academic prowess. They’ve assimilated enough to be just like all the other white middle class kids.

Jews came up again on the way home when, for reasons I don’t remember, I started telling my kids about Dan Greenberg’s classic book, How to be a Jewish Mother: a very lovely training manual. Although my mother, being half goyish and European (not all Jewish and Russian/Polish) didn’t quite have the chops for full Jewish motherness, she was close enough that I got (and loved) the book.

Greenberg took traditional Jewish jokes and wove them into a wonderful tapestry. Because I can’t find my copy of the book, I could only quote from memory, but I did tell them how a Jewish mother gives a gift (and I’m paraphrasing here): Give your son two ties. When he puts on one (at your urging), look at him sadly and ask, “What’s the matter? You don’t like the other one?”

I also remembered what a Jewish mother should say if she comes home and finds her adult daughter with her boyfriend on the couch, necking: “Leave this house now and don’t come back until you’re a virgin again!”

My kids laughed, but one commented that “being a Jewish mother gives you a license for bad behavior.” That was an interesting thought. Certainly, centuries of dealing with hardship – poverty and persecution – have shaped the character of women who have to raise their children in an unforgiving world and, moreover, to struggle very hard against circumstances the whole while. So yes, Jewish mothers can be a pain in a tuchis. More importantly, though, Jews learned to deal with everything, including motherhood, through humor. If you can laugh, you’re not dead yet.

All of which led me to a thought: when persecuted, Jews responded with scholarship and humor. Now that they’re culturally assimilated and are inextricably intertwined with the Leftist governing class, they’ve abandoned scholarship and they (in common with all Leftists) have no sense of humor.

On that disheartening note, I think I’m going to console myself by spending some time with Leo Rosten’s delightful The Joys of Yiddish. I’m reading (and recommend) the original edition because I have solid information that the updated edition too often abandons Rosten’s trademark humor in favor of a pretentious scholarly tone. Only a shnook would fail to realize that one of Rosten’s major points in writing the book is that humor is an integral part of Yiddish because, up until assimilation created cultural decay, those who spoke Yiddish survived because they could laugh.

(If you can get a copy, you might also enjoy Everything but Money — an autobiography that explains a lot about early 20th century American Jews, education, humor, and humanism.)