Countless people, newspapers, pundits, self-appointed definers of all things Jewish have challenged, questioned or even denied Bernie Sanders’ Jewish identity… because it’s a Friday. Speaking of which, good shabbos!
It’s hard to keep up with all the self-righteous attacks and denouncements lobbed at Sanders but one of my favorites from this week alone was the nuanced and understated headline which graced the schlock-filled right wing rag that is Front Page:
HOW BERNIE SANDERS SOLD HIS SOUL TO BE AN AUTHENTIC LEFTIST
This soul selling was, of course, a reference to Sanders’ decision not to the annual AIPAC conference.
But I don’t want to leave out Jeffrey Goldberg, whose condescending and catty tweets about how Jewish identity is appropriately defined, was stunningly unaware. Goldberg tweeted truth to power during the Sanders-Clinton debate in Flint Michigan from earlier this month when host Anderson Cooper said the following:
Just this weekend there was an article I read in the Detroit News saying that you keep your Judaism in the background, and that’s disappointing some Jewish leaders. Is that intentional?
(Because if there is one publication that represents THE JEWS it’s definitely the Detroit News or DN, as we Jews like to call it. And if there is one group of people who speaks for the Jews, it’s definitely “some Jewish leaders.” But that’s neither here nor though, so moving on.) Bernie made the mistake of saying that part of his Jewish identity was shaped by the Holocaust, during which his father’s side of the family was “wiped out.” Well, that didn’t sit too well with Jeffrey Goldberg, who sanctimoniously tweeted:
As a Christmas-Tree Jew, I like Christmas just as much as the next goy. But even Jews who don’t celebrate Christmas deserve credit for helping the world celebrate the holiday. In fact, my Christian friends, you may want to think about sending your Jewish friends thank you notes instead of seasons greetings cards. Here are some of the Christmas songs, films and major players brought to you by the Jews. WAR AGAINST CHRISTMAS TERMINATOR
In case you didn’t know, the War on Christmas was declared over by Fox News. The winner is Christmas and the loser is Political Correctness. But the man who scored the victory was a Jew.
Fox News contributor KT McFarland kvelled to America’s Newsroom host Martha MacCallum about the December 15 CNN GOP debate: “At the very beginning, everybody put their hand on their heart and pledged allegiance to the flag, and at the end, [moderator] Wolf Blitzer wished everybody a Merry Christmas. So guess what, political correctness is dead.” McCallum responding by declaring, “The War against Christmas is over… Put a nail in it from last night!” Co-anchor Bill Hemmer, concurred, shouting from off camera, “We won! We won!”
Who, in the media, will have the courage to call out Israel once Jon Stewart leaves the Daily Show? (On Monday, the date of Stewart’s final show – August 6 – was announced.)
As a secular Jewish woman who has been called self-loathing for both my comedy and writing, I’ve always had a particular appreciation for Jon Stewart’s brave critiques of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Considering his background as a bi-racial, South African comedian who came of age during apartheid, the incoming host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, could bring a refreshing perspective to many political issues, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I worry that the same kinds of people who try to stifle legitimate debate about Israel with unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism will silence Noah. (I fear the silencing campaign has already started.) The irony, though, is that silencing the discussion around Israel is bad for both Israel and Jews. Continue reading “Comedy as criticism: Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah and the issue of Israel”→
It was disappointing, but not surprising that the Daily Show’s incoming host, Trevor Noah, be labeled anti-Semitic. He’s not, but that’s never stopped the Anti Defamation League . Of his 8,828 tweets, two have been called anti-Semitic—that’s .0002 of his twitterfeed. In fact, one jokes about Israel’s hawkishness ( not Jews’ ) and one joke references the Holocaust (which he acknowledges and does not endorse). While Noah says his mother is half Jewish, he is not perceived to be Jewish, for several reasons, including some quite racist ones. And as a perceived non-Jew, he lacks the Member of the Tribe protection that goes along with mocking your own.
The same cannot be said, however, of the other major alleged anti-Semite in the headlines, Lena Dunham. The outraged response to Lena Dunham’s Dog or Jewish Boyfriend: a quiz,in the March 30 New Yorker would have you believe Dunham penned a chapter in a modern-day Mein Kampf. The comedian and writer is far from anti-Semitic. Dunham is doing what so many comedians have done and will continue to do: mock their own. When Larry David or Woody Allen do it, they are geniuses. When Lena Dunham does it, she’s an anti-Semite. Dunham, who was raised in a very New York secular Jewish world (much like I was—full disclosure) and her mother is Jewish. So, she is between fully Jewish and half Jewish, depending on how you define Jewishness. Religious Jews say you’re a Jew if your mother’s Jewish. My own standard is JEH, Jewish Enough for Hitler. Dunham’s boyfriend is Jack Antonoff, the lead singer and songwriter of Bleachers and lead guitarist of the indie rock band Fun–and a Jew.
1. In less than a year, Israel could be attacked by the government of Iran, which is irrational, ISIS-like and Nazi-like, and determined to wipe out Israel.
2. European Jews should move to Israel, where they would be safe and sound.
So, which one is Bibi lying about?
During his campaign speech to the U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the U.S. to stop the current deal being negotiated with Iran, a deal in which, “the foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.” Under the current negotiation, Netanyahu claimed, “Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning…. Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.”
Iran is also, according to Bibi, a total irrational actor, comparable to the Nazis and ISIS, and bent on Israel’s destruction. So, it’s not really clear how any deal would work.
But the even larger inconsistency (to speak charitably) is that Israel is somehow a safe haven for Jews. Following the deadly shooting near a Copenhagen synagogue, and the killing of four Jews in a Kosher market in Paris, Netanyahu said, “This wave of attacks is expected to continue, as well as murderous anti-Semitic attacks. Jews deserve security in every country, but we say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, Israel is your home.” (The opportunism and insensitivity were not lost on Jews and Jewish leaders.)
Today, Tuesday, January 27th, marks the seventieth anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, the death camp where the Nazis killed 1.1 million people between 1940 and 1945. 90% of those killed there were Jews and Auschwitz.was where one out of six of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were murdered. But the camp also housed, and killed, Polish people, Soviet political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, “homosexuals,” and Romani.
One of the people who survived Auschwitz,was Franciszek Jaźwiecki, a Polish political prisoner and artist, who captured the faces of his fellow inmates through the hundreds of portraits he drew. As Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, writes, “the most interesting in these portraits are eyes — a very strange helplessness.” Sieradzka also suspects Jaźwiecki saw the portraits as future artifacts, since almost every portrait featured the prisoner number of the subject, which made them identifiable.
Meet the late Bess Myerson: the first and (as of today) only Jewish Miss America, pianist, adviser to three presidents, Senate primary candidate and consumer rights advocate. I’m not sure about you, but I had never heard of Bess Myerson before Monday when headlines announced that she had died at the age of 90 at her home in Santa Monica California. (Though she died last month, her death wasn’t confirmed until January 5.) Nor had I heard about Miss America’s rule number seven, which required that contestants be “of good health and of the white race.”
Born on July 16, 1924, Myerson grew up in the Sholem Aleichem Cooperative Houses in the Bronx. She started piano when she was nine years old, and after she graduated from Hunter College, hoped to get a graduate degree in music. Despite teaching piano at 50 cents an hour, Myerson was unable to afford the piano or education she wanted. According to Myerson, her sister Sylvia sent Bess’s photo to the Miss New York City contest, without telling her, during the summer of 1945. Myerson borrowed a bathing suit and performed the piano and flute. After becoming Miss New York, Myerson went to Atlantic City and participated in the Miss America pageant.
Before heading to Atlantic City, however, Myerson had a private meeting with the Miss America pageant director and Southern Baptist, Lenora Slaughter, who urged her to change her name to something more “attractive” — i.e. less Jewish-sounding — like Betty Merrick or Betty Meredith. Slaughter, who directed the pageant from 1935 to 1967, had, at some point in the 1930s, made it a rule that the Miss America “contestant must be in good health and of the white race.” This rule was abolished in 1950 but the first Black candidate was not until 1970 and the first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was not crowned until 1984.
Myerson recalled the conversation with Slaughter and why she refused to change her name:
I said… the problem is that I’m Jewish, yes? And with that kind of name it’ll be quite obvious to everyone else that I’m Jewish. And you don’t want to have to deal with a Jewish Miss America. And that really was the bottom line. I said I can’t change my name. You have to understand. I cannot change my name. I live in a building with two hundred and fifty Jewish families. The Sholom Aleichem apartment houses. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I’m the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson.
She would later tell her biographer, “Already I was losing my sense of who I was; already I was in a masquerade, marching across stages in bathing suits. Whatever was left of myself in this game, I had to keep, I sensed that. I knew I had to keep my name. It turned out to be one of the most important decisions I ever made.”
Another way Myerson maintained her identity was by being the only woman in the Miss America pageant who appeared in her cap and gown and not a bathing suit. And when she won the contest, the announcer said, “Beauty with brains, that’s Miss America of 1945!”
Not everyone was so happy about her victory, however, and three of the five sponsors pulled out of their partnerships with Miss America because they didn’t want their products to be represented by someone Jewish. During her Miss America tour around the nation, country clubs and hotels barred her and appearances were canceled. Myerson recalled, “I felt so rejected… Here I was, chosen to represent American womanhood, and then America treated me like this.” She also witnessed segregation in the South.
So Myerson cut the tour short, went back to New York and went on tour again, this time lecturing for the Anti-Defamation League, in cooperation with the NAACP and the Urban League, reading from her speech against anti-semitism and racism titled, “You Can’t Be Beautiful and Hate.”
Nor did her accomplishments stop there. Meyerson performed piano with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. She became New York City’s first commissioner of consumer affairs in 1969, passing some of the toughest laws in the country, including “sell-by” dates and unit pricing. In 1977, she chaired Edward Koch’s successful campaign for New York City mayor and served as director of cultural affairs under him. In 1980, she entered the Democratic Senate primary, but was defeated by Representative Elizabeth Holtzman. Myerson was an advisor on the White House conference on crime and violence under Lyndon B Johnson, on a board dealing with workplace issues under Gerald R. Ford, and on commissions on mental health and world hunger under Jimmy Carter.
Merry Christmas! As a Christmas-Tree Jew, I like Christmas just as much as the next goy. But even Jews who don’t celebrate Christmas deserve credit for helping the world celebrate the holiday. In fact, my Christian friends, you may want to think about sending your Jewish friends thank you notes instead of seasons greetings cards. Here are some of the Christmas songs, films and major players brought to you by the Jews.
The corporate world is famous for its all-too-often shatter-proof glass ceilings and old-boy network sexism. But, as a new study of Jewish non-profits highlights, the non-profit sector isn’t exactly a beacon of gender equality either.
When Jane Eisner became the editor-in-chief of The Forward, the largest and oldest running national Jewish newspaper, she was shocked by how few of the leaders of non-profits were women. As she explained to me, “I come to The Forward and that first summer in 2008 my boss takes me around to meet all these Jewish leaders and they were all men. So, I’m thinking, well, just because this was my anecdotal experience doesn’t mean that’s in fact the landscape.”
I’m not an Orthodox Jew who stands on street corners playing “spot the Jew” in an attempt to bring secular Jewish people back into the religious fold. I’m the secular Jew. I don’t go to synagogue, I don’t pray, I don’t believe. I don’t ascribe to the idea that you’re not Jewish unless your mother is. My cousins–my mother’s brother’s daughters–have a mother, my Aunt Sarah Doolittle, who has a Christian background, but they are Jews, or half Jews, despite what certain religious Jews say. They’re also half other. Intermarriage in my family isn’t only tolerated, it’s encouraged. So I don’t tend to tell other people if they are or are not Jewish. (My own test, personally, is “are you Jewish enough for Hitler?” If the answer is yes, you’re Jewish.) But sometimes you have to help a Jewish brother, or half brother, out. On Friday’s very funny episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill and one of his guests, Martin Short, reflected on how much they had in common. Reading Short’s new book, I Must Say: My Life as Humble Comedy Legend, Bill had discovered that that both had fathers who didn’t eat dinner with the family (Maher’s father was working and Short’s father was there but at a separate table in the same room!). Both spent time as kids imagining that they had their own TV show (though Short’s show was every other week so he could balance his movie career). And, as Maher explained, “the third thing I think we have in common is that people think we’re Jewish and we’re not. We were both raised Catholic.” I waited for Maher to say something along the lines of, “I mean my mother’s Jewish but I wasn’t raised Jewish.” Because, though he was, indeed raised Catholic, his mother, Julie Berman, was born and raised Jewish. But Maher didn’t mention any of that. Instead, the conversation went on as follows:
Short: I had a lot of Jewish friends. All my friends were Jewish. Maher: Sure we know Jews. We’re not disowning the Jews. Why do you think they think we’re Jewish? Short: Cuz I think we’re thrifty… I don’t know. Why do people think you’re Jewish? Maher: The nose, my nose. I think it’s the nose. I think they think my nose is Jewish. They do. I’m funny and I have a big nose. Short: My nose isn’t like a pug here. Maher: But you don’t have a Jew nose like me.
When discussing the way people assume you belong to a group to which you do not belong, the fact that one of your two parents belonged to said group is kind of relevant. I don’t care whether Maher defines himself as a Jew or not. But I don’t understand why he thinks it’s peculiar that people think he’s a Jew. When people tell Bill Maher, or anyone, “I thought you were Jewish,” they are not saying, “I thought you were Jewish because you have such an air of Talmudic authority” or “You have to be Jewish! You totally give off that ‘I know the Torah like the back of my hand’ vibe.” It has nothing to do with the religion in which the suspected Jew is raised. They mean, “you look, talk and/or act in a way that I perceive as Jewish.”
OK, in interviews and on another Real Time episode, Bill explains that in his Catholic home, he didn’t learn until he was in his teens that his mother was Jewish. But clearly, without his awareness, something rubbed off. One of the benefits of being a Jew is that I can say the following without being labeled an anti-Semite (though I am often labeled a self-loathing Jew): Bill, you look and sound Jewy. The way you move your hands, “Jewsticulate,” especially when they’re up by your face– Jewy. The nose–Jewy. By all means, identify however you want. But why the how-silly laugh that your nose is taken for Jewish? It is Jewish. Your mother’s Jewish background doesn’t define you. But your mother’s Jewish nose. like it or not, is with you for life. Unless, of course, you go through that Jewish rite of passage that is rhinoplasty, AKA a nose job. Though I’m in no way considering that you do that because I love the schnoz. And you should, too. Embrace the schnoz!