January 15, 1998
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Never underestimate the propensity of AmericanJews to scare themselves silly. Here we are, in the midst of anunprecedented Jewish renaissance, enjoying the most favorablespiritual climate in more than a century, including shelf loads ofJewish books at every Barnes & Noble, and still our leaders areplaying Stephen King, terrifying themselves (and us) with grim fairytales and devil's food. Here are three recent exhibits.
The Little Mermaid. Rabbi Daniel Gordis' Op-Ed piece, published in the LosAngeles Times erev New Year's Day, equates American Jewry with "TheLittle Mermaid." Not the Disney version, with its calypso-singingcrab and happy ending. No, Rabbi Gordis means the Hans ChristianAndersen nightmare of a girl who sells her soul, in this case hervoice, in order to change from a mermaid to a woman, only to findthat her beloved cannot hear her.
"With no voice, no distinctive message, Judaismwill have no allure for American Jews," Gordis writes. "American Jewsknow virtually nothing about what our tradition actually says. Norare we certain that we want to know, for that would entail using ourideas to stand for something. It would mean being different, andwe're not sure that surviving is worth that sacrifice."
The Forbidden Oreo.Rabbi Joshua J. Hammerman, of Stamford, Conn., writes in the Jan. 11Sunday New York Times Magazine about the nightmare of getting whatyou want. Rabbi Hammerman (kidding on the square) admits that he haslonged for assimilation, in the form of a kosher Oreo cookie,virtually all his life. Now, the glory day is here. Oreos havehechsher. But is Hammerman happy?
"Now that kosher is in and Oreos will be OK, I'mnot sure I want them to be. I know that in some perverse manner myOreo envy kept me safely at the outer edges of middle America,shielding me from total absorption into the vanilla masses." Theobject of his fantasy is now a Twinkie, still safely treif.
The Vanishing American Jewish lawyer.This science-fiction nightmare is broughtto us by attorney Alan Dershowitz. Writing in American Lawyer,Dershowitz insists that intermarriage will rob us of the genetictraits of good lawyering that have made the American legal systemwhat it is. Intermarriage and assimilation are not only a danger tothe Jewish people, Dershowitz writes, but to American liberty aswell.
To these gentlemen, I have two words: Getreal!
Would I rather live in Toledo before 1492, or Kievunder the czar, when Jews were secure only in their shtetls? Not on yourlife.
Would I prefer to live in the Russian Pale orBabylonia or Gerona, even during the time of the great Torahcommentators, when Torah education was limited to those few who couldread Hebrew and all of them male? Not for a minute.
Would I voluntarily
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