March 22, 2012
Opinion: Jewish humility - The road less traveled
Got one of those emails the other day. You know the ones – those endlessly-circulated, self-congratulatory emails Jews send each about how great we are, touting our Nobel Prizes, our high-tech dominance, how smart we are, how tough we are, even how rich we are, and by implication, how weak and stupid and ordinary everyone else is.
This was the one about the Russian soldiers and their commanding officer. The CO suggests the coming war would most likely be with China. “Won’t we be badly outnumbered?” a soldier asks. Not to worry, the CO replies. We have the example in the Middle East of a tiny number of Jews, overwhelmingly outnumbered, but continually victorious over their Arab adversaries. After a moment another soldier asks, “Do we have enough Jews?”
I suspect this email predates the Hezbollah War, where the question of who really won remains highly debated, but this much is sure. A second war will not go nearly so well, and if Israel lost that war, what will the outcome be next time around. Israel has made no secret of the extent to which Hezbollah has been re-armed, and the range of their missiles cannot be so finely calibrated.
More immediate, as the perceived threat from a nuclear armed Iran mounts, and the drumbeats for attack sound accordingly, consequences be damned, it might be good at this point to take a moment for introspection on where all this chest-beating really gets us.
Part of the anti-Israel cacophony resides in the contention that Israel itself, through its actions, is responsible for a certain amount of anti-Semitism in the world. Some even contend it is the principal cause of that feeling today. Taking that element out of the debate, if you peel down anti-Semitic complaints to their street-level core, on the anti-Jewish – not anti-Israel – level (and please, they can be separated), I feel confident that the majority response would coalesce around some version of, “they think they’re better than everyone else.” You could add, obviously, “and they’re not shy about it.”
Perhaps it’s time to really question what this gets us in the long run.
It’s possible, of course, that some day the world will actually be redeemed through our presence. It’s also possible, since we have free will, that we could screw it up badly. Nothing screws up a potential positive outcome like arrogance and pride. Hubris, as we know, is the driving force behind all great tragedy, and our biblical history serves as good an example as any. Having survived ostracism and persecution, have we now entered a post-assimilation hubris that, Wall St. to Jerusalem, begs, in fact demands, a slapping down?
While we’re at it, is the way we’ve gone about it in Israel the only way it could have been? Has that path fostered a hubris totally devoid of humility? Are we drunk with the new, mighty Jew? Have we passed a point of no return in which we are now rushing headlong into our own destruction, eyes wide open, grinning with enthusiasm, righteous in our cause because, well….look how many Nobel Prizes we’ve won, look look how badly we’ve beaten our enemies up to now. How can anyone doubt that we’re going about it the right way, but are we in fact being led off the cliff by…ourselves?
Look at the two fast-growing portions of our people – the Orthodox (and within them, the Ultra Orthodox) and at the other end Jews who identify themselves as culturally Jewish but not practicing (the runaway favorite Jdate religious identification). On the one hand you have the side that would nuke Tehran and Gaza yesterday, and on the other the group that perhaps is adopting a subconscious self-preservation mechanism, distancing themselves as far as possible without leaving the tribe entirely before those guys take us on our own Gallipoli charge.
By the time I finished this, I got another email: A wealthy Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jew are talking. Catholic: I’m going to buy Citibank. Muslim: I’m going to buy General Motors. Protestant: I’m going to buy Microsoft. Jew: Forget it. I’m not selling.
The title was “Jewish Humility.” Really?
Mitch Paradise is a writer-producer and teacher in Los Angeles.