Michael Chabon's Op-Ed in the New York Times: Chosen, but not Special is a timely wakeup call for Jews to abandon self-aggrandizing notions of Jewish exceptionalism.
This recent flotilla debacle has lead to a flurry of all too public pronouncements of "we are too smart for this." Goldberg, on his blog for the Atlantic Monthly, led the charge. Jews, so says Goldberg,possess a Yiddish-Kop (Yiddish head) which allows for quicker, wittier, thinking. The botched flotilla operations, according to Goldberg, is a rare nearly unparalleled example of Jews doing something dumb.
Even the left-leaning Jewish daily Forward published an editorial asking: How is it, then, that a nation with the economic brainpower to lead the world in per-capita start-ups cannot apply that same clever intellect to defending itself and charting its future."
I’ve heard this same formula around the dinner table and all over the media. Check out this article in the Post, where an ex-Mossad Agent calls the raid “so stupid its stupidifying.” Acting as if the Occupation/Gaza situation were simply a tough intellectual problem, this approach sidesteps the tougher, more important questions: Is the blockade just? Why must we always apologize for civilians deaths and collateral damage, etc..
Jews often welcome stereotypes of intellectual prowess. In fact, secular Jews who may reject the notion of a biblically “chosen” people may still embrace stereotypes of Jewish intellectual dexterity, nurtured by years of heavy persecution. There’s nothing wrong with taking a little pride in Albert Einstein, Phillip Roth, and Woody Allen. Yet, this way of thinking has lead to a toxic hubris when it comes to Israel.
When the IDF levels the U.N. School in Gaza or violently confronts peaceful protesters in the West Bank, American Jews often assume the IDF, the Jewish Army, must be the paragon of competency; they would never purposefully engage in an operation that reflected poorly on Israel. The fault, then, must lie somewhere else.
The Jewish particularity--the beautiful set of unique cultural, religious, and historical factors that make Jews Jews, is truly extraordinary. Yet, healthy self reflection is possible only when we abandon the notion of Jewish exceptionalism and realize that we are just as fallible as the rest.
Action and discussion have always been integral parts of Judaism. The halakha acts as a guideline that weighs in on even the smallest details of our day to day actions. We owe much of our strength as a people to the centuries of active and engaged Talmudic debate that has honed our analytical and persuasive skills. Nowadays things have changed. For many of us the halakha as a guideline has become outdated. We struggle to find the time to engage and discuss Jewish issues. Judaism remains a central part of who we are, but not of what we do. ReJEWvenate will provide a forum to change this. It will act as an avenue through which we can reengage current issues of Jewish identity, explore new trends in modern Jewish culture, and give new breath to the traditions we've inherited in order to make them relevant in our day to day lives. Through active discussion and debate, we seek to reJEWvenate our Judaism and once again make it part of what we do, not just who we are.