Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Yiddish-Kop going to our heads
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.