Thursday, August 7, 2008

Germans, Jews, Smart-Alecs

Tanya Gold, undoubtedly a Jew herself, writes in the Guardian about Germans who have converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. It's an interesting phenomenon, larger in scale than her description might lead you to think. One of the interesting things about it is that once they become Israeli Jews, these former Germans do just what the rest of us do: they spread all over the political landscape, from far Left to far Right, and they pop up in some of the less obvious corners of Israeli society, especially when they marry native Israelis from those corners. So the briefest glance will inform you that if they're all part of the same phenomenon, it's a mighty complex one. If, perhaps.

So that's the first part of the story.

The second part of the story is about Tanya Gold and her newspaper. Start with this sentence, depicting her first encounter with one of the four people she tells us about.
He opens the door and looks like every other rabbi I have ever met - a black suit, a beard, a questioning shrug.
Umm, Tanya?

OK, a spot of caricature doesn't really hurt. But a few paragraphs later she's showing her innate arrogance in a more obvious way:
I walk through the Old City, pondering my encounter with this strange, kindly man. Something seems to be missing from his story. To stand in front of a rabbi whose father was in the SS and to hear he became a Jew because he doubted the Trinity is absurd.
I can see how the encounter would be startling, even unsatisfying. People don't always fully explain themselves to themselves; baring everything before a journalist (from the Guardian!) isn't inevitable. That doesn't mean their portrayal is absurd, nor that a professor at some university can do so better. Due disclosure: I know and respect Dan Bar-On, heavily cited in the article as Gold's oracle. But when it comes to understanding religion, and Judaism in particular, he's not much more of an expert than Tanya Gold herself, and the fact that she asked him to make sense of the issue tells you more about her than about it.

Gold's description of Yad Vashem is mostly factually wrong, but why quibble when she offers us bloopers like this:

I call Bar-On again. I feel the converts are giving me half-answers, scraps of answers. They talk about despising the Trinity and the terrible things that the Germans did to the Jews, but it seems like they are talking a genocide that doesn't exist, even in their memories. I can't escape the feeling that it is all about something else.

I tell Bar-On they talk obsessively about the Trinity. But is incredulity really a reason for abandoning a religion with a three-in-one god for one that still believes bushes talk and that waves are parted by the will of God? "That is another way of saying what I have already told you," he says. "They want to join the community of the victim. They may have their own way of rationalising it."

Yes, I can see how if you think Judaism is about believing in talking bushes and such, you might indeed feel smug and superior when faced with people who have chosen to join it. Gold is merely being your usual Guardianista here: embarrassingly ignorant and unaware of it at the same time.

Then there's the far-Left convert,who gives Gold one of the lines you always know you'll ifnd in an article in the Guardian that gets anywhere near these subjects:
"I felt that I was being told that to be a good Jew, you had to hate Arabs." So she stands at West Bank checkpoints to observe the behaviour of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians.
Well, if you think rabbis all have beards and base their lives on talking bushes, why not believe that statement, too?

Finally, there is the meta-text, so typical of the Guardian, so disconnected from how human beings are: the idea that people want to belong to a victim group, because being a victim carries moral weight. I suppose if you believe that circumstances make of us what we are and human choice is at best of secondary importance, it's better to be weak and incapable of bettering your condition, than strong and perhaps responsible for your deeds. After all, the end result is that people are flawed, and realilty is never perfect, so the less responsibility you have, the more you can shove onto some others who are stronger, the better.

But that's a long discussion for another day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The first lie I spotted by the Guardian said "to be a good Jew you have to hate arabs." She obviously hasn't met too many Jews. (Where the real lines of battle occur at the family table; and, people yell at each other.) Brits don't have the lip for that; too much of the upper one stiffens. You're lucky they can chew food and swallow.

Arik Sharon LOVED arabs. Especially when he compared his dislike for some of the extremists he was trying to hook together into a party that could win an election. Likud's name is Arik Sharon's baby.

There is a chapter in WARRIOR, Arik Sharon's autobiography, where he said he met with Menachem Begin, to talk about an alliance; and he couldn't bring himself to toast this agreement with schnapps.

As to where I had concerns, came when I heard russians were immigrating into Israel. Did 3-million come?

Well, russian men aren't circumcized. Yet, to come into Israel they had to put their "member" on the line, for a cut by a urologist. And, in an article I just read, one urolgist snipped 32 "of them" a day. OY. VEY.

I kept thinking it may have been possible to "fool the doctor" and stick out a "gor-gle" into the surgical pocket. It's not rational to circumcise grown men.

Even though it turns out ... that men in America, when they joined the army and could get free medical care; opted for circumcision; because their lady friends liked it better. Who knew? It's almost as if I'd like to ask Monica what she saw? Or would she have done the BJ, anyway?