Growing up I used to be hooked on the Game Show Network, dreaming of one day answering Richard Dawson on Family Feud or Bob Eubanks on Card Sharks. Then, a few years back, I was a councilor for 35 American high school students for a six-week trip around Israel, and I determined that I never wanted to answer another question again.
American high schoolers experiencing Jewish and Israeli history for the first time ask a lot of questions, spurning many fruitful (and sometime not so fruitful) deliberations. One particular argument I remember was a discussion over Jews seeing themselves as the “chosen people”.
Coming from their liberal democratic backgrounds, roots I shared with them, my campers could not fathom a concept that stated that they were better than anyone else simply because they were born Jewish. I calmly explained that they were correct; being “chosen” did not necessarily mean that we were better, but did in fact mean that we have greater responsibility. After some more back and forth I hit upon what I was truly trying to convey. “Being the ‘chosen people’” I argued, “means that we are supposed to be better.”
In a Jerusalem Post article entitled “Jews, Hollywood and viral videos in the election” Niv Ellis lays out in detail the machinations of an organization known as the Jewish Council for Education and Research (JCER). If that name sounds familiar that is probably because it is. The JCER logo has appeared at the end of a number of ‘comedic’ pro-Obama videos in both the 2008 as well as the 2012 election cycle. The most-watched of these videos star Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman. In the first video, the 2008 clip entitled “The Great Schlep”, Silverman encourages young Jewish Obama supporters to go down to Florida and ensure that their aging grandparents cast their ballots for ‘Hope and Change’. Naturally, Silverman cannot resist a few foul-mouthed slip-ups and self-hating Jewish stereotypes.
Not to be outdone in 2012, the JCER decided to commission Silverman yet again in a Youtube video entitled “An Indecent Proposal from Sarah Silverman”. In this new clip, sparing you the graphic details in case your children are reading over your shoulder, Silverman offers to perform a vulgar sex-act on Las Vegas magnate and ardent Zionist Sheldon Adelson in exchange for donating the $100 million he pledged to Mitt Romney to Barak Obama instead. Up go the curtains, enter a smiling Sarah with pure sewage spewing from her mouth, cut to a demonstration of said sex-act with her dog, down go the curtains and presto we have the message “paid for by the Jewish Council for Education and Research.” There was also a video called “Wake the F***k up” which concludes with a girl no older than 12 screaming the F-word just before the JCER logo flashes across the screen.
Forget the absurd fact that the JCER targets Adelson for being a wealthy Republican booster despite themselves being funded by Alex and George Soros, the most prominent far-left wing billionaire boosters of President Obama. What is more frightening to me is that the JCER’s leadership perceives itself as a leading Jewish institution. “We reject the fact that to be a Jewish PAC you can only speak about a limited number of issues,” JCER co-founder Mik Moore is quoted as saying in the Ellis piece. His partner, Ari Wallach, takes a different tact in explaining their mission as a Jewish political organization. “I keep coming back to the Passover story and the four children and why we do it,” Wallach blabbers, “[people opening up to their families to discuss the issues of the day is] what sustains us as a people, as a culture, as a civilization. If we catalyze that, I consider what we’ve done an amazing success.”
What Moore and Wallach fail to understand is the very same ideal my campers struggled with on a warm summer night in the Galilee: We, the Jewish people, are supposed to be better.
We survived the Passover story NOT because of Lady-Gaga-like levels of neo-liberal acceptance but in fact because even as slaves in a strange land we clung to our identity and culture. We retained our identity despite our sub-par surroundings. Is it too much to expect that in today’s world, when the Jewish people want to make a point, we do not resort to lewd humor?!
I am not a prude but honest to G-d, where have all our morals gone? The JCER bore a tremendous burden when it adopted the word “Jewish” to its namesake. Doing so obligated them to represent the chosen people with dignity and integrity. Videos about lesbian sex and adolescent swearing have no place in the Jewish lexicon. How dare they associate themselves with Jewish education! This is the antithesis of what we should be teaching our young Jewish minds.
Do not misunderstand my displeasure as a lack of appreciation for small-l liberal democratic values. I know the difference between democracy and tyranny and have no delusions as to which is preferable. However, Jews around the world today must realize that NOT EVERYTHING is acceptable. Without red lines we are just another of history’s amoral nations that have come and gone. We are supposed to be better. The JCER, if it truly considers itself a Jewish institution, HAS TO be better.
Are we really living in a world that we are proud to call our own? Family values are more or less non-existent and prevalent pop culture continues to push the moral envelope so far that we may never be able to get back. I can’t call on the world to change because not everyone in this world shares equal values. However, all Jews who take their Judaism seriously share the values of the Torah and the Torah demands a level of modesty seen less and less frequently in Jewish homes worldwide.
Organizations such as the JCER do an incredible amount of damage to the Jewish image. They send a message to the world that we are like any other wayward nation; freewheeling and irresponsible with the tremendous gift we were born with. Life is so precious and to live it by a code of appropriate conduct is to show a full appreciation for its preciousness.
Every Jew represents more than just himself. Every Jew is a representative of the Jewish people. It is this interconnectedness that obligates each and every Jew to comport himself in a modest and appropriate fashion. As society crumbles all around us we must insulate ourselves in our value system, not let ourselves be brought down by the current. Things will only continue to get worse unless we decide to be better.