The Jewish Questions

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
  I remember the day my uncle David solved the Primary Jewish question.
 It was much later in life when I realized there are two ‘Jewish Questions – the primary and secondary.
The ‘Secondary Jewish Question’ isn’t a question. The ‘Secondary Jewish Question’ is a very strange way of seemingly asking questions. The erstwhile question, from the seemingly inquisitive Jew, disguises his intentions. He has no desire whatsoever to listen to the answer. The question is meant to elicit and exhibit to all, the answerer, who is supposed to be an expert, is an idiot. This Jewish question is followed up by a corollary statement starting with ‘surely.’ Then the questioning Jew, now in full stride, goes on to explain what should be said.
I first became aware of the ‘secondary Jewish Question’ in 1982. As part of the Arik Sharon led an initiative to reshape the Middle East and possibly liberate Albania, we camped outside the gates of Beirut. We were not, as an army, into rape and pillage. To help pass the time until the higher echelons decided what the next mistake was, we received several well-intentioned orientation courses. At the end of each lecture came the inevitable mantra, ‘are there any questions?’ There always was, and it invariably was the same ‘Secondary Jewish’ question. One Private would ask the lecturer a question which showed he neither listened nor was the least bit interested in the previous talk. The questioner would wait impatiently for the soon to be ignored response to his bizarre question. He then pounced — the Private explained his theses. Although Yitzhak Rabin may have been Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Commander-in-Chief, it did not mean he knew more than the Private. After all, the Private had served in the army doing ‘genuine, every-day military stuff.’ In other words, Rabin never did guard duty and the Private, had. ’So, who is the real expert?’ he asked archly. Until this day, 35 years later, I have no idea what the connection was between the lecture, the question and the knee-jerk diatribe. And that is the art of the ‘Second Jewish Question – there is no connection. 
Only a Jew could come out with such a non-question. It starts out implying the authority is a fool and implies the questioner is the real expert. In the coup-de-grace, the Jew gregariously injects some over-valued ‘hobby-horse,' generally irrelevant, subject. Invariably, accompanying the finale was the self-satisfied smile and glance to the audience signaling who was the victor in the brief contest.
We exhibit an extension of this know- all trait while driving. We Israelis, the only nation in the universe to do so, vehemently argue with our WAZE. Many an accident occur as an apoplectic Israeli gesticulates and loses control, in response to, in his opinion, the nonsensical WAYZ command. We Jews are very arrogant. Many have attempted to define who is a Jew. I feel the most comprehensive definition of ‘who is a Jew? It is: ‘someone who is enraged whenever suggested they read the instructions.’ Jews do not read instructions. They either write them or make pithy, sarcastic comments about them.
And we arrive at the ‘Primary Jewish Question.’
 The ‘Secondary Jewish Question’ is a poorly disguised rhetorical question. Albeit, a question which, unintentionally, exhibits Jews at the height of their arrogance. The ‘Primary Jewish Question’ is the opposite. It is thought to be rhetorical and arrogant. It is neither.
I first realized the ‘Primary Jewish Question’ existed when I was eleven. Strange to say, we were also in a foreign land. I remember Uncle David coming back to the hotel in Italy. He was excited, extremely excited, 'Michael, what do you think? I met somebody who said I was a Yorkshireman.’
David was overjoyed.
Finally, somebody had told him who he was.
David received the answer to the Primary Jewish Question. The Jews have wandered through history wondering who on earth they were. Through the sands of times,
Jews stood opposite someone, proudly pointing to his chest dramatically and asking, ‘do you know who I am?’
We were not arrogant in asking, ‘do you know who I am?’ It was not arrogant; we never knew. Did we start the plague? Do we own all the money? Did we control the governments, run the press? Were we even in the Masons? We haven’t a clue; where do we belong? Who are we? To whom and what do we belong. We Jews hadn’t a clue how to define ourselves. We were not wandering Jews; we were wondering Jews.
My uncle David epitomized the ‘Primary Jewish Question.’ David, who was born in the pogrom-ridden fragments of the newly destroyed Austro-Hungarian Empire. He genuinely did not know who he was. He had never considered himself an Englishman. His English was terrible. The only words he could say without a jarring immigrant's accent was Wormwood Scrubs, the jail they sent him as an illegal immigrant. Wormwood Scrubs he pronounced with an impeccable cockney twang.  He did so often to the great embarrassment of his wife, Annie. My Polish Princess of an Aunt would invariably go into a muted yet theatrical shock, recovering graciously with ‘oh, yes, but he was a trustee, my David.’
David, on holiday with us in Italy, had been wandering around, and he had said something in English. For some strange reason his Yorkshire accent, which no one else before could categorize, was identified.
David finally was identified, designated as being somebody. Someone who exists and has a place in the sun. David Green was a Yorkshireman. ‘Michael, he shook my hand and slapped my back – we Yorkshiremen.’ The look on our Annie’s face etched itself indelibly in my memory. I see it now. No one could capture so complete a smorgasbord of emotions, so movingly, in a nanosecond. The Polish Princess was doing what she did best.
 The episode was not the trip’s only formative experience. My dad had an adventure too. A similar foray into David’s defining market defined my father.
European Jews have a word to identify each other. We use the Yiddish word ‘unsere’ — ‘ours.’ A fellow Jew identified dad as a Jew. In the marketplace, a stranger made contact using the magic word. The identification acknowledged neither were alone in the marketplace which may become ugly at any moment. A Jew had found a fellow Jew and made the almost silent identification between each other. He felt a bit safer. They both felt a lessening of the atavistic fear— a fear known to every exiled Jew.
Then we did not have a land; we did not have a state. We were a people, and we were a religion. We had a nationality, but the nationality was ‘yenems’ – ‘theirs.' We only had statehood, as long as ‘they’ wanted us to have it. My Mother, Annie’s sister, taught us: ‘Jews are either doctors or tailors.  Always be ready. They will come; you have nothing to pack when you run.’ It was never, ‘if they may come,', but ' they will come.’ Unsere was the Jews living among the yenem.  We survived; we camouflaged ourselves in a borrowed, transient nationality. We used the Jewish gift and suffered the accompanying curse. Our gift is we can see clearly. We can arrange facts, numbers or music in new ways. We have unique bursts of insight. We are cursed never to see everything. Worse still; we ignore, deny and denigrate what we cannot see. In the contretemps and controversies, we haughtily, blindly and far too arrogantly employ the ‘Secondary Jewish Question.’ We lived among others who initially awe our gifts and inevitably chaff over our arrogance and divisiveness.
 Even in our State, we split into two camps who each sees half a picture clearly. The ‘right’ can see the problem but cannot see a solution or even a need for a solution. The ‘left’ can see the needed solution but cannot and will not see the problem.
Yes, we achieved statehood. Europe obliterated its Jews. For a moment, the world wanted to atone for its obsessive persecution of the Jews and temporarily gloss-over the ever-oscillating admiration-aggravation waveform. They gave us a state and immediately regretted doing so.
The Jews have stopped wandering. The wondering continues—we have more to define. And we are struggling. Now we still wonder who are we. Are we a people? Are we a religion? However, now we are further perplexed.  Do we own a land? Where is our state?
Our state is ‘unsere,' but in the state, there are those who see us as ‘yenem.' And those who see us as ‘yenem’ have their problems. They too cannot define themselves regarding the terms: people; religion; state or religion.
Eight parameters, all of mighty consequences. All of them seen in our unique incomplete clarity; all of them bequeathing vehement clashing opinions; all of which discussed with a complete lack of humility and tolerance.
 I wonder. I wonder what Mum, Dad, Annie and David would think. I am sure they would have a better solution than I have.
I am sure they would say, ‘Michael, compared to us, you are living in paradise. Enjoy what you have. Otherwise, you will lose it. Apart from being a perfect idiot, nothing is perfect. Stop asking so many questions.'
And Annie would give her multi-faceted, Polish Princesses smile.