On a fresh crop of newly released Richard Nixon tapes, the president, who
disliked Jews but helped rescue Israel during the Yom Kippur War, says of his
senior Jewish advisers Henry Kissinger, William Safire and others that they
shared a common Jewish inferiority complex, and worked hard to
“What it is, is it’s the insecurity,” Nixon said. “It’s the
latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure, and that’s why they have to
Wow, I wonder where he got that idea. Could it have been
from Kissinger’s own words on the tapes? After a meeting with Golda Meir in the
Oval Office, during which she raised the issue of trapped Soviet Jews, Kissinger
turned to Nixon and said: “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not
an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers
in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian
One shudders at these words of the first Jewish secretary of
state, bending over backward to show he bears no special kinship with his
While the Kennedys unapologetically championed the rights of a
free Ireland, with Teddy Kennedy being instrumental in bringing Gerry Adams of
Sinn Fein to the US, Kissinger is adamant that even another holocaust would not
be an American concern.
But as King Solomon said, there is nothing new
under the sun. It’s simply not news that Jews often seek non-Jewish legitimacy.
Which is why, even as an Orthodox Jew, I believe passionately that Jewish pride
is more important than Jewish observance. Jewish self-esteem is the body within
which the soul of Jewish observance must reside.
At Oxford, one student
who had become religious balked at wearing a yarmulke around his friends. I told
him: “I don’t care if you drive on the Sabbath or eat sweet-and-sour pork. Just
do so with a yarmulke.”
He thought I’d lost my mind. “A yarmulke is not
more important than the Sabbath. And second, there is no way I’m going to drive
on the Sabbath or eat a cheeseburger at McDonald’s with a yarmulke
“Aha,” I said, “So now, when you proudly affirm a Jewish identity,
you feel uncomfortable acting in a manner that contradicts your Jewish
I THOUGHT of this story recently in an incident with the
American Jewish University (formerly, the University of Judaism) in Los Angeles
after my organization, This World: The Values Network, approached the AJU to ask
if they would partner with us on a West Coast version of my debate with
Christopher Hitchens, the worldrenowned atheist who is battling esophageal
cancer, on “Is there an Afterlife?” The AJU responded with an offer to have
their Whizen Center host the event and pay me as a speaker, bringing in Rabbi
David Wolpe and author Sam Harris to make it a four-person debate.
made it clear, however that they had a very limited budget and could therefore
offer just a small stipend, to which I readily assented given my normal practice
of accommodating important organizations with limited funds. I later discovered,
however, that the tiny budget seemed to apply only to the religion, rather than
the atheist side of the debate, a matter I raised with Dr. Robert Wexler and Mr.
Gady Levy, who run the esteemed speaker program.
I shared with them the
point of principle that, while there may have been a misunderstanding here, the
community ought to try and treat its own with the same respect it treats others.
We are currently in discussions to fix the matter so that this important debate
can be staged for the Los Angeles Jewish community.
Hitchens and Harris
are outstanding speakers, and deserve appropriate compensation. But surely the
contribution of two rabbis and authors who draw large paying crowds should
likewise be valued. Having now discovered that the tiny budget pertained only to
the rabbinic side of the debate, I asked AJU to withdraw from our
THE STORY of Jewish insecurity and not valuing our own is as old
as Jewish history.
Seventeen years ago I met prime minister Yitzhak Rabin
and asked him to lecture for our L’Chaim student organization at Oxford, which,
at 5,000 members was second in size only to the Oxford Union. I told Rabin that
we had already hosted Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir, and
would be honored to have him. He asked: “Who will be hosting me? The university
or the Jewish students?” I explained that it would be a joint event between us
and the Oxford Union. But he pressed again for clarification. Would it be the
Jewish students who were inviting him or the mainstream students? Rabin was
chief of General Staff during the Six Day War, the man who oversaw Israel’s
greatest military victory, and to whom Jews the world over remain forever
indebted. But even this tough-as-nails sabra struggled, as do we all, with the
seductive nature of non-Jewish legitimacy.
Mikhail Gorbachev, Stephen
Hawking, Michael Jackson, Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, UN
secretary-general Javier Perez de Cuellar and countless other non-Jewish
luminaries all proudly addressed students from our rostrum.
up graciously accepting our invitation, but was forced to turn around after
arriving in Britain due to a terrible bombing in Tel Aviv. The lecture was later
delivered by his son Yuval, who gave one of the proudest speeches about being
Jewish that I have ever heard.
I sometimes see the same trend in my own
A prouder, less insecure generation of Jews is replacing us.
They walk with yarmulkes held high and tzitzit waving. They fight for Israel on
campus, even when marginalized for doing so.
They are the living
fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (4:6) that the day will come when the hearts
of the parents are returned through their children.The writer is founder
of This World: The Values Network, which brings together international speakers
to debate values-based issues. He will soon publish
Honoring the Child Spirit:
Rabbi Shmuley and Michael Jackson in Conversation about What Parents Can Learn
from Their Children. www.shmuley.com