This posting continue a series of pieces called “Who’s a Jew.” These essays are not pretenders to halachic discussions nor are they an invitation to debate the relative worth of the various streams of Judaism or of the other boxes into which individuals and groups try to stuff Yiddishkeit. Rather, these writings are meant to be reflections, contemplations, inspirations, and the like, for the many-faceted ways in which Judaism is reflected in each of us. It’s important for us to validate that Jews come in lots of flavors.
Although Jews do not control the media as some of our distracters would have the world believe, it is also the case that we are not always savvy facilitators of global channels of communication, and that we continue to allow the less-than-accurate sentiments of other folks to frame our goings on and to frame the world’s understandings of our goings on. Accordingly, regard the analogy that follows:
In an ordinary neighborhood, one that is important to the people that live there, a house is burning. The family that owns the house has escaped and is safe. The building, however, continues to burn. Someone driving through the neighborhood notices the fire. She looks for a phone from which she can call some people to help her extinguish it. She is a firefighter.
The fire is eventual put out. The damage to the house is substantial, but the house is reparable. The family will suffer inconveniences, but have been spared permanent loss.
Several weeks pass. The family thanks the fire company for its services.
Several years pass. The fire company "hears" from the family again. Another fire has burned the family''s house. This time, though, the fire killed the family and destroyed the building. Ironically, the second fire had the same cause as the first. Yet, the family failed to heed the firefighters'' warnings.
In a second neighborhood, one that is also important to the people that live there, a fire is also burning. In the aforementioned text, trade the referent “neighborhood fire” or the referent “family home burning” for “media bias against Israel” or for “rhetorical bias against a segment of the Jewish population.” Let me know what you think. I’ll get you started, below.
The nation/segment of the Jewish population that has been slandered has escaped and is safe, but the symbols that had sheltered them continue to burn. Someone driving through the neighborhood notices the fire. She looks for a phone from which she can call some people to help her extinguish it. She is a media professional.
The fire is eventual put out. The damage to the nation/segment of the Jewish population is substantial, but reparable. The nation/segment of the Jewish population will suffer inconveniences, but have been spared permanent loss. Several weeks pass. The nation/segment of the Jewish population thanks the media practitioners and scholars for their services.
Several years pass. The professionals "hear" from the nation/segment of the Jewish population again. Another fire has burned the nation/segment of the Jewish population symbol system. This time, though, the slander killed the family and destroyed the symbols that sheltered them. Ironically, the second incident had the same cause as the first. Yet, the victims failed to heed the professionals'' warnings.
Slander and its sister, libel, are only a few of the social blazes that media professionals fight. Prejudice, ignorance, fear, and greed also fuel many social fires. Usually, though, “neighbors” do little to help the firefighters combat these disasters. Instead, neighbors rely on their firefighters to protect whom and what they love. The neighbors also claim that they fireproof and maintain as fireproofed private properties such as their personal libraries, their computer networks, and their school newspapers; and public properties such as speech act rights (e.g. the First Amendment and e.g. the Fifth Amendments, i.e. in the case of self-incrimination, in the USA). Yet, recent disasters (such as censored high school newspapers, such as Congress''s ruling on the Freedom of Information Act, and such as the Meese Commission''s conclusions on pornography, in the USA), prove this claim invalid.
A major responsibility of the firefighters is educating the public and helping them prevent new fires. The firefighters have to repeatedly emphasize the interdependence of individuals'' social safety. Sometimes the neighbors respond to these efforts superficially; they bestow privileges and honors upon the professionals. At these times, the media scholars and practitioners are given: celebrity status, tenure, scientific prizes, or government ranks.
Sometimes the neighbors respond to these efforts substantively; they engage in the interactions encouraged by the media professionals. At these times, the neighbors: hold forums on social issues, demand that reading skills are stressed, or question the priorities of a medium (firefighters tend to be susceptible to larceners'' graft). Most of the time, sadly, the neighbors do not apply themselves to the business of social safety. Most of the time, too, the neighbors deny that the media professionals'' have fears and limitations.
It is easier for the neighbors to blame the firefighters for unsalvageable symbol systems than to take responsibility themselves.
Fortunately, the nation/segment of the Jewish population’s lack of concern for the warnings from, their roadblocks to the progress of, and even their stigmatizing of some of, the media professionals, do not ordinarily deter the firefighting. It is not that the firefighters are more virtuous than are neighbors (many firefighters fear fires, and have periods of laziness); moreso, it is that the firefighters'' knowledge and experience tell them that the blaze they fail to respond to might be the one that consumes the persons or things that they love.
Accordingly, it remains vital that Israel and all factions of Jews become aware and act on an awareness of media spokespersons, of elite social critics, and of empirical researchers. What’s more, Israel and all factions of Jews ought to have a conceptual command of human rules such as the relevancy of the measures of "goodness," of "fairness," and of "virtue." Israel and all factions of Jews should, as well, work to possess more than inklings about the relationships: of individuals to society, of society to the media, and of the media to governance.
As long as we “victims” and “neighbors of victims” fail: to provide role models, to emphasize the social importance of communication skills and knowledge, to illustrate the relationship of mediated communication to the shaping of social knowledge, in general, and to question communication sources, specifically, we might as well be supplying the matches. Mt. Carmel went up in blazes recently. Much “news” about Israel, and about Jews, too, has unnecessarily been set aflame.
B’ezrat Hashem, Part VI of “Who’s a Jew,” “Blaring among the Mustards,” will explore the relationship of Jewishness to Otherness, especially in this era of the global village. Part VII, “Overview” will look at some unrequited longings.