In Plain Language: The Jewish mystique – or mistake?

On the one hand, Jews worldwide are singled out as the primary cause for much of the world’s ills; yet, at the same time, we are witnessing prominent gentiles emulating us.

Tattoo Abba 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Aylee Schneider))
Tattoo Abba 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Aylee Schneider))
We live in a weird, wild and wacky world – as if you didn’t already know that.
On the one hand, Jews worldwide are singled out for slander, maligned on Main Street and in the media as the primary cause for much of the world’s ills. The word “Jew” is a potent pejorative tossed around in places where nary a Jewish soul even lives. In more and more locales – from Cape Town to Casablanca, Moscow to Marseilles – Jews are wary of openly identifying themselves as Jews. Under the guise of anti-Zionism, or right out in the open as old-fashioned anti-Semitism, we are castigated as parasites and persecutors. Our popularity rating is just a tad above that of cab drivers and colonoscopies.
Yet, at the very same time, we are witnessing a most curious phenomenon: prominent gentiles are emulating us and even choosing Jews as their life partners.
The latest such pairing is that of American VP Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley, who is engaged to a nice Jewish doctor from Philadelphia named Howard Krein. Apparently, Biden – sent regularly to Israel by his boss in the White House to chastise our sinful nation, and who recently bellowed that Jonathan Pollard should be freed from prison only “over [his] dead body” – has no great aversion to Jews at his dinner table. His son Beau Biden (that’s got to rank as one of the all-time great non-Jewish names) also married a nice Jewish girl from New York.
And not long ago we witnessed Paul McCartney – the Baby Boomers’ No. 1 idol and arguably the world’s greatest songwriter – deciding to give all his loving to Nancy Shevell, who can now drive his car (a Bentley, I presume) eight days a week. It seems that for Sir Paul, happiness is a warm Jewess, since two-thirds of his wives have been members of the tribe. (How the heck did Heather Mills ever get a ticket to ride? It reminds me of the old story about Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, each of whom converted to Judaism in order to land her hubby; Taylor for Eddie Fisher, Marilyn for Arthur Miller. While in the bathroom putting on their makeup, Jayne Mansfield walks in and Liz whispers indignantly to Marilyn, “Nu, kumt de shikse!” – loosely translated, “heads up, the non-Jew is coming!”).
AND THEN there is Ivanka Trump, tying the knot with Jared Kushner, even accompanying him to synagogue on Succot with baby Arabella Rose, their lulav and etrog in tow. And what of JFK’s daughter Caroline Kennedy and Dr. Edwin Arthur Schlossberg, not to mention Marc Mezvinsky, who awakens each day to a Chelsea morning with the former first daughter? Former president (“Please, Marc, let me pick up the”) Bill Clinton – who lately has been mimicking fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter and blaming Israel for all the Mideast woes – is rumored to have mastered the art of wrapping up his son-inlaw’s tefillin.
And we would be royally remiss if we did not also make mention of Kate Middleton, now taking on airs with heir to the British throne Prince William.
The jury is still out as to her actual lineage – her mother’s maiden name is Goldsmith – but at least some sources trace decidedly non-blue Hebrew blood in her veins, giving a whole new meaning to the term “Jewish American (colonies) Princess.”
But lest you think that it’s only in the marital arena where Jews are suddenly being featured, consider the phenomenon of many celebrated non-Jews assiduously studying Kabbala; having Hebrew tattoos (often misspelled!) permanently emblazoned their skin, even holding bar and bat mitzva parties (emphasis on the bar, of course) when their kids become teenagers.
What is going on here? How is it that so many prominent, long-standing non-Jewish families are welcoming our people into their homes (not to mention country clubs)? What’s next – the Daughters of the American Revolution throwing a cholent kiddush at Beit Rockefeller?! Now, you may argue that, on the marital front, gentile women specifically seek out Jewish men in the belief that they’ll be treated with respect and love, never beaten or abused by a member of the kind and gentle (not gentile) Abrahamic faith.
While that may or may not be a myth, the entrance of Jews into aristocratic, well-placed, well-heeled, thoroughly WASP-y families seems to be a stinging rebuke to the adage “No Jews or dogs allowed.”
Or is it? And if it is, is it good for the Jews? As with any issue, there will be at least two sides to this debate. Some will claim that the trend indeed signifies a sincere acceptance of Jews as equal members of the human race, every bit as eligible as anyone else on any level of society. Others will argue that this is the exception that proves the rule and that the normal behavior of shunning the Jews is merely waived, on occasion, when that Jew is brilliant, wealthy or powerful. (But don’t all Jews fit that description?) And, if it seems that we Jews are, indeed, more welcome than ever before, that immediately ignites the argument over whether this is a positive thing or not. Do we want to have full and equal access to the non-Jewish world, and them to ours? Does this mean we have “made it”; that we have finally captured the elusive prize of “liberty and justice for all”? Or is it a dire and dangerous development that threatens even greater levels of assimilation, intermarriage and dilution of Jewish particularity? Should we be celebrating our acceptance or mourning it? In short, is it preferable for the Jewish people to be a part of the world, or apart from the world? BEFORE YOU venture an opinion, perhaps it would be useful to examine the grand-daddy of this perplexing pickle, the story of Esther. We celebrate Purim with wild abandon – like no other holiday – holding our own raucous feast, a la the megila’s grand banquet, and toasting our good fortune for having had a princess in the palace. We praise Esther in story and prayer, we dress our daughters like her, we even name our daughters after her.
But hang on a second: Wasn’t Esther intermarried with a non-Jew – a vile, sex-crazed, immoral potentate that the Talmud claims hated Jews no less than did our evil adversary Haman? And, if one adopts the talmudic position that Esther was married to Mordechai, the situation becomes even more untenable.
How can we accept – nay, celebrate – the fact that one of our pure and pious girls married out of the faith? How do we reconcile this with our traditional rejection of interfaith relationships? And what does it say that Ahasuerus loved Esther above all the other women in his harem? She was neither wealthy nor – according to the Talmud – beautiful. (The Rabbis say she had a green complexion, perhaps a result of her eating only vegetables in an attempt to keep kosher.) And while her true identity was at first masked from Ahasuerus, she obviously revealed her lineage at story’s end, and the king chose to reject his vizier and stay with her – and she with him. The child they produced – Darius II – was instrumental in the rebuilding of our Temple and the advancement of Jewish destiny.
Anyone who has had to grapple with the issue of particularism versus universalism, either on a societal or familial level, understands how complex it can be. There are no short answers, no one-size-fits-all solutions. Often, as the name Esther (“hidden”) implies, the right course of action is hidden from us.
We have to take it one crisis at a time, place our bets, and hope and pray to the Almighty that we made the right choice.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected]