Bagels and Lox and Sadaam

The following was written years ago.  I am posting it, even though it betrays a febrile and whacky mind which, I regret to state, is sometimes susceptible to anti-Jewish outbursts (I am a Jew,  through and through, but have very ambivalent feelings about my religion.  To my fellow Jews, who may be annoyed by my spasms of anti-Jewish sentiment and ideation, perhaps this will be some consolation:  I find our faith less objectionable than any other faith I have encountered)

This is being posted, despite the above deficits, because I think the ideas are very relevant, very timely and the writing is as hot as a witch’s cauldron. 



The New York Times recently noted that the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was filled to capacity with American Jewish “solidarity” groups which hoped to express their support for Israel in the Persian Gulf Crisis.  The article tersely noted that the groups intended to fly back to America on January 14, 1991, one-day before the due date for death in the Persian Gulf.  These bourgeois American Jews have a rather cute way of getting involved in politics. (Footnote 1 — at end of essay)


Cute and vulgar.  In the United States, Mr. Solarz gave a blessing of liberal respectability to Mr. Bush’s war aims by giving him a carte blanche for war in the Gulf.  Mr. Solarz, throughout his political career, had a record of unqualified liberalism, and everyone knows why Solarz shifted gears on the Persian Gulf:  Israel.


Incidentally, one wonders why these American Jews think that American military action against Iraq is in Israel’s interest.  If America went to war, Iraq would have only one choice:  Attack Israel.  In such a situation, the American-Arab alliance could dissolve, Syria and Egypt could very well reverse their positions over night, Mubarak could suffer assassination or a coup de tat, assorted Arab states, tribes and factions could attack Israel, and our European allies would doubt the merits of our involvement and quickly exit the region.


In the event that we crushed Iraq, the resulting power vacuum would be filled by Syria and Iran, and an ascendant and surging Syria, which unlike Iraq shares a boundary with Israel, arguably poses a much greater threat to Israel than Iraq, separated from Israel by Jordan and for the most part consumed by its ancient and enduring  Babylonian antipathy toward Persia.  And Persia, now Iran, would ineluctably gain from the demise of Iraqi power.   Israel, weird as it may seem, has been blessed by having both Iraq and Iran as enemies.  Those two states have always been at loggerheads and to the extent that they are heaping abuse on one another they have less time and energy to bash Israel.  When one of those state’s goes, the remaining state will enjoy a huge augmentation of power and prestige.  Also, Iran and Syria have tended to be simpatico – provided that nations can genuinely lean together (De Gaulle used to say that states never have friends; they only have interests).  In any event, the demise of Iraqi power will lead to the ascendance of a powerful Damascus-Tehran axis of power that could effect devastating harm on Israel.


However, even if these American Jews are right, what gives them the right to assert that American foreign policy should be molded to fit Israel’s desires.  Does Solarz sit in the Knnesset or does he sit in Congress.  Apparently, he considers this question irrelevant or the necessity of answering it obviated by the fact that his heavily Jewish District in Brooklyn supports a staunchly pro-Israeli policy.


The fact that Mr. Solarz’s district supports Israel is not enough.  One wonders how many of the young Jews in his District serve in the armed forces.  The evidence which I have seen suggests that Jewish participation in American military life is rather limited.  American Jews seem much more intent in luxuriating in the possibilities for advancement and financial reward that American life can confer than in doing a working man’s — or what they may call a Shvatza’s — sort of job:  fighting in a war.


Of course, American Jews not only have no quarrel with the notion that the poor white trash and their black brothers should do their fighting in the Gulf; they also appear quite satisfied with an ugly economic and, to an extent, racist relationship that they have with Israeli Jews which goes like this:  We white rich American Jews will give generous contributions to Israel — more often than not, in the most public way possible, in palatial synagogues in splendid suburbs — and you Israeli Jews, poorer, more religious, and, very often, darker in complexion — can do the fighting.


It appears odd that American Jewry, by and large a very sophisticated and well-educated body politic, seems oblivious to these issues and, to the extent that it ever addresses these issues, reaches conclusions which are nothing short of delusional.  For example, American Jews do address their relationship to Israeli Jews — they think about it all the time.  For the most part, their thinking is romantic, misguided, poetic and utterly fallacious.  American Jews dream an endless dream of glorious union with Israeli Jews, of unqualified solidarity, of love, of blood, of boundless Jewish love for Jews.  Obviously, it is infinitely more satisfying to dream sweet dreams at smoked salmon political luncheons in New   York than to get hit by Arab bullets in the teeming Gaza strip and so our bourgeois American Jews see no reason to stop dreaming.


But someone must wake them from their impudent slumber.

In a loud clear voice they should be told to express their love for Israel by making aliyah, (by moving to Israel) and by joining the Israeli Defense forces.  This sort of conduct would not only be much more morally sound than the present policy of asking poorer Jews and goyim to do the sacrificing, but would also preserve Jewish pride:  The early Zionists — whose thinking for the most part has been obscured and distorted in the past couple of decades by conservative Jews who are embarrassed by Zionism’s association with socialism and ardent disapproval of most features of diaspora Jewry — wanted to create a New Jew which would be the antithesis of the helpless, effete, sedentary, brainy but brawnless, de-physicalized, cowardly mandarin Jews (In short, “heterosexual faggots.”  This term aptly categorizes Diaspora Jews.  I say heterosexual because most Jews, like most people, are heterosexual.  However, outside of the bedroom, they are — in their narcissism, their infantilism, their dependence on their mommies, and their bitchy, bloomingdales, 14 karot gold sensibility — virtually indistinguishable from a pack of furiously fashion-minded New York Queens.) whose Shabbos goyim snickered at them as they lit the anointed Sabbath candles.  Zionism envisioned Jews who would fight for themselves.  Indeed, to the extent that Israel stands and fights alone, it remains pure and untainted by the disease of dependency.


Of course, the Solarz contingent does not understand this and urges an increased American role in the Gulf.  Obviously, Israel is very much in need of American guns, but Israel must not have the benefit of any blond or black Christian soldiers — such dependency would be disastrously reminiscent of Israel’s relationship with Rome, and would further taint Israel with the guilt of Imperial America –and all of its misdeeds from Vietnam to El Salvador to Chile to Attica — and curse Israel in much the same way that Ceaser cursed the The Temple in Jerusalem.


Somehow one doubts that our bourgeois Jews will in any significant numbers make aliya and fight in the IDF.  Of course, they could, arguably, buttress Israel, albeit indirectly, by serving in the United States Armed Forces.  But, somehow, I do not foresee any significant movement of persons from the pampered houses of Great Neck and Scarsdale to FortDix and any appreciable diversion from smoked salmon and lobster tails (Footnote two) to the grits and burgers of the United States Army.  No, our bourgeois American Jews will sit  through the war reading and listening to their Norman Podhoretz and their Jean Kirkpactrick and will get cozy in their couches to watch the death and dying on the TV screen.  They will not — heaven forbid such a thing — give up their lucrative (un)law(full) firms, medical (insurance business) practices, and let their eyes stray from the ticker tape to make any sacrifices for the larger good.  What would Sophie Portnoy think of her baby boy in the Army.


[Quite frankly I will never overcome the nausea I experienced in reading the opening segments of Alfred Kazin’s “New York Jew” in which he expressed his sheer delight and happiness in being alive at the end of 1942.  Kazin explains that, at that time, he made it in literary circles, got an apartment in New York, and first started going to all the right cocktail parties in New York while the great ideological geniuses of his day never so much as got into a fistfight — let alone serve in uniform — while debating communism, fascism, capitalism and all the other isms.  I could think of only one thing:  How dare he be so happy — making money and getting what my cousin used to call nauchus (def: happiness) points (you got 1000 nachus points for breaking 1400 on the SATS, you got 5000 points for getting into Medical school, etc.) — while his brethren are being murdered in Europe.]


Perhaps, selfishness does not fully explain the American Jewish failure to do anything real, like fighting, in the United States Army or to make aliya and fight in the Israeli Army.  Indeed, American Jews have, on numerous occasions, exhibited a highly unusual measure of selflessness.  American Jews participated in the Civil Rights movement in overwhelming numbers — although Jews make-up only about three percent of the American population, about forty percent of non-African freedom riders in the South were Jewish.


One cannot resist the hypothesis that the failure of Jews to make any real contribution — monetary contributions cannot be considered real from people who are flush with cash — toward Jewish life and survival stems from the fact that Jews really don’t believe any of it, i.e., they do not believe in religion, in god, and certainly do not believe whatever it is the prophets are supposed to have said to us over the years.


There is something childlike about religion.  Although infantilism is more pronounced in Christianity — which provides a quaint and poignant human interest story replete with a mommy and a daddy and a terribly adorable little baby who gets killed by all those mean Jews and then saves the world — Judaism, by virtue of being a religion — which means believing in things which cannot be proven — is quite childlike.  Very simply, adult-thinking does not consist of believing in things that cannot be proven, like messiahs, or burning bushes, or special covenants with prime movers who made the world in six days.


Accordingly, as people become more advanced — become acquainted with theories of evolution, atomic science and the like — they become too smart for fanciful theistic conceptions.  I will concede that as of late there has been a revival of religious sentiment among many parts of humanity, from fundamentalists in the mid-East, to Jewish professionals on the Upper West Side, to bucolic types in this Country who want some sort of rustic, back to nature, back home religious feeling with the aroma of maple syrup, but there is nothing genuine about this upsurge in religious thought: it is nothing but a reaction to modernity and all of its harsh realities [This historical regression was engendered by the exceptional turbulence of the middle and latter part of the twentieth century — WWII, the “sexual revolution,” etc. — but as we become acclimated to the wreckage (good and bad) the world will resume its normal, gradual — and healthful — march toward atheism] in much the same way that those clean cut Waltons were a reaction to the neon and napalm of the sixties, and in the long run it will lose the race with science and reason, which will, bit by bit, gene by gene, atom by atom, prove that there is no great and good Father with a gray beard, up in the clouds, watching over us.


Jews, it appears, are very advanced.  They are, perhaps, the most advanced, sophisticated people in the world, and when they sit in Synagogues on the high holy days — resplendent  in linen and in velvet and in the glittering, radiant, irradiating rage of thousands of precious stones, each jewel screaming “see how rich I am” — the Jewish lawyers, doctors, nuclear physicists, and psychiatrists (a tribe so smug in its reason that it has dared to create its own universe and kingdom of delusion and unreason) snicker among themselves at the references to primitive Biblical events — probably with the sort of condescension that erudite Germans had toward the Nazis before the Fascist spark became an inferno — and tell themselves that in a little while the services will be over and they will be free to stuff themselves with refreshments at the “Kiddish.”


Jews, also, have far too tortured a history to really believe in God.  Given all of the persecutions — the Babylonian exile, the Romans, the inquisitions, the crusades, the poisoned wells, the bloody matzohs of the mad Tzarist mind, the imaginary meetings in a Prague Cemetery to take over the world, the holocaust and, last, but not least, the denial that the holocaust took place — a patently sick notion which is becoming widespread throughout united Deutschland as Neo-Nazis sprout up like funguses from the Rhineland to Prussia.  (As many Soviet hardliners state, we may regret the permissiveness that let the Berlin wall come down and Germany become reborn — or, perhaps, that creates the wrong image; the revival of Germany, it appears, is much more like the rising of a Vampire in the Night than anything as welcome as a birth.)


Most American Jews, accordingly, do not believe in god.  They are too smart for the nonsense fables of religion, and the history of Judaism is far too dismal to allow them to entertain the thought that there is a God which is omnipotent and benevolent.  Of course, there could be other sorts of gods — very different from the sort we conceive of when we think God — running the show.  They would, given the treachery of the world, have to be either malevolent or, if benevolent, impotent.  Freud put it better than anyone:  If I ever saw god on his majestic throne, I would present him with a child’s cancerous bone and say how do you justify this.


Judaism, accordingly, is, for the most part, not a religion; it is a tribal feeling, a nationalism, a thing kept alive only by anti-semitism.  Synagogues rarely address the philosophical questions and, more often than not, their primary function appears to be fundraising for Israel and nothing else.


One may attempt to counter the preceding by asserting that Christian Americans are not a bunch of intent students of philosophy, but one would be missing the point entirely:  Christians, in their churches in America, do talk about right and wrong, the meaning of life, salvation, death and all that shit.


Perhaps they come-up with the wrong answers.  But given the sort of issues they address — the meaning of life, death, right, wrong, what’s it all for — I think Christians are entitled to call Christianity a religion.


I suppose the Jews will say that my comments stem from a lack of familiarity with Judaism.  Of course, I probably know more about Judaism than a large proportion of, if not more than half of, the Jewish population, whose knowledge of Judaism, for the most part, consists of the Yiddish term for black, and other unreligious things.  I had a Jewish education, and I learned a thousand rules about a thousand subjects of daily living, but there was no unifying theme, no cohesion to bring the boring prohibitions together, let alone to life.  Face it.  Toynbee was right.  It’s just a lot of arid legalisms.


Of course, Jews don’t go to, and never did go to, synagogues to get spirituality.  They went other places — on the fringes of religion and often downright outside of it — to get a soulful feeling.  Most Jews probably don’t want to remember what they did in Eastern Europe — and even as late and as close by as the Lower East Side (See Michael Gold’s Jews Without Money in which a family consult’s an old, tattered Jewish woman of deep but perhaps incoherent faith to tend to their son’s phobia of horses – the remedy, which consisted, as a I recall, of wearing a rag drenched in all sorts of soul smelling substances, seemed more effective and expeditious that Freud’s treatment of Little Hans who also had a phobia of horses) —  to get their dose of opium.  They had a marked proclivity toward the occult, magic, witchcraft, and strange superstitions.  Nowadays, they go to analysis, which is more expensive.


Some Jews would probably state that I would come-up with a different answer if I had studied Talmud.  Without a doubt, these secular Jews would not have made such an assertion if they knew anything about the Talmud.  It is, essentially, the equivalent a law school casebook:  It is a seemingly endless discussion of concrete, mundane conflicts concerning harms suffered and monies lost — the law of contracts and personal injury law — and commentaries regarding the appropriate Jewish answer to each of these conflicts.


I have no doubt that such a thing is of value — Rabbinical views pertaining to contracts and personal injury may serve as a guide to our present legal system [However, I would abhor any such thing:  For example, Rabbinical Law regarding Torts — personal injury law, etc. — is extremely conservative (its an insurance company’s dream) and contract Law is just as rigid and forbidding.], but it’s not a philosophical, or deep, or emotionally enriching, or soul-saving work.


Of course, religious Jews know better and do not cite the Talmud as evidence of Judaism’s concern with deep fundamental issues.  Its been my experience that religious Jews get very scared whenever one starts talking about “deep,” philosophical issues:  They know that Judaism is, relative to Christianity, somewhat wanting when it comes to addressing these issues, and they do not relish letting their ignorant, secular Jewish coreligionists in on — to paraphrase Police Commissioner Benjamim Ward — our dirty little secret.


And so the non-observant Jews claim that Judaism is a religion because they do not know anything about Judaism, and the religious Jews try not to think about it:  By spending all of their time complying with the seemingly infinite number of Jewish rules and regulations governing almost all aspects of Jewish life — an extraordinarily complex dietary code, morning, afternoon and evening prayers, etc. etc. — religious Jews become diverted from the more troubling question:  What’s the reason for all their rules and regulations? [The diversion from big issues to the trivia of meat and milk (Most Jewish traditions command one to refrain from dairy until six hours after the consumption of meat; in Germany, it was often three hours; and in Denmark, with veritably bizarre anal precision, some Jews hit on 72 minutes  — this is what they told me in Hebrew school.  If this is not the case, the teacher was joking, but it seemed just as whacky as all the other rules I found it believable) is something akin to what physicians call displacement or referred pain — The transference of pain from the organ which is the center of the infirmity to some other organ (perhaps, because if all the pain were coming from the spot which was really sick, it would be too much to bear). For example, in some cases a patient with appendicitis will not feel pain in the appendix; it will be displaced to the abdomen (thousands die every year because some physicians, in these cases, fail to palpate the appendix and tell the soon to be a goner than he has gastritis).  Displacement is also pronounced in many areas of psychopathology and should, therefore, not be unexpected in religion, or mass psychopathology operating under color of god, whatever that, or it, or him, or her is.]


One could say:  What the fuck do I care, I like lox and bagels. Nevertheless, it has nothing but the most momentous political implications.  If Judaism is not a religion, then Zionism is nothing but an intense nationalism bordering on racism.  To the extent that Zionism posits that the Jewish state should belong to Jews simply because they are Jews, and that the Jewishness of these Jews has nothing to do with what they believe in or their conception of God, or whether or not they have any conception of God at all, and asserts that these Jews, who do not attach any particular importance to a belief in god, can relegate non-Jews to second-class citizenry or, as some have proposed, eject these non-Jews from the Jewish state, Zionism is very much like the sort of rabid, anti-alienist nationalisms of pre-War Europe.


And so, all things considered, those who call themselves progressive must, odd as it may seem, have a very strong measure of respect for the ultra-religious factions in Israel today.  Because, whether we believe in the Jewish religion or not, only a belief in Judaism can make Zionism something special.  Or, to be blunt about it, something other than racism.








1  After I wrote this, the war broke-out, and some American Jews were going to Israel — and the New York media, taking care to keep their Jewish audience happy, waxed sentimental and ridiculous with talk of courage and valor.  However, most of it amounts to nothing of real significance.  One group, called Torah Shield, traveled to Israel to offer “moral support” and acts of kindness.  This wimpy way of fighting a war calls to mind the Parisian matrons who brought floral bouquets to the Maginot line in the autumn of 1939.  (And we all know what happened to the Maginot line.)  Of course, the Jewish response in the present situation is even wimpier:  In the case of France, middle-aged women went to the front to offer floral bouquets.  Torah shield, however, is not composed of middle-aged women; it is a group of late teenage and young adult male Yeshiva students who have explicitly said that they will not fight and will not do anything of military or industrial significance — they will not get their pretty hands dirty.  When I asked a bourgeois Jewish friend of mine why they could not  fight, he said,  “because they can’t.” Why? Because they are American nationals?  If they gave a damn they wouldn’t worry about the legal consequences of serving in another nation’s armed forces, or would serve in the American Armed forces, which, of course, they are completely free to volunteer for.


2.  Lobster, of course, is not kosher.  But, as succeeding portions of this essay will demonstrate, Jewishness in America has nothing to do with Judaism.


Copyright, David Gottfried, 1991


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