Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I miss the beloved Jew

If you're my age (mid-40s), or a little bit older, you'll remember a time when America was in love with all things Jewish. Popular culture was awash in hugely successful books, songs, and shows that reflected favorably on American Jewish culture. For example, when I was a kid, everyone read and quoted from Dan Greenberg's incredibly funny book, How to be a Jewish Mother. I had a friend who would just double over with laughter every time she thought of the appropriate Jewish mother response if she comes into the living room and finds her daughter necking on the couch with a boy: "Leave this house and don't come back until you're a virgin again." Another great (hugely) popular Jewish book of the 1960s was Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, a book that is a dictionary, a joke book, a cultural history, and a religious history book all rolled into one. (If you haven't read it yet, you should.) And do you remember Allan Sherman, the guy who became famous singing "Hello, Muddah; Hello, Faddah" and other ridiculous lyrics to familiar music? His records are still available, but in the 1960s they were a cultural phenomenom. I love his song about shopping the sales: "Jump down, turn around, pick a dress of cotton; Now jump down, turn around, pick a dress of wool. *** Here's what I've been praying for, a genuine copy of a fake Dior...." Certainly, no one needs to be reminded of what an enormous hit Fiddler on the Roof was: smash Broadway show, hit movie, and revival after revival. And speaking of revivals, I know it's on Broadway now, since I actually saw it last year (with the very good Alfred Molino starring in it; I have my doubts about Harvey Fierstein's ability to fill the role, but whatever). But can you imagine it opening as a first run show now? In the same world that lauds a show about Rachel Corrie? I certainly can't. So much of the entertainment world generally had a Jewish gloss. Tin Pan Alley, and Broadway, after all, were heavily Jewish (Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rogers, the Gershwin brothers, Moss Hart, George Kaufman, Lerner and Loewe, and on and on and on. Pop culture comes and goes, and I certainly don't mind -- indeed, I think it's a good thing -- that other cultures are getting their moment in the pop culture sun. What I do mind, dreadfully, is how hostile so much of the world is now to things Jewish. Rachel Corrie is a martyr, anti-Semitism is popping up all over, the United Church of Christ comes up with a ridiculous, ill-informed idea to boycott Israel (joining the Presbyterian Church USA's ridiculous boycott of Israel), and on and on and on. So I go back to my original point: in the face of increasing anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli, and anti-Semitic sentiments (all variations on a theme), I miss the time when the Jews were a beloved people, and their culture a thing to be enjoyed and admired. UPDATE: After I signed off of this post, I started thinking more about perceptions about Jews in the 1960s and 1970s, and remembered, too, that Israel was viewed so differently back then. Then, Israel was viewed as a plucky nation, made up of survivors from Pogroms, the Holocaust and refugee camps, that had bravely beaten back the nationalist Arab bully boys. Israel was David, to the Arab world's Goliath. Israel was also tremendously admired for turning a blighted desert into the land of milk and honey, for its successful socialist experiements (in the form of the Kibbutzim), and for its sponge-like ability to absorb Jews who were still being harassed and murdered in the Arab world. Now, of course, Israel is viewed as a capitalist occupier, a mini-USA, brutalizing its Third World, non-Jewish denizens. As my readers know, I fiercely disagree with this modern, Leftist perception. With this memory about perceptions of Israel in my youth, versus perceptions now, I also realized that the current malevolent Leftist viewpoint has been creeping around the periphery for a long time. Back in 1974/75, Ephraim Kishon, an Israeli humorist, wrote a very funny short story called "Unfair to Goliath" (contained in a book of the same name). I can't find my copy right now, but if I remember correctly, he used the David and Goliath analogy that was so frequently popping up then in reference to Israel, and blended it with the murmurings about how Israel somehow had an unfair advantage over those poor, massed, highly popular Arab nations that were perpetually attacking her. It's a funny story, but sadly prescient.