Friday, December 04, 2009
Our Suicidal Impulses
LESLIE'S BLOG: STRENGTH AND TOLERANCE
ImageIs American-born Jewish liberalism pushing us, lemming-like, into the morally opaque sea of self-defeating multiculturalism? This may be the defining question for contemporary American Jewry. That over 75% of Jews voted for Obama, and that in the past the Democratic party generally garnered 70% of the Jewish vote or higher, is no accident. The reasons, however, are many – as well as counter-intuitive. With Abraham, the first Jewish conservative came into being; his belief-bound pragmatism and his quest for the survival of his (newly born) people became basic conservative seeds. In Pharaoh’s Egypt, Jews developed a profound appreciation for freedom and a passion for their homeland, Israel – a passion both amplified and tested by the delayed gratification of 40 wandering years in the desert. There followed a thousand years of Hebrew kingdoms, the codifying of the laws, the writing of the Old Testament and its commentary, the Talmud, the integration of the world’s first monotheism into everyday life. During this period, the Jews seemingly fought everyone (sometimes unsuccessfully) to maintain their independence; the Persians followed the Babylonians, then the Greeks moved in, and of course the Romans burned the Second Temple to the ground and banished most of the Judeans to the four corners of the Diaspora.
Thus, for some 2000 years following Abraham, Jews were intimately tied to conservative ideals, coexisting where possible but ultimately dedicated to preserving their heritage and people-hood for future generations. What’s more, the Jews simultaneously developed the most comprehensive and advanced system of laws and ethics the world had yet witnessed, establishing standards and rules designed to help maintain social stability and morality as well as codify man’s relationship with God.
Then came another 2000 years in exile where anti-Semitism and cruelty were the norm. Herded into ghettos and classified as transient, second-class citizens, Jews learned to practice the arts of invisibility, co-existence among strangers, and pragmatic survival. There was no place, no opportunity for liberalism in these tenuous times. Forbidden from owning land, Jews were forced to be money lenders and petty traders, occupying the lowest rungs of the then agrarian-based economic structures. Universities were forbidden, music and the art excluded. Politics, verboten. So Jews focused inward – on their religion, their culture and their families, always turning towards Jerusalem with hope and undimmed memories.
With the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modernity arrived with emancipation and enlightenment for Europe’s Jews. No longer endemically repressed or barred from science, the arts, politics, and big business, Jews flourished, with many taking nationalism’s assimilationist bait wholeheartedly, relegating culture and religion to the back-burner. The best of Europe’s Jews began to disproportionately fill the ranks of Nobel Prize winners, and the world opened up as never before. Sigmund Freud, Felix Mendelson, Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall, Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Benjamin Disraeli, Leon Trotsky, and so on.
While Hitler and the Holocaust utterly and tragically destroyed the enlightened argument for Jewish assimilation into the nation-states of Europe, liberalism remained a potent force among Jews in the American diaspora.
In the United States – the Goldene Medina – many Jews opted to throw off the yoke of repression and history and determined to reinvent God, religion and culture, dumping intolerance, racism, aggression, selective rights and injustices into the dustbin of history for all time. They wanted distance from the past, and focused on a new future in a new world, born of optimism, hope and ultimately, fantasy. In the effervescence of their new and limitless freedom, these Jews found new religion in every form (including sexual) of expression and in an embrace of multiculturalism, where every people, every culture, and every religion was equal and must be similarly tolerated, irrespective of its tenets or its apparent dangers. In the post-war period, this near-absolute tolerance for all, for everything, infused the universities, the arts and the left-wing of the Democratic party – often with American Jews leading the charge.
Image As a result, many of us Jews have recreated an image of mankind without our invaluable lessons of human history, forgetting man’s fickle bloodlust and his inconsistence justice. We aspire to “world citizenry” and view our national and religious traditions as backwards and tribal. Our bonds to Israel, at the forefront of a struggle against the antithesis of liberalism, become loosened in our over-riding desire to understand and appease the other. Negotiation with and unbridled tolerance towards those who hate us, who wish us ill, is now the sine qua non of much of our most educated set.
This naïve fantasy not only stands in contrast to Jewish history and our current realities; it is also highly dangerous. It risks our ability to save family, country, culture, religion and ultimately Western civilization from the vicissitudes of a venal and jealous world waiting to wrest from us our latest multicolored coat, our inheritance from Joseph. Has the natural evolution of Europe’s old world ghetto conservatism progressed far too deep, far too wide, making our sincere, humanistic and tolerant liberalism incapable of protecting our country, our freedom and our future?
It seems the voting record of America’s Jews, overwhelmingly liberal, deeply myopic, still has a ways to go.