I was once in the presence of a young man who could have been no older than thirty. As for as I could see, he appeared to be well-mannered, pleasant, dignified and thoughtful. It came to my attention this person viewed some harrowing footage of children, Jewish children in concentration camps in that dreadful period in history. His only remark was that ‘they deserved it’. Then he justified his reasons for saying such a monstrous thing. His reason was this: because they had murdered millions over the centuries.’ When asked further about this, he gave no response, and this was the end of the matter. This can only come down to miseducation and no doubt his family, were anti-Semitic, was he? Certainly not. His idiocy got the better of him.
The Jews have emerged since this rapacious bloodbath in history. This essay is not concerning itself with religious Jews, idealism or even politics. It is Jews as people that are of interest. If somebody belongs to a working class district, they should set themselves the task of looking for Jews. Without being grotesque about the matter when searching for Jews people should ask themselves what do they look like if we must follow them out of curiosity, out of intrigue, of interest. Then when we have followed them for so many miles, we can say what we did that day; that we followed a Jew, or at least somebody that resembled one. It would be interesting to observe their mannerisms, how they behave, how they eat, how they dress, and so on. The day's events can be written in a diary. There is nothing strange or odd about doing such a thing. In order to observe the Jewish way of life, something must be done.
There is a vibrant culture amongst Jewish communities. They write books, good ones, there are an array of Jewish writers who have won the Nobel Prize for literature. There are others that may have won it. In the world, there are well over one billion Christians and one billion Muslims yet ‘Jewish’ writers appear to have a Jewish identity. Christians lack the cultural fibre Jews possess, as do Muslims. The Christian writer, in any case, sounds a little odd. Judaism is a way of life for many. Norman Mailer, himself a Jew, in his masterpiece the Naked and the Dead, says Judaism is a way of life and nothing to do with the fact they believe in God. Most Jews, if they are honest with themselves, do not believe in God; any God. instead, they celebrate the Jewish traditions. People convert to Judaism but that is an entirely different matter.
There is a mysterious air concerning these people. They emerged in 1945 and beyond with tremendous spirit and resolve. It is not just an array of literary writers which they can boast of but there are many intellectual ones also. When we put this fact forward, people may reply well, what is so impressive about that? When they become aware just how many Jews there are in the world, they are backed into a corner. It is then that they concede that this is not only impressive but almost inconceivable that they achieve this status. Look at the intellectual and philosophical writers they can boast of in the twentieth century alone: Hannah Arendt, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Rocker, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Stiglitz, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim. Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Paul Avrich, Aaron Baron, Abu Bluestein, Murray Bookchin, Paul Goodman and of course there are many more. Then there are the literary writers: Franz Kafka, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nadine Gordimer, primo Levy, Amoz Oz, Norman Mailer, John Updike, Aharon Appelfeld and of course many others.
When we see a Jew, we know we see a Jew. It is entirely evident. A Christian may have a cross or crucifix around their necks, the Muslim wears the traditional dress but without these we do not know if they are Christians or Muslims nor do we recognise it elsewhere. It is only Jews we can distinguish. It is unfathomable but lots of Jews have very large noses. Observing a Jew from a non-Jewish perspective, from a secular point of view is interesting because it is alien to us. The interest is learning of a different culture; a different way of life. Some of us do not know how to live our lives, we are lost as we attempt to find our identity. The Jews do not need to find their identity. It is there. Jewishness is their identity. That is something people ought to be envious of.
‘Where are the damned Jews today?’ say some. They live in the local village but cannot be seen. They are everywhere yet they are nowhere. They are a mysterious group of people. Take somebody like Noam Chomsky. His father was a Hebrew teacher, as was his mother. They were both Jewish of course. Noam looks Jewish, speaks Hebrew. But for some he will always be Jewish because his father was, and after all that is his heritage. That suggests that is little to do with the belief in a higher being. It is about culture, identity and heritage. Speaking as a secular thinker and not as a Jew or even one that knows a great deal about them, they appear, to be from a good upbringing, they are successful, cultural, intelligent, ambitious and all these traits of course are obvious.
We have the ‘cultural Jew’ but we seldom hear of the cultural Buddhist, cultural Christian, Muslim and so on. Leo Tolstoy rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature on cultural grounds but he was not a Jew. In fact, he rejected culture entirely and based his entire existence on his peculiar religion which he placed a great deal of emphasis on. He even attacked the greatest writer of them all, William Shakespeare. Mr. Tolstoy only rejected these things and only came to this conclusion because of his idle fantasies with God. It is perhaps odd for a man of such a high intellect to think such frivolous things. But with the Jew, none of this infantilism would ever materialise in this first place with the cultural Jew. Because, for Tolstoy, everything was concerning God, nothing else mattered. High culture went in the garbage bin of history.
Disreputable people often lament the existence of the Jews. This, of course, is for a number of reasons. The obvious reason which is racist and fascist fanaticism. Jews, not all of them, refer to non-Jews as ‘gentiles’. This is offensive and suggests the Jews believe themselves better than anybody else. The atheist does not saunter around calling everybody else a fraud who believes in god, of course the atheist would be right to say this but it is rather a bit coarse to publicly examine it.
Franz Kafka was Jewish but he was by no means a ‘Jewish’ writer. We may read Kafka over and over again until we can read no more and we would still have little clue he was in fact Jewish because indeed he does not indeed advertise the fact. On one occasion he walking down the street and a schoolgirl was shouting something to him when he looked over to see what pleasantries she was shouting, she was yelling ‘Jew’. This is quite comical, one may add but what is not comical is the fate that awaited his own family after he had died in 1924. Many of them were gassed at the now notorious gas chambers and death camps, other Jews of course had to flee like Freud, Mann and countless others. What is remarkable is how these Jews have emerged from that time and one must assume there is something quite remarkable in that. There is little wonder why so many are so thankful, envious and scornful towards them.
If one goes into a Kosher shop, one will observe Jews in conversation. To ensure you know you will be following a Jew this is the best practice. A plan must be concocted. Not to deceive somebody but merely for somebody’s self-interest. Because of this Jew-following activity an effort must be made to enter the shop as if a worthwhile and enjoyable purchase was about to be made: for the sake of common decency and to prevent wasting the time of the shop workers, a purchase must be made. Now, it is evident not everybody enjoys kosher food, indeed people dismiss it for ethical reasons. If this is the case then one can always throw this food to their dog or somebody but be advised to cook it first. If the dog refuses the food then they are surely an anti-Semite. But no matter. After the purchase is made you must vacate the premises and follow a Jew. Most importantly it will be an educational experience.
The reader may or not be as the case may be-relieved to find the writer of this essay has not spent his time following Jews from one place to another, or followed them at all. On one occasion however, I was sitting in a cafe reading André Gide, not a Jew, some moments later, four or five people arrive and they order whatever they are having and as they sit behind me I try to eavesdrop in on their conversation. I was growing irate because the barista kept putting the noisy coffee machine on and I was unable to hear the conversation behind me taking place. I soon became aware the people were Jewish and that delighted me very much. I heard one saying how one must never compare the holocaust; meaning the Jewish holocaust with others because that was a special one. They also spoke about how members of parliament berated the state of Israel for their utter barbarism against the natives, although they did not use those words, they went on to describe a member of parliament as an anti-Semite and how a popular journalist referred to him as a ‘fascist’. Then they spoke about popular culture, which of course is when I lost interest and left.
That is evidence, first-hand evidence that one not need follow a Jew to observe their absurdities, eavesdrop on their conversations and whatever else but I would have preferred it if they had not discussed popular culture. That was disappointing. I did find it somewhat frustrating that they talked and refused to stop because it took me a silly amount of time to read André Gide. The event of course was not organised, it was an accident of history. To be candid I found most of their conversation an absolute bore. Maybe Jews are not so interesting after all.
It is the case that Jews can be quite ridiculous people. One only needs to read Kafka. Emma Goldman failed in her attempts to become a prostitute on 42nd street in New York. She told her potential ‘client’ how terrible it is that women have to lower themselves to do such a thing, her friend and sometime boyfriend Alexander Berkman failed to murder a man, but instead shot him and for his troubles earned himself a 22-year prison sentence in one of the world’s toughest jails. One only needs to read the novels of Philip Roth to realise what a strange person he is. The film director Woody Allen, had Ingmar Bergman as his favourite director, but Bergman, as is well known, deals with issues such as atheism and existentialism, he also had sexual relations with his teenage step daughter, an irregular thing to do. Roman Polanski went further and caused a scandal with a thirteen-year-old child. There are other Jews that are full of absurdities as have been shown.
Christopher Marlowe wrote a play called the Jew of Malta; Shakespeare gives us Shylock in the Merchant of Venice; in Portnoy’s Complaint, young Portnoy is masturbating on a bus using a baseball glove; in Norman Mailer's the Naked and the Dead, there are discussions with the protagonist concerning Jews and Jewishness and what it means to be a Jew; in Gogol, in Pushkin, in Balzac we see Jews from different walks of life; in the film the Lemon Tree, we see good Jews and bad ones; Saul Bellow, Aharon Appelfeld, Amoz Oz and other Jewish writers have portrayed Jews in their works and that is some heritage. The state of Israel may have savagely annihilated Palestinian history, their cultural identity but Judaism and Jewishness is in the history books and nothing shall delete it.
Gramsci was Jewish who suffered terribly, Hannah Arendt wrote painfully and honestly about Judaism and the holocaust, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Avi Shlaim, Norman Finkelstein are prominent Jews who speak out against Israeli state violence. There is the Jew that writes wonderful literature, the intellectual Jew, the Jew of compassion, the cultural Jew and the absurd one. One need not be afraid of Jews. They are human beings like all of us. They are not gods either. If you speak to them surely they will speak back. If they are walking along the street with a newspaper under their arm and drop it, they drop it and you pick it up they will say thank you for this act of kindness. This is the Jewish way and it is just like any other way. The Jew is not a freak show to observe. They will communicate with you and make you tea. This is the way it is. Then you can have a cultural discussion, an intellectual discussion, even a political one, perhaps a boorish one. Do not be afraid of the Jews stature. They are human beings; that is certain.
People attack Jews for the mere fact they are Jews. They give different reasons, none of it is justified of course, for no act of violence can ever be justified. The Jew is an easy target. People, no doubt have reasons, so they say, for attacking Jews. One bunch say it is because of what Israeli barbarians are doing to the Arab population in Gaza and the West Bank, well this hardly correlates with Jews because it has nothing to do with Judaism and the people that are attacked may or may not agree with Israeli savagery, so that can hardly be a reason for inflicting violence on defenceless people.
Others do it because they claim Jews have too much influence, too much power, too much business and are taking over. People who make these wild claims can not name a single Jew who is part of their own country’s government, who have a voice in their community, own the shops and businesses they frequent. These are the worst bunch of racists who can not tell the difference between a pancake and a brain. They come from the Richard Wagner school of thought but without the intellect, culture and with the violence. They are cowards of course who have nothing better to do with their idle time.
When I was a child and learned about the Jewish holocaust, the question I asked was how did they know the people were Jewish. How did they spot them, I asked. Of course children ask these questions and it is dreadful to think about. Germany has to live with the horror of the past while the Israeli state slaughters the native population. We are told we can never forget the past, more importantly, we must use the present to stop current bloodshed from taking place. If we fail to come to the aid of one group of people but show concern for others we are parasites and spineless. We are who we are as people because of our history; what we have experienced, the friendships we have encountered, the relationships we have been involved in, every conversation, every accidental ‘bump’ into that other person becomes who you are. If, in your teenage years, you beat weaker people to a pulp, if in your twenties you were in prison for such activities, if in your thirties, you begin to live decently and honestly, if in your forties you have a certain status in your community and whatever else, you would be forgiven for the behaviours in your younger days. Time heals, people deserve second and third chances. We, as people are imperfect and at times know not what we do. Bleeding Jews must heal their wounds and prevent similar injury to others. We must act as altruistic humans, without that we all become brutes.November, 2015