From the New York Times op-ed section:
We Are All Jew-ish NowHave I ever mentioned the country club thing?
By DEVORAH BAUM SEPT. 29, 2017
… Through all of modernity, the “Jewish question” hovered menacingly over Jews in the West. Shorthand for a series of suspicious demands — Who are you really? What is the nature of your identity? What unifies you as a group? Which club do you belong to?
What makes you different? — it would ultimately lead Jews to the horror of the “Final Solution.”Okay, I’m sure that is true to some extent, but isn’t Jewish solidarity over the last 3,000 years a more remarkable phenomenon than Jewish divisiveness? The mechanisms behind Jewish cohesiveness, however, aren’t of much interest in today’s intellectual climate.
Yet it would also lead Jews to question themselves: Who were they really? What was their identity? Where did they belong? They couldn’t agree. They were split. And just as many nations assumed their identities in opposition to those they perceived as outsiders, many Jews sought to resolve matters by externalizing these splits and rejecting their fellow Jews.
(Jewish jokes give us an inkling of this: Consider Groucho Marx’s famous remark, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”…)While it’s popular to imagine poor Groucho as a wandering victim of prejudice who bravely built a defense system of rootless loneliness, in real life Groucho himself belonged to the Jewish-only Hillcrest Country Club (perhaps the most expensive country club to join in all of America in the 1920s and 1930s), where he and his fellow Jewish comedians lunched at their famous Round Table every Friday for decades. From Wikipedia:
The Hillcrest “Round Table”Groucho passed on his Hillcrest membership to his son in his will.
For years, many of the city’s top comedians, including Jack Benny, George Burns, George Jessel, Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, and later Milton Berle and Don Rickles, got together for a regular Friday lunch at Hillcrest, where they would socialize, try new material out on their friends, and talk “shop.” Alan King said the Friday lunches at Hillcrest were like a college for comedy. In 1972, the Los Angeles Times referred to the comedians’ table at Hillcrest as the “Round Table” in a corner of the main dining room. The members of the Round Table included Al Jolson, Harpo Marx, Eddie Cantor, Lou Holtz and Irving Brecher.
Back to the oped:
Any group that has sought to be accepted by a dominant culture knows something of this experience. Not that it works. As hard as you try to fit in, it always looks like you’re trying too hard. You always feel, or imagine others feel, that you’re still a bit … funny. …
Some 50 years after Kafka, the Jewish American comedian Lenny Bruce had a bit he would perform, especially when he was playing to a home crowd in New York.For example, Jews are so culturally marginalized in America that we are constantly not only hearing about funny Jewish comedians of the past like Groucho Marx, but we are frequently reminded even in 2017 of the wit and wisdom of the least funny Jewish comedian ever, Lenny Bruce.
It was called “Jewish and goyish.” What, according to Bruce, was Jewish? Among other things: pumpernickel, fruit salad and Ray Charles. And what was goyish? Kool-Aid, fudge, instant potatoes and baton twirling.Well, except the Jews get to culturally appropriate Ray Charles, while the goyim get stuck with baton-twirling.
In effect, Bruce was comically “answering” the Jewish question. But though he mimicked categorization, he was really poking fun at such categories.
For Bruce, “Jewish” doesn’t even necessarily refer to Jews: “If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish.Unless you are a Manhattan real estate and media entrepreneur but your name is Donald Trump. Then you are subliminally anti-Semitic as we can tell from his tweeting a six-pointed star.
If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re going to be goyish even if you’re Jewish.”After all, nothing interesting has ever happened in Butte, Montana. They’re just not marginalized enough. Sure, Dashiell Hammett invented the noir detective novel with the unbelievably violent Red Harvest about his days in Butte as a Pinkerton detective putting down a miner’s strike, but nobody in Butte ever felt angst and marginalization the way New Yorkers feel angst and marginalization.
I’m not saying that Dr. Baum doesn’t mean well, I’m just pointing out that the quality of Jewish intellectual introspection is remarkably obtuse and schmaltzy these days.