JWR Wandering Jews

Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review April 6, 2006 /8 Nissan, 5766

The things people say

By Paul Greenberg


Printer Friendly Version

Email this article




JewishWorldReview.com |

BHARLESTON, S.C. — At the corner of Meeting and Market Streets here, an old black man plays a sweet, sorrowful tune on his sax. Oh, the trouble he's seen. Yet the memory-filled melody somehow makes you happier than any happy song you can recall at the moment, and more reconciled to the human condition. Which is just what the blues are supposed to do. Welcome to Charleston, or New Orleans East.


I'm here to give a talk as part of an annual lecture series sponsored by the Jewish Studies program at the College of Charleston, but I'm much more interested in what the students and others in attendance have to say.


After all, I already know what I've got to say—something about the need to preserve a culture of civility in political discourse. I'll frame my talk in the context of an ancient Talmudic text on ethics called Pirke Avos . How controversial can that be?


Plenty.


First, because it's a largely Jewish audience, and we'll argue about anything. As the old joke goes, two Jews, three opinions. If not more.


One lady approaches me afterward and explains that culture, or at least a distinctive one, is the enemy. Only if we humans do away with all the cultural differences that divide us, and deal with one another in a "humanistic" way, will conflict cease and we'll all live happily ever after.


Uh huh. Even if such a thing could come to pass, a new culture would begin with the first word spoken, even the first gesture made. And soon distinctions would arise.


A language is one of the markers of a culture, and it'd be a pity to lose any of them. Each reflects — and creates — a world.


Homo sapiens, Homo faber, Homo ludens . . . Man the reasoning, man the maker, man the playful is a cultural animal. Eliminate culture and you've eliminated man.


Not that it could be done; even a value-free culture, if that's conceivable, would value its sterility. Its commandments and taboos would soon be as numerous and complex as those of any other culture. See the history of Political Correctness. As arid a culture as it is, it's overflowing with Thou Shalts and especially Thou Shalt Nots.


As the lady continues to explain her theory, all I can do is nod my head agreeably; it's part of my cultural conditioning: Be nice. You're a guest here. But at the end of her discourse, I can't resist saying, "Ma'am, I would agree with you wholeheartedly if we were conducting this conversation in Esperanto."


There's a reason Esperanto never caught on. It's artificial. It's not rooted in the slow accumulation of historical experience. An artificial language may have its uses in a computerized age, but it won't have the cultural resonance of a language that, like English, developed out of various others, and, with all its roots and branches, its norms and dialects, its prescriptive rules and descriptive usages, is still developing.


Another questioner has his own idea about what's responsible for all the trouble in the world. (Any theory that begins with, "All the trouble in the world is caused by . . ." is itself in trouble.) The enemy this time are the fundamentalists of every creed who, he says, only divide people. They lack the flexibility that civilization requires. Wouldn't I agree?


I could scarcely disagree more. Fundamentalism, you may have noticed, has become a bad word. Listen to the way it's deployed on NPR or in any of the tonier publications. It's used the way Communism or Fascism once were — to mean almost anything we don't much like.


But no matter how hard my inquisitor might try, it's hard to blame the Holocaust on the fundamentalists. Ditto, the Soviet Gulag. Or the Cultural Revolution in Mao's blood-Red China. All were the products of largely secular fanaticisms. And none lacked fashionable defenders at the time.


Often enough, it was those of deep, fundamental and decidedly unfashionable religious belief who risked all to defy such regimes. Oh, the troubles we've seen. And the Nice People we've known who, for reasons of their own, have gone along with the mob.


Of all the widely varied ethnic and religious groups that make up the wide-ranging American political spectrum, none of them — including the Jews — have been more ardent in defending the right of Israelis to live in peace and security than the Religious Right. And these are the folks I'm supposed to hate and fear?


When they come for me, I hope I'll know better than to rely on those who are described as moderates when it comes to their faith. The nice, respectable, mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) now has launched its own sordid little war on the Jews — at least those in Israel. Of all the states in the world to boycott, it's chosen the Jewish one. Why am I not surprised?


The P.C. (USA) could doubtless defend its decision a dozen ways from Sunday, none of them very convincing. The old, familiar animus cannot be disguised; you can smell it.


Tell me again how the folks we really have to fear are the fundamentalists. Me, I'll take my chances with the good ol' boys. When I need a place to hide out, I believe I'll light out for the woods and look for some ramshackle house in a patch of weeds with a few old tires and car bodies out front — and maybe a pick-up in back with one of those bumper-stickers on the rear that reads, "My boss is a Jewish carpenter."


Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.



JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

Paul Greenberg Archives


© 2006, TMS

Up