Since Hanukkah I’ve been nursing a little gripe about the lack of respect given to Jews, compared with members of some other religions. Fellow Zelman Partisan Y.B ben Avraham had sent me a link to an article about restaurants contributing pork latkes, yes PORK latkes, to a Haunkkah contest.
If they’d contributed pork to any traditional Muslim festival, editorial writers the world over would be indignant about it. If they’d contributed watermelon to a Martin Luther King Day celebration, we’d have been treated to endless rants about how racist we all are (even we who had nothing to do with it). But pork to a Jewish festival? No problem. Even if it’s a festival commemorating a rebellion against oppressors who, among other things, tried to force pork on the ancient Jews.
While I thought about what to say, I collected other examples of thoughtlessness toward Jews, like Hallmark’s horrible Hanukkah wrapping paper (which could have been a mistake, but still) and Zara’s kiddie concentration camp shirt complete with yellow star. No way could that have been a mistake, just a slap in the face to the six million dead and all who care about the horrors inflicted by the Nazis.
I was feeling indignant. I wanted to say something about how dangerous it is to casually disrespect Jews and Judaism in a world that’s increasingly antisemitic.
Then Islamic terrorists murdered 12 people because an irreverent French magazine didn’t give them and their religion the respect they thought they should have. That put a whole new aspect on things.
Charlie Hebdo didn’t respect any religion. They pilloried Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with equal crudity and disrespect. One cartoon they published showed Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and the Buddha in bed together after an orgy. But these days only Muslims feel entitled to kill anybody who doesn’t agree with them or who won’t give them artificial, fear-driven “respect.” Other religions take mockery and criticism in stride. There have already been a lot of powerful comments on the slaughter, with people seeing it rightly as an attack on everyone’s freedom of speech and western freedoms in general. Others have dared to point out that these murders are on a spectrum with the new grievance culture. I couldn’t say it better.
But I’ll say right now that if you think your religion can’t be mocked, that’s a sure sign it deserves and needs to be mocked.
If you think people who don’t respect your religion deserve to die, then your religion isn’t worthy of respect, and neither are you. Respect has to be earned.
I’m supposed to interrupt myself here and say that Islamic terrorists don’t represent all Muslims, which is true. They are, however, a growing and increasingly powerful strain within Islam, and there seems to be far too little serious opposition to them within the Muslim world. This is scary, and combined with the increasing insults to Jews, even scarier.
On the other hand, there’s also a positive side to the lack of respect for Jews. I’m not saying there are positives to real violence or real antisemitism, just positives to some of the casual disregard we sometimes see. It means that Jews are accepted as people who can “take it,” people who can roll with life, people who don’t have to be handled with kid gloves, who aren’t going to go nuts if everybody doesn’t kowtow all the time.
In fact, while so many young Muslim men feel entitled to murder anybody who mocks their beliefs, Jews have long been noted for mocking themselves. About 75 percent of America’s stand-up comedians have historically been Jewish, and modern stand-up comedy was nurtured in the Borscht Belt resorts of the Catskills, where dozens of comedians who were soon to be nationally famous told jokes to Jews and about Jews. From the satiric songs of Allan Sherman to the quips of Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld, self-mockery has always been part of Jewish culture. Jews have to be wary of many, and increasing, real threats. But one thing’s for sure; Jews don’t have to fear humor.
Perhaps a lot of young Islamic men would do well to take a lesson from that. You can’t earn respect by cutting somebody’s head off or shooting them in cold blood. You might get farther by accepting that respect comes to those who earn it and acceptance comes to those who understand that world doesn’t owe them anything.