(January 4, 2016 / JNS)
A recurrent feature of CBS television’s “The Late Show with David Letterman” was “stupid pet tricks.” These often spotlighted an owner more foolish than the pet.
Yet to air, “Stupid Jewish Tricks” accumulates examples.
On exhibit at the Brooklyn Public Library—grand, old, and in need of refurbishing—late this past December was a piece of white fabric with Hebrew characters woven across it line-by-line. Though fringe-less, it suggested a tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl.
According to the accompanying explanation, the artist had found among her grandfather’s books a Yiddish copy of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.” In tribute to her ancestor, she stitched together found fabrics and inscribed onto the textile several pages of the work.
The finished object could have been taken as a secular intimation of a tallit-as-Torah-scroll section. But shouldn’t have been.
“Das Kapital” was a powerful slurry of economic conflation. Yiddish was the German-Hebrew-Aramaic-Romance vernacular of pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jewry, whose beliefs and peoplehood Marx—a non-Jewish descendant of rabbis—abhorred. Enshrining a long fragment of “Das Kapital” in Yiddish figuratively blesses the toxic distillation.
Also in December, the Brooklyn Museum—a short walk up Grand Avenue from the library—had just opened in its Elizabeth A. Sackler Gallery of Feminist Art an exhibition titled “Agitprop!” The museum, which holds excellent items in its collection, has benefited from remodeling of the sort needed by the library. Thus it can sell small bottles of spring water for about $6 a pop.
Slated to run into next August, “Agitprop!” highlights “struggles for social justice since the turn of the twentieth century, from women’s suffrage and anti-lynching campaigns to contemporary demands for human rights, environmental advocacy, and protests against war, mass incarceration, and economic inequality.”
Somehow that includes Beatle John Lennon and second wife Yoko Ono’s 1969 “bed-ins.” These featured the couple’s art school pronouncements, transmitted globally from honeymoon suites by a collaborating press, as if they were holy writ.
The exhibit, though not all the subject matter it treats exemplifies the “pseudo-events” detailed by Daniel Boorstein in his classic “The Image.” We’re overcome by them now, from sound-bite slams billed as presidential campaigns to homemade videos about anything, everything and nothing gone “viral” on YouTube. By a digitized Gresham’s Law, counterfeits drive out hard news. So the endless loop of cable television, the group think of print coverage and their countless online echo chambers distract instead of inform.
New York’s Jewish Museum, dedicated to a people’s culture and identity over millennia, is housed in the former Felix M. Warburg mansion on the Upper East Side. Nevertheless, or perhaps in cosmic irony, a few years ago this writer was surprised by a prominently displayed quotation from Marx and with it a curatorial reference to his “contributions.” Other than 100 million or more dead sacrificed to a brutal dystopia proclaiming human perfectibility (see “Das Kapital” and “The Communist Manifesto”), what might they have been?
In early December, the White House found a rabbi, Susan Talve, who as National Review put it, lit the presidential Hanukkah menorah while opposing guns, nuclear power, racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism, but supporting Black Lives Matter and “justice for Palestinians.” She closed affirming “In’shalla,” four times. At least it wasn’t “Allahu akbar!”
Speaking of anti-Semitism, coincident with “Agitprop!” and the Brooklyn library’s display were anti-Semitic attacks in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Other recent examples, from New York through Western Europe to the streets of Israel abound, of course.
In the Manhattan assault a “Middle Eastern-looking” man reportedly struck a Hassidic Jew repeatedly in the face in the lobby of a Midtown office building. A witness told The Algemeiner online newspaper that a security guard and passers-by watched but did not intervene or call police. Of the Brooklyn attack, ABC television’s “Eyewitness News” reported that at Medgar Evers Community College, a black man punched a Jew wearing a yarmulke in the face and stomach, said “I don’t like white and Jewish,” then fled. A Muslim woman reportedly came to the victim’s aid.
Jewish museums are numerous. But with the exception of an afternoon program at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, none apparently has featured a recent program on the psych-war re-ghettoization of the Jews and their state. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, has yet to stage an exposé of the genocidal roots and intentions of Jew-haters in Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and elsewhere.
On this score, Zionist “Agitprop!” and a secular tallit featuring lines from Theodore Herzl’s “Der Judenstsaat” would be quite the trick, and hardly stupid.
The writer is a Washington, DC-based news media analyst. Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.