Opinion

‘The Fabelmans’: Steven Spielberg’s antidote to Jewish victimhood

It’s worth remembering Spielberg’s journey as we try to figure out how to respond to the recent wave of anti-Jewish sentiment in this great land of opportunity.

Steven Spielberg at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals in France on May 14, 2016. Credit: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock.
Steven Spielberg at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals in France on May 14, 2016. Credit: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock.
DAVID SUISSA Editor-in-Chief Tribe Media/Jewish Journal (Israeli American Council)
David Suissa
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

I hope the Jew haters who bully a young Steven Spielberg in his new movie “The Fabelmans” get a chance to see the film. In fact, I hope Kanye “Ye” West, Kyrie Irving, Jew-hating white supremacists and any sect who believes American Jews are not the “real Jews” also see the film.

I want them to see the film for many reasons, but primarily because of the young Spielberg’s reaction to being called a “kike” and a “Christ killer” and getting beaten up by ignorant, Jew-hating thugs while in high school in the mid-1960s.

Instead of wasting his life wallowing in victimhood, instead of using the Jew haters as scapegoats for his failed life, instead of turning outrage into an occupation, Spielberg went creative.

His revenge on the haters was to become arguably the most successful and influential filmmaker of his time, a Jew who regaled hundreds of millions throughout the world with stories that left indelible marks on all of us.

It’s worth remembering Spielberg’s journey as we try to figure out how to respond to the recent wave of anti-Jewish sentiment in this great land of opportunity.

You see, Spielberg is not an outlier. He’s only one of the more visible examples of American Jews responding to antisemitism by doubling down on success and achievement. There have been millions more like him, in all fields.

Not surprisingly, a scholarly study from 2007 by Paul Burstein of the University of Washington concluded that “Jews are much more successful economically and educationally than other ethnic, racial, and religious groups in the United States.”

What are we to do with such information? Ignore it? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Be embarrassed by it?

For better or for worse, the reality is that it’s hard for most people to feel sorry for Jews. We need not take that personally: People who are perceived to be successful rarely attract much sympathy. That’s why any attempt to define Jews as “victims,” however justified, will always be a tough sell.

We can quote all the studies we want about being the most attacked minority group in the country, but our “success narrative” in America is too ingrained in people’s consciousness. No matter how hard we try, most people will never see us as credible victims.

If anything, we should consider going in the opposite direction—promote achievement, not victimhood. At the very least, this will be credible, since people already see Jews as high achievers.

The problem is that we’re so traumatized by the antisemitic trope of the “all-powerful Jew” that we’re afraid to own up to our success, lest it fuel those dreaded conspiracy theories.

So we’re trapped. We don’t make credible victims, but our success is too credible for comfort.

This is why I loved “The Fabelmans”: It’s not activism. It’s not a documentary about fighting antisemitism. It’s not a survey showing how terrible America has become for Jews.

It’s none of those things. It is, above all, entertainment!

The Judaism in the film is part of a great story. Non-Jews who see the film, including the haters, will see Spielberg’s family lighting Hanukkah candles and a young Spielberg receiving gifts that will spark his dreams of creating films.

They will see a young Spielberg refusing to apologize for killing Christ because, as he says, he wasn’t there 2,000 years ago.

They will see a young Spielberg turn into a hero among the Jew-haters of his high school by creating a beach film on “ditch day” that blew his school away on prom night.

Near the end, there’s a close up shot of the young Spielberg’s face as he’s operating the projector on prom night. Slowly, he realizes the positive reaction to his film from students who until then had shown him only animosity toward his Jewishness.

You can almost read the lesson on his face: “This is how I will fight Jew hatred from now on. By not denying my Jewish identity, by having the time of my life, and by bringing a little joy to the world. I will fight it like a winner, not a whiner.”

David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and the “Jewish Journal.” He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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