May 21, 2013
When Jewish Upon a Star
Posted on Dec 2, 2011
By Mr. Fish
The voice on the other end of the telephone needed to make sure that I was 21. I wasn’t. “I’m 22,” I said, lying, figuring that 19 might as well be 22 and, anyway, this was a comedy club that I was scheduling an audition for, not the Moonlite Bunny Ranch or the FBI.
My heroes at the time were Woody Allen, Jackie Mason, Philip Roth, Neil Simon, Irving Howe, Erich Fromm, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Abraham Maslow, S. J. Perelman, Paul Krassner, Abbie Hoffman and Groucho Marx. I’d decided, over the previous 18 months while slowly dripping out of college, that if I was ever going to succeed as a Jewish comedian and writer I needed to stop being a South Jersey Protestant virgin fine arts major at Rutgers University with Han Solo hair and Top-Siders and move to New York to have my inner David Cassidy exorcised from my soul, kneed in the stomach and tossed into a rack of dirty trash cans somewhere in Boro Park or Crown Heights.
My fascination with Judaism began when I was 14, right around the time I decided the tribe that I belonged to—the one with the John Wayne narration, the street address of Downtown Disney: Reality in 3-Quarter Scale Facade! and the bizarre Ameri-Christian logic, call it blatant nepotism, that had cast super-WASP Charlton Heston in the role of Moses—was neither honest nor intellectually curious enough to reflect the truth of existence nor the dark complexities of the human experience.
Judaism, on the other hand, as evidenced by several thousand years of recorded history and vast amounts of art and literature and kvetching, seemed to thrive on a tradition of critical self-analysis as opposed to the self-glorification of Technicolored Anglo-Saxonism. In fact, after a rather intense week over Christmas vacation in which I’d devoured “Der Antichrist” by Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Future of an Illusion” by Sigmund Freud and both “Night” and “The Trial of God” by Elie Wiesel, I suddenly realized that the atheistic evangelism that I so naturally gravitated toward was not only not wholly scientific, but actually found many of its most prominent champions and sympathizers, including Baruch Spinoza, Emma Goldman, Jacques Derrida and Karl Marx, coming from Jewish origins.
Even among theists who practiced the religion, rabbis included, skepticism and rigorous debate seemed to prevent the junking up of Judaism with all the superfluous voodoo and super and subhuman mascots and harrowingly hierarchical idolatry exemplified by other religions, such as Catholicism, Consumer Capitalism and Fascism.
Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.— Lenny Bruce
“You know, they’re probably going to have to take some skin off the back of your legs for this,” said my friend, Derek, one day after school while paging through the Yellow Pages in search of a plastic surgeon. I was at his house, as I was most afternoons, drinking a highball glass of NyQuil, which I was doing only because his parents were out and it was almost New Year’s and he was driving. I had been complaining about the size of my nose all day long, saying that I wished I had a bigger one, something more Semitic and less Debbie Reynolds, and he was tired of hearing about it.
“I don’t know why they can’t make one bigger,” I said. “They make boobs bigger, for Chrissake!” Then Derek made the comment about the extra skin. Then I changed my mind.
“Are you sure?” asked Derek. “Don’t you want to be a bigger boob?”
You should have your anti-Semitic head blown off, you fucking piece of dog shit!!!! That was just one of the many suggestions made by one of the people thoughtful enough to email me in January 2009 in response to a cartoon that I’d posted online depicting Holocaust survivors holding up signs in support of the 1,000-plus Palestinians killed during what the Israelis called Operation Cast Lead and what the Arab world called the Gaza Massacre. Who better to speak in solidarity with an oppressed and quarantined and sadistically tortured population, I figured, than another famously and morbidly oppressed and quarantined and sadistically tortured population, the ethnicity of either population being grossly unimportant in the face of their common humanity?
Even my older brother, Jeff, was emailing me, although the subject of his correspondence had less to do with defending the actions of Israel and more to do with the resistance tactics of Hamas, which had been firing hundreds of Qassam rockets into Southern Israel in retaliation against the IDF’s never-ending siege of Gaza—rockets that had killed, from 2000 to 2009, 22 Israelis, prompting me to wonder how devastating the retaliation might’ve been had Hamas been launching corn dogs instead, knowing that heart disease is responsible for killing upward of 600,000 people every year.
Jeff: (via email) I guess this is what we’re seeing, the final, horrible, inexcusable but typical final stages of a war. To quote Gandhi: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Hamas fights on, Israel fights on, the evil it does is permanent.
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