Mel Brooks: On Being A Jew
Growing up in a Jewish household in the 1960s and getting handed a dose of the standard religious education of the day, I learned two things pretty quickly that perhaps weren't intended. If the Jews were the chosen people, it seemed like we were chosen to get the bejesus kicked the hell out to of us, pun intended, on a regular basis, and that it did not pay to advertise you ethnic background in many places. On the other hand, what I did get was a real strong sense of right and wrong, a sense of fair play, and an understanding that although right and wrong are usually but not always absolutes and easy to figure out, fairness was (and is) a matter of pure chance. One could strive to be fair, but one should not expect the world to be fair.
In any event, theologically I left organized Judaism as soon as, in the words of George Carlin, I reached the age of reason. On the whole, I have no regrets about that. Many find comfort and meaning in ritual and tradition. I do not. Many find comfort and ritual in blind faith to dogma, again, I do not. It's a fine line between superstition and theology, and perhaps the biggest difference between a cult and a "mainstream religion" lies in the number of paying customers and the amount of real estate held. The "Moonies" were a cult before they bought a Washington DC newspaper. Then they simply became the Unification Church. As Gomer Pyle would say, "Shazam!"
With all that taken into consideration, I take great pride in being ethnically Jewish. First and foremost, I am an American, a citizen and product of the United States of America, late 20th Century edition, 1955 model year..... one which came with the same standard features, but many more options than the models of 20 years and more before. An American, but Jewish. My allegiance to nation comes before everything. I will never abandon or emigrate, yet I am an ardent Zionist. Would I send money to plant a tree in Israel. No. Would I send money to arm Israelis so they can defend themselves? In a New York minute.
A dear cousin of mine, Mrs. Irma Nemoytin, sent me the comments below by film maker Mel Brooks, known best as a comic, but far, far, more than that, on what factor go into making Jewish people the way we tend, or rather tended for the first few generations in America, to be. While much of this could be taken as an over-generalization, there is a grain of truth to everything said, and with a single grain, given the proper circumstances, you can get a whole loaf of bread. Or a beach. It depends on what the grain is.
In any event, check this out..... it may well give you some insight into yourself, who you would like to become, or, perish the thought, who Phil Cohen is.
HEREDITY - Historians have pointed out a fascinating difference between Jews and Christians. In Christianity, as well as in many other religions, holiness was identified with asceticism, great spirituality with the practice of celibacy. For centuries the finest minds among Christians were urged to join the church and become priests. That effectively condemned their genetic pool of intelligence to an untimely end.
Jews, on the other and, took quite seriously the first commandment to mankind - to be fruitful and multiply. Sex was never seen as sinful, but rather as one of those things created by God that he surely must have had in mind when he declared, in reviewing his work, that "Behold everything was very good."
Among Jews, the most intelligent were encouraged to become religious leaders. As rabbis, they had to serve as role models for their congregants as procreators and "fathers of their countries." Brains got passed on from generation to generation, and Jews today are still reaping the benefits of the frequent sexual activities of their ancestors.
ENVIRONMENT - If challenge and response are the keys to creativity and achievement, it's no surprise that Jews are smart; they've been challenged more than anyone else on earth. The school of hard knocks is a wonderful teacher. Jews had no choice but to learn to be better than anyone else since the odds were always so very much stacked against them.
When you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you tend to get fat and lazy. When you're born with the lash of a whip on your back, you quickly learn to become crafty, street smart, and knowledgeable in everything that will help you make it through life.
A UNIQUE VALUE SYSTEM - We still haven't touched on the most important reason of all. Jews are smart because they have been raised in a tradition that treasures education above everything else, that considers study the highest obligation of mankind, and that identifies the intellect as part of us created in "the image of God." To be illiterate was unheard of in the Jewish world, not only because it was a sign of stupidity, but, more significantly, because it was a sin.
Jews are obligated by law to review the Bible in its entirety every year, dividing it into manageable weekly sections. The widespread custom when a child turned three years old was to write the letter of the Hebrew alphabet on a board in honey and have the child learn them as he licked them off, equating their meaning with the taste of sweetness.
Jews studied the Midrash, and it taught them: The Sword and the Book came from Heaven together, and the Holy One said: "Keep what is written in this Book or be destroyed by the other." Jews studied the Mishna and it taught them, "Say not when I have leisure."
Philosophical Tevye , that delightful creation of the Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem and the star of Fiddler On The Roof, explained that Jews always wear hats because they never know when they will be forced to travel. What he didn't say, which is probably more important, is that they always made sure to have something under their hats and inside of their heads - because physical possessions could be taken from them, but what they accumulated in their minds would always remain the greatest" merchandise" a Jew possesses.
And you thought Mel Brooks was only a funny man.