Gene makes a plea for religious misunderstanding

Gene Weingarten
Columnist June 20, 2013

Memo to:

The Grand Poobah Overlord,

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

International Jewish Conspiracy Inc. Tel Aviv

I am writing to Your Covert Mightiness to suggest a strategy for dealing with fallout from the debacle of last month, when Vice President Biden publicly complimented the Jewish people for their remarkable, disproportionate record of success in so many walks of life. While most ethnic groups would appreciate such a generous (and deserved) accolade, Jewish luminaries in the media (there are a lot of them) and elsewhere (ditto) said, and I am paraphrasing here, “Oy.” They expressed deep concern, with that grave, melancholy, inward-peering, soul-tormented, hand-wringing anguish that is so characteristic of our people. Their message to Biden or anyone else who might openly acknowledge Jewish achievement was, basically: Shhhhhhhhhhh.


(Eric Shansby)

I understand the concern; historically, Jewish success has fed the sullen suspicion that our people have undue influence in areas of finance, science and popular culture, and that we are wielding it to advance some sort of clandestine agenda. This, in turn, has led to prejudice, persecution and, I daresay, worse.

The problem with the Shhhhh Strategy is that it only feeds the conspiracy theorists. When a group urges silence, what does that imply but the existence of some secret truth too dangerous to speak? Today, I offer a different approach. We need to change the conversation: We should proudly champion our achievements, but not those likely to cause jealousy or resentment.

For example, while it is true that Jewish people are disproportionately represented among winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, it is also true that we are disproportionately represented among history’s most epic hypochondriacs. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz would not travel if it would take him, at any point, more than 50 miles from a doctor. The French novelist Marcel Proust so feared germs that he lived as a recluse; to attend his brother’s wedding, he bundled himself up in overcoats and mufflers and extra layers of clothing to the extent that he could not fold himself into a chair: He had to remain standing. Woody Allen officially denies he is a hypochondriac, preferring to be called an alarmist. Not long ago, he arrived at an emergency room certain he had a melanoma on his neck; the doctor informed him that his hickey was benign.

See what I’m getting at? It’s possible to celebrate Jewish achievement without bringing out the haters.

Sure, Jews comprise a ridiculously high proportion of the student bodies of the nation’s best colleges, but we also have a ridiculously high proportion of awkwardly combined and/or hyphenated surnames, which we proudly use even when they aren’t the most mellifluous monikers around. The Web shows us many Rosenberg-Rosenblatts and Epstein-Bernsteins and Goldfarb-Goldsteins. This is just a corollary to the fact that we also proudly lead the world in funny names. Google up a funny-sounding, made-up name, and I guarantee one of our tribe will have it and wear it with pride. I just tried it with “Noodlebaum.” On the first page alone, there’s a Stan, a Harry and a Celia. Moreover, when we Jews change our names, we do it with a heroic degree of gumption, unmatched by any other ethnic group. There’s a long list, but suffice it to say that “Ralph Lauren” was born “Ralph Lifshitz.”

Jews are deservedly celebrated for the quality of our cuisine, but it would be better to emphasize the way we relentlessly ensure that the best-tasting foods have the worst-sounding names (It’s genius. Ad exec Lois Wyse, who was Jewish, came up with the slogan “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.”). Hence, from Jewish kitchens came “kreplach,” “gefilte fish,” “rugelach,” “tzimmes,” “knishes” and, I swear, a dish called “p’tcha.” What the French call a “crepe,” we Jews call a “blintz.”

So, that’s my suggestion, Your Covert Mightiness. We can try it, and if it doesn’t solve the problem, we can always get our operatives in the banking industry to squeeze the gentiles until they quit complaining.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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