Something Fishy’s Going On…

Here’s a little something to choke on: America loves Jews.

WTF? you say. No way – Everyone hates us; always have and always will. Purim. Passover. Chanukah. Read the Torah, shmendrick. The only people who don’t are just trying to bring on Armageddon.

But here’s the Yenta to tell you it’s not true! Even if we don’t count the titanic rise (and plateau?) of Jewish hipsterism, there’s still some weird things going on the world that your bubbe wouldn’t believe:

We’ve already discussed China’s recent (and wildly misinformed) fascination with all things Jewish. The Jews of France have stopped leaving in droves since their kinda-maybe Jewish president took office (also known as “The Sarkozy Effect.”) Even POLAND – the the very capital of modern Jew-hating – is having an enormous revival of Jewish culture in spite of the fact that hardly any Jews live there (we don’t need to go into why that is, do we?)

Here’s the real kicker: In a 2006 Gallup poll, a sample of folks in the U.S. were asked to rate how they perceived various religious groups, ranging from positive to negative. Not only did 58% feel positively about Jews, but 37% were neutral! Imagine that – 37% had absolutely no opinion whatsoever about Jews! This is in the era of Madonna, airstrikes and Borat and still we’re rated above Methodists? (In case you’re curious, Scientology was viewed most negatively, and this was before Tom Cruise’s creepy video hit the interwebs.)

The poll was published as part of World Jewish Digest article called “Taking ‘Yes’ For an Answer” by Mark Penn and Kinney Zalesne, authors of the MICROTRENDS: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes, and apparently, “Pro-Semitism” is a damn strong microtrend, one that might actually bring disenfranchised Jews back into the fold:

The idea that non-Jews are drawn to Jewish living, independent of outreach efforts on anyone’s part, suggests that there may be yet another way that Judaism can be successfully impressed upon Jews. Such an approach goes beyond exposure to Judaism as a “birthright,” in which young people are exposed to the joys of Jewish belonging. And it goes beyond its opposite – call it “birth responsibility” – in which young people are instructed about their obligations to the community. Instead, the premise is that regardless of your background, Judaism is a system of living and learning so rich that once you engage it, you will want to dive in deeper and deeper.

Hmm, so ultimately, this acceptance in the world at large means we might have to accept ourselves – and be accountable to heritage, history and the ethics of our ancestors. Giving up our victimhood means we’ll have to work harder at being Jewish – especially since non-Jews are getter better at it than we are.

But don’t worry, it’ll take China ages to catch up.

*Yarmulke tip to Reb Belzer, who reminds us that co-author Kinney Zalesne, the sister of a Mickve Israel member, will be one of the speakers during the congregation’s fabulous 275th anniversary celebrations July 11-13 in Savannah. I can’t wait!

2 thoughts on “Something Fishy’s Going On…

  1. Hi there —

    I went back to your post about China. I live in Shanghai, and I have to say I never noticed any of those books being sold anywhere, and my Chinese is good enough to read book titles. Really, the Washington Post is not a great place to read anything accurate about China.

    Still, though, I’d say Chinese people generally have a positive image of Jewish people, and the stereotypes they know are ones they have really positive associations with. Students have mentioned to me that they have heard Jewish people are all smart, which is an attribute that everyone wants here. A lot of people have also heard they are good with business, and of course practically everybody here is obsessed with getting rich. I’ve even had student from Wenzhou say with pride, “You know, we Wenzhou people are good at making money. We are the Jews of China!”

    Another thing about Chinese people is that they don’t think of stereotyping as inherently bad. They might come up with some sort of stereotype as a way to be friendly, to try to show they know something about your culture. For example, when people are chit-chatting with my black friends here, they often say, “Oh, black people are so good at basketball.” They think they’re giving a really nice complement, so even though it’s stereotypical, my friends just try to take it in the spirit it was intended.

    Oh … I think I’ve started rambling a bit here …

  2. Oh — and while I haven’t seen books about “making money the Jewish way,” I have seen plenty of books here about the history of Jews in China. Shanghai is not the only city that had a big Jewish presence. Harbin, way up north in Heilongjiang, did too, and that’s one of the reasons you can still get challa bread and rye bread up there. The Kadoorie family, who made their money from opium, was really important in the development of this region, particularly in the hotel industry. I might be mixing this up a bit, but I think the Astor hotel chain, which included buildings in Shanghai and Tianjin, was founded by the Kadoories, who were based in Hong Kong. Today the Astor Hotel is called the Peace Hotel, and is still in operation today.

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