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Jewish World Review August 10, 2000/9 Menachem-Av, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Bursting with pride, but caution too -- JOSEPH LIEBERMAN grew up a long way from the world of "Gentleman's Agreement,'' the 1947 movie about anti-Semitism in America. He's the first Jewish vice presidential candidate of a major political party.

That makes me, as a Jew, proud. But it makes me nervous, too. Other "firsts'' in academia, sports and politics have made Jews nervous. "Jewish happiness,'' a wise man once said, "is never entirely free from fear.''

Lionel Trilling, for example, was the first Jewish teacher of English literature to become a full professor at Columbia University in the 1940s. No small thing, because most schools in those days had quotas limiting the number of Jewish students. Not everyone wished him success, and some -- probably many -- hoped that he would fail. Even those who admired his literary criticism warned him not to think of his appointment as an opening for other Jews. The prejudice as then articulated suggested that Jews could not appreciate the nuance of Anglo-Saxon literature (though Christian theologians did just fine with interpreting the Torah).

Hank Greenberg, another Jewish first, was a slugger who joined the Detroit Tigers in 1933 and whose life was recently the subject of a documentary that begins with children singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game'' in Yiddish. The sportswriters of his day called him "Hammerin' Hank'' (and Jewish fans called him the "Moses of baseball''). Every time he came to bat you'd hear anti-Semitic slurs in the stands. Teammates sometimes used the slurs, too. Spectators even hurled pork chops at him. Hank did not keep kosher (you might think someone would have taken the pork chops home) but he was later regarded by some as the "Jackie Robinson of the Jews.''

Hank returned from the war in mid-season and hit a grand slam homer at the end of the season to lift Detroit into the 1945 World Series with the Chicago Cubs, and then led the Tigers to the title. His fifth-inning home run with two on in the pivotal second game broke the Series open. He was such a hero to Jewish kids that years later Alan Dershowitz recalled that he thought "Hank Greenberg would be the first Jewish president.'' Though he wasn't religious like Joe Lieberman, Hank wouldn't play baseball on Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, and his precedent was followed a generation later by Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sat out a World Series game on Yom Kippur in 1965.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed so many Jewish advisers to high-ranking positions that his program was sometimes sneered at as the "Jew Deal.'' Rather than becoming more sensitive to what was happening to Jews in Germany in the 1930s, the president and his advisers instead ignored the documentary evidence of the atrocities, including photographs. When Jews in his administration tried to interest FDR in what was going on in the Third Reich, they failed. In fact, the presence of so many Jews at the White House probably made FDR less likely to act. He wouldn't risk the criticism that he was intimidated by Jews.

Joe Lieberman was at first dismissed as a vice presidential prospect because Al Gore's advisers, including some Jewish ones, were afraid of arousing "latent anti-Semitism.'' In addition, Jews who worked in the civil rights movement in the 1960s -- and who were often particularly despised by Southern sheriffs -- have had an uneasy relationship with blacks in the decades since. Jesse Jackson once described New York City as "Hymietown,'' and Louis Farrakhan has called Judaism a "gutter religion,'' even as many Christian conservatives warmed to conservative Jews to forge alliances in the culture wars.

Joe Lieberman's nomination may force a public discussion of Judaism, which could be as obfuscating as informative because American Jews are a very complex minority, ranging from the secular to the spiritual. It's easy to misunderstand the faith of others, as Jimmy Carter learned when he talked earnestly of the sin of pride and of lust in his heart.

Genuine anti-Semitism is easy to veil in hypocrisy. There's a risk as well that legitimate criticism of the Jewish candidate, such as in a discussion of Leiberman's difficulties in keeping his Orthodox observance of the Sabbath, will be interpreted as anti-Semitism when it's not.

We're all subject to the occasional prejudice of others not like us, but Jews have a history of understanding their plight and explaining it away, as in this aphorism: "Only one kind of worry is correct; to worry because you worry too much.''


08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate