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Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2000/ 4 Elul, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man' -- It was inevitable that the nomination of the first Jew on a national ticket would set off a fractious squabble among Jews. Hairsplitting, controversy and disputation are in the honorable tradition of Talmudic study. As we say in Yiddish (and Hebrew and English and German): "Two Jews always argue three sides of a question.''

Or as Winston Churchill once noted: "One Jew is a prime minister, two Jews are a prime minister and a leader of the loyal opposition.''

When the Anti-Defamation League told Joe Lieberman to knock off protestations of his faith in his campaign speeches, the veep wannabe declined. "We respectfully disagree,'' Kiki McLean, his spokeswoman, said. "Welcoming people of faith into public life is not about excluding anyone or imposing religious views on nonbelievers.''

Naturally, this set off a torrent of words by Jews in the media, of whom there are many. Sid Zion, columnist for the New York Post, told Joe to "shut his mouth.'' The last time Jews went one-on-one with the Christians about Jesus, he reminded his brethren, they lost. Other Jews cheered, citing examples of the expression of faith in G-d contained in the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance, and even the motto on our money.

The arguments range over the political process and its impact on the way the Jews and their Jewish religion are perceived. Before there were so many Jewish writers in the media, newspapers were often sprinkled with anti-Semitic slurs. In fact, Joseph Pulitzer, the famous press-lord at the turn of the century, was frequently referred to as "Jewseph'' Pulitzer.

Jews are still sensitive about the prominence of prominent Jews. One friend of mine tells of the time a synagogue went up next door to her house. The family decided to sell and thought the rabbi would make the perfect buyer. He could walk to work on the Sabbath. But when he arrived to see the house, nestled next to the "shul,'' he exclaimed: "This already is too close.'' That's how a lot of Jews feel about the Lieberman nomination. This already is too close.

The controversy goes to another problem confronting American Jews, the debate of the secular Jew vs. the religious Jew. Since Sen. Lieberman has been cast on center stage many Christians have revived the age-old questions: Are Jews a religion or a race? Must a Jew believe in God? Are Jewish rituals religious or ethnic? What determines who is a Jew?

These are questions that Jews debate endlessly among themselves. The question is compounded by the historical memory of the Holocaust and the dominant interest among Jews everywhere to commemorate it. A Jewish student of the Holocaust, studying in Berlin, questions whether the Holocaust will come to dominate Jewish rituals, bonding secular Jews in a new solidarity that overruns ancient religious ceremonies.

Yitzhak Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi and promoter of Holocaust memory, prophesied two decades ago that a thousand years from now Jews will reenact the Holocaust: "They will eat the rotten bread of Auschwitz, the potato peelings of Bergen-Belsen and tell the story -- as we now eat the matzo and bitter herb of Passover.''

The on-line Jewish World Review (, which follows such issues, describes a new Jewish Hero Corps comic book to be published (on paper) this fall: "The essential concept is to have a diverse group of Jewish heroes whose common enemies are assimilation (`Jewish Amnesia') and the unraveling of our collective Jewish past.'' One of the Heroes is Menorah Man, who can transform himself with eight flame-throwing arms. A Shabbas (Sabbath) Queen uses an electromagnetic wand to disarm television sets, computers, even electric lights, so that Jews can rest on the Sabbath as they believe they are supposed to do.

The nomination of Joe Lieberman fits right into this debate. Sen. Lieberman represents the Orthodox Jew who maintains his religious identity when all about him Jews are losing theirs.

The Anti-Defamation League was an arm of B'nai B'rith, an organization founded in 1843 when there were only 25,000 Jews in America. Its stated purpose was "to reduce factionalism in Jewish culture.'' Ironically, with its attack on Sen. Lieberman it has fanned the fire of factionalism.

So I'll let my mother, age 90, who has had lots of experience mediating arguments at the dinner table, say the benediction here: "Enough already.''


08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
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