by Rabbi Dov Fischer in The American Spectator
How to respond to someone who insults you? It depends. How deep was the insult? How personal? How dangerous? Will a response enhance your own position or embroil you in a conflict that you don’t need?
Let’s say you are driving on a highway/freeway, and someone cuts you off, or you inadvertently cut him/her/them/prefer-not-to-say off. Suddenly, you are on the brink of conflict. Do you curse them? Respond to their curse? Pull over to the side of the road to duke it out?
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Consider that they do not know you and you do not know them. You probably will never encounter them again, and if you do … you wouldn’t even know it. Is that worth a fight? An opportunity for a man to display one’s manhood? And what will that accomplish? Is it worth getting killed over?
I don’t think so.
Most of my readers are not Jewish, so you do not all understand the Jewish condition. But if you are of a different ethnic derivation or non-majority religion, you still can get it. Think of Maggio, the Italian-American private played so memorably by Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, who continually is insulted with a disgusting anti-Italian epithet — and eventually is essentially murdered — by the stockade officer played by Ernest Borgnine. Hatred for Italian, Irish, German, Polish, Arab Muslim, Armenian, and other Americans has existed in this country and in all countries for more than a century. So-called BIPOCs do not hold a monopoly on prejudice victimhood.
And yet there is something somewhat unique about the Jewish condition when it comes to encountering hate. It typically is so random. And it pops up every day, even in a climate where hate and prejudice supposedly are not cool.
During my college years, I would travel home to Brooklyn from Columbia University every Friday so that I could spend Shabbat (Sabbath) with my mom and sisters. My dad had died of leukemia at age 45, when I was 14, and now I was man of the house, reciting the prayer over a cup of wine at the start of the Shabbat dinner. The trip was 90 minutes: two subway trains and a bus ride. Then, on Saturday nights, after Shabbat, I would travel back to the dorms. To make the weekly 180 minutes — three hours — productive, I would do my reading assignments while riding on the subway.
One Saturday night, around midnight, while reading Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium for my class on Contemporary Civilization, a fellow lunged toward me and swiped my yarmulka off my head. I was so absorbed in my reading that I had not noticed him or his two thug friends. I simply reacted instantly without thinking. My sister Debbie had knitted that kippah for me, an investment of hours of her time, and this was a direct battery on my body. It was not personal; my attacker could not possibly have known me. But it was an attack on “the Jews.” He had gone for my yarmulka, not my yellow highlighter.
The train soon stopped, and the laughing trio was getting off, the guys ever so pleased with themselves. I got up, dropped my book, and karate-kicked the guy who swiped my kippah. I aimed for his privates and did not miss. He dropped to the floor like a fly sprayed directly with Raid, dropped my yarmulka, and started moaning. I kicked him two more times, basically off the train, and his two friends ran off as well to tend to him and to get away from the Jew who had gone berserk while highlighting a book. They were shocked and were cowards. The train doors closed. I retrieved the kippah.
That is what it is to be an Orthodox Jew. We usually are as White as any Caucasian, but we are distinguishable by our head covering or our tzitzit or both. In my life, I recall two other such personal experiences. In one, I was sitting on the city bus en route home for another Shabbat, when a middle-aged gentleman I recognized from our synagogue boarded the bus. As he walked down the aisle to find a seat, someone tripped him. Again, laughing. I was a few seats behind the attacker, facing frontward, and something came over me. I got up and pelted that kid in the back of his head. Soon we two were fist-fighting in the aisle while the middle-aged guy was asking me to let it go: “He didn’t hurt me, Dov.” Not a helpful moment for peacekeeping. Thank G-d, I landed a fist on the other guy’s nose, and blood came pouring out, bleeding all over his face and onto his clothes. The bus driver threw him off the bus. Everyone else on the bus looked down like nothing had happened. A New Yorker’s secret to survival.
The third instance was when I was walking northbound on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan to my daily rabbinic class at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. A block ahead of me, also walking northward, were two youths, one holding what looked like the kind of cardboard cylinder with which you would mail a poster. Walking southward were two Yeshiva University college boys. For no discernible reason, one of the two youths smacked the Yeshiva fellow on the head with the cardboard cylinder as they crossed paths. The assailant then started laughing. Again, I was outraged and saw that as an anti-Jewish attack. I raced from behind them, caught up, and then walloped the fellow on his head with my briefcase. I was carrying a particularly heavy volume of the Talmud. The fellow hit the concrete sidewalk, out cold. His friend started fleeing. Had I killed the guy? Don’t know. Don’t care.
Which brings me to Kanye West. Or, as he prefers to be called now, Ye. Whatever.
So, one day I am minding my own business, thanking G-d I am alive since my lung transplant, and I read that this guy has tweeted something about going to “death con 3” against “the Jews.” Obviously, he was referring to DEFCON 3 in a way an ignoramus would. And all I can think is: “What’s his problem? What did ‘the Jews’ ever do to him?”
Kanye West is the kind of guy whom my maternal Zaydie (grandfather) from Russia would call Meshuggeh, and whom my paternal Zideh from Galicia (southern Poland) would call Meshiggeh. Translation: A nut.
Throughout my lifetime, Kanye West’s two prior encounters with my thoughts came (i) when he disrupted a Grammys show, while Taylor Swift (not my favorite) was receiving an award, and shouted that Beyoncé and not Swift deserved the award; and (ii) when Kim Kardashian left him, a story that I stumbled on while reading a political news item. In the circles that such people circulate, I understand that Kardashian is deemed a real prize. He, or Ye, did not lose her because he could not afford her lifestyle; he is richer than America. Rather, as Swift and the Grammys crowd learned, and as Kardashian figured out, Kanye may be incredibly talented and gifted and rich.
But he is a nut.
Yes, he has been a MAGA guy. Good for him. Even a broken clock is correct twice each day. But his unexpected revelation that he is made of the same soiled fabric as Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Louis Farrakhan, and so many other BIPOC Jew-haters proves that we Jews never have a complete moment’s respite in any corridor. There are White extreme-right Jew-haters, Black extreme-left Jew-haters, Jew-haters of all religions, of all skin colors, of all ethnicities. They live in the woodwork and sometimes in broad daylight. Back in the pre-1960s, they kept Jews out of the Ivy League and prominent law firms, denied Jewish doctors hospital privileges, would not rent to Jews, would not hire us, and barred us from their hotels and country clubs. The village of Fleischmanns, New York, was created when Charles Fleischmann, the Jewish yeast mogul, continually was being barred from five-star hotels. So, he decided to buy a city in New York and build his own five-star hotel for himself and relatives. Go yeast, young man.
Our Jewish history teaches us that the best revenge is to live the good and successful life and, even, to find humor in it all. We attempt to counter anti-Semitism by joking about it and succeeding despite it. The government ultimately will not protect us when the chips are down if we do not take the lead in protecting ourselves; that is the synergy of what we have learned from Nazi Germany, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the State of Israel. Don’t rely on government and don’t rely on handouts. If the Big Law white-shoe firms won’t hire Jews, then we make ourselves indispensable by excelling at some area of law that no one else will touch — say, bankruptcy law. In time, the Big Firms will hire us for that because their corporate clients need experts in the area, but it is too sordid for them to touch directly. Or move to the California desert and create a new industry that no one ever heard of — moving pictures, and later talkies — and, if we build it, they will come. When you find an industry in which Jews proliferate, even Catskills-style stand-up comedy, you will find that the backstory stems from anti-Semitism that forced us into that field. We abandoned agriculture and went into diamonds because, when a medieval European country expelled us from its borders, we could not bring our farms with us but could smuggle out stones. We went into medicine, law, education, international banking and investing, and science because we could take that with us on the way into the next diaspora. Kidneys and hearts work the same everywhere. So do stock exchanges. If one country closed its borders to Jews, the Rothschilds could move their banking operations elsewhere — at laser speed. And, en route, we could pick up a Nobel Prize or two.
Kanye West has been described as a pioneer in “introspective, melodic rap music” and has a net worth of approximately $1.8 billion. He has 18.2 million followers on Instagram and 31.5 million on Twitter. In 2015, he topped Time magazine’s list of the 100 “Most Influential People.” And yet, the vast majority of the 2,000-plus conservative American Orthodox rabbis I know, myself included, never have heard a single “song” he ever recorded. We never bought any of his designer clothes. Is that what has sent him to “death con 3”? For us, he is as irrelevant as a failed vice-presidential candidate from the 19th century. And yet he is an “influencer,” itself a commentary on the society in which we live.
Social media has made “influencers” out of so many fools who cannot even string together a single thought, but it was this way before social media, too, only less ubiquitous. It is what it is. Death con 3.
For me, Kanye West is a reminder that Jew-hatred is not the provenance of haters who are White. When it comes to Jew-hate, Omar, Farrakhan, and Kanye stand as proud exhibits of anti-Semitism’s rich diversity, equity, and inclusion. Sometimes including even smart people like those white-shoe law-firm partners who kept us out, and the Nicholas Murray Butlers of Columbia University and Avery Brundages of Olympics fame.
And oftimes merely a nut, a Meshiggeh, a Meshuggeh.