Welcome to the Fight Issue of Guilt & Pleasure. What could be more fitting to frame a salon-style conversation than recycling other people’s arguments? Notorious film producer and lad around town, Robert Evans used to say that there are three sides to any argument—my side, your side and the truth. This is a fitting mantra for the articles in volume two of G&P which work pretty much like book club raw material for a good argument. We have left the fiction in this issue to the eye of the beholder, but offer the following as possible framings for some of the non-fiction offerings…
1. Two Sworn Enemies and a Microphone by Dorian Lynskey
The growth of the Israeli hip-hop scene is further fuel for the old Zionist argument: is Israel a “Light unto the nations” or “A state like any other state?” It seems to have leaned toward the latter. Arab citizens comprise one in five members of Israeli society. The Israeli writer David Grossman calls them the “quietest minority.” The hip-hop scene may change that silence. The Jewish rapper appeals to young Israelis in military service—a service that Arab citizens cannot perform. Is the writer correct in asserting “For Arabs in Israel, the issue is as much about class as it is about race or religion”? Or are there deeper issues connected to Israel’s unique status as a Jewish state?
For more read: Sleeping on a Wire by David Grossman
2. Some New Jewish Stereotypes by Phillip Roth
Two great Jewish literary icons come to blows to debate the stereotype of Jews—fighter or nebbish? Your take on the fight may ultimately depend on what generation you come from and where you were born, but what is most shocking about this verbal match is the venue. Even though the rumble went down in the late 60’s—decades before the “Jew as cool” trend hit the media—this fight was not carried out in the pages of New York Jewish Week. It took place in The New York Post in plain sight of the non-Jewish majority. What would the neighbors think? A question which Roth himself alludes to: “Popular Jewish interest in…Uris is not hard to understand. There is the pleasure in recognition, the plain and simple kick that comes of seeing the words ‘kugel’ and ‘latkes’ in print…. Four million people have bought copies of Exodus. They can’t all have been Jews. Why this Gentile interest in Jewish characters, history, manners and morals?” Why then, and why now?
3. We Do Not Believe, We Will Not Follow by Micha Odenheimer
This story comes from an odd corner where Israel as a democratic state intersects with Israel as a Jewish entity. The Neutarai Karta faction battle the Israeli government, Zionism…and now themselves, based on their analysis that exile is God’s punishment for the Jewish People, and the creation of the political state of Israel is the abandonment of the Covenant and an act that contravenes Torah and Jewish law. Their position leads them to believe that “It isn’t the Arabs who are the enemy, the state is” but it also raises an interesting question—does political reality always trump theological belief?
4. Yonkle Doodle Dandy by Jody Rosen
When the mind turns to what we typically think of as Jewish music, Israeli folk singers, Yentl, or Rabbis with guitars may come to mind. The music that is edited out of the generational telling may be as interesting as the music that is handed down. Rosen asks “What accounted for the popularity of this music among the Jews… who applauded and came back for more? Why would a Jew put on “Jewface” and mince across the vaudeville stage belting out Cohen Owes Me Ninety Seven Dollars.” Why, three generations later, has this music been wiped from our historical memory?
For more read: White Christmas by Jody Rosen
5. A Stereotype with Muscle by Steven J. Whitfield
It wouldn’t be the Fight Issue without an examination of our legendary lack of physical prowess. Yes, we rock at Chess, Ping Pong and Bridge. But are these attributes products of the economic and social realities we have experienced or are they more a product of the fact that the Jews are more a race than a people?
For more read: The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson