Adam Sandler and the Price of Jewish Cool

Nov. 24 2015

The Jewish comedian Adam Sandler recently performed an updated version of his 1994 “Hanukkah Song.” For Andrew Silow-Carroll, the song epitomizes the current American environment, in which being Jewish has a certain cachet (as long as one doesn’t express strong support for Israel). But being cool isn’t always a good thing:

[The] “Hanukkah Song” . . . is essentially a list of Jewish celebrities, from Dinah Shore and William Shatner to Goldie Hawn and Henry Winkler. The song is an unabashed expression of Jewish pride, going so far as to “out” celebrities who tended not to have advertised their Jewishness. It makes Jewish ethnicity “cool” by identifying it with secular cultural heroes. . . . It rejects the idea that Judaism is a stigma, or a burden, or the very thing that separates you from the mainstream.

At the same time, I worry that the song speaks for generations for whom Judaism may not be a stigma nor a burden but may not be very distinctive, either. Sandler’s celebrities are cool because they happen to be Jewish, not because they represent a particular Jewish way of being in the world. . . .

[I]n some ways the “Hanukkah Song” is the Hanukkah of songs. Hanukkah’s integrity as a Jewish holy period has been overshadowed by its role as a consolation prize to Jews left out of the Christmas hoopla. Hanukkah kitsch affirms Jewishness in the mainstream—see the blue and silver decorations right next to the green and red ones!—without conveying much sense of what we’re celebrating or why. Pride is a wonderful thing—but pride without meaning or responsibility is a hollow sort of cool.

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More about: American Jewry, Celebrity, Comedy, Hanukkah, Religion & Holidays

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East