Emancipating Some Seichel

Night vision view of scene on Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as pro-Palestinian activists attacked ill-prepared IDF forces (photo from CNN)

As I was sitting here this morning at my computer reading article after article, column after column on what has quickly become known as the Flotilla Fiasco of this past weekend, I received an email with an attachment. A relative had sent my a copy of Anne Roiphe‘s piece in a recent issue of The Jerusalem Report, titled “Emancipation’s Soaring Success,” in which she suggests that Jews observe another annual holiday  (as though we don’t have enough already) – Emancipation Day. Her argument that Jewish Emancipation was a good thing for both the Jews and the world is no big revelation, but the idea of Jews’ celebrating our place in the broader world – as opposed to our relationship to the Jewish past and/or to the Land of Israel – is an intriguing one. The only such extant holiday I can think of is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, on which we celebrate Israel’s sovereignty and place among the nations of the world.

It is interesting then, that the Jewish intellectualism, creativity and ingenuity that Roiphe highlights in her article by mentioning the contributions of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Amos Oz, A. B.Yehoshua, Rosa Luxemurg, Emma Goldman, Theodore Herzl and the rest of the gang (or should I say mishpoche?), seems to be sorely missing among the leadership of the Jewish State today. Wither the yiddishe kop when it is most needed to solve complicated situations and challenges?

To this point, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote yesterday in The Atlantic:

“There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a “Jewish head,” is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions…The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today?”

While Roiphe extolls the benefits of Jewish Emancipation, she admits that not all has been rosy for the Jews since Napoleon made a history-changing gesture and the Jews subsequently removed their yarmulkes. There are many who hate us (and you can define “us” as “Jews,” “Israelis,” “Zionists,” or any combination thereof), and by the looks of the pages and pages of venomous and vitriolic comments that follow the flood of news stories and op-eds about the events in the waters off Gaza, it is clear that their numbers are growing, and that people feel that it is perfectly acceptable to be stridently anti-Semitic in public.

I, as much as I am happy that readers are reaching my blog by searching for words and terms on Google and other search engines, have had to admit to myself that those typing in “Jew dog” and “kike” are most likely not looking for heartwarming stories about Bear the Mitzvah Dog or reviews of movies made by Jamie Kastner.

As Israel is condemned, villainized and further isolated by the international community, now is not the time for Israeli and Jewish leaders to lose their heads. They need to employ more common sense, to use some seichel. Whether they wear a kippah or not, it’s time for them all to put on their thinking caps.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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