Well, here I am in Beverly Hills on a spectacularly beautiful day. Temp in the 70s. Light breeze. No humidity. Cloudless skies. I pulled a bit of the pleura on my right side, so I cannot swim for a few days. The pain of that was astounding, by the way. What must it be like to be shot? What must it be like to be stabbed?
Plus, a few days before that, I burned my middle right finger removing some film from a microwaveable dish of pulled barbecued chicken. The steam burned right down to the bone and the pain has been punishing. My great doctor gave me a modern “creme” which is helping the wound heal but as it knits itself together, the flesh burns in discomfort. What must it be like to be burned at the stake? What must it be like to get burned in a house fire? Or by a phosphorous grenade? Burns are awesomely awful and mine is a trivial matter.
Anyway, my wife and I went out to lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We sat outside and the air was perfect. Just bracing and awesome. Then a few errands, and then a nap.
Then, even though it is Shabbat, I had to work on a speech for a Jewish group in a big city in the East. Herewith, some of my doodlings as I got to my task:
It is an awesome thing to speak before a Jewish audience. It is an awesome thing because it is an awesome thing to be a Jew.
We are: The oldest continuously operating religion and people known to man. We have: Six-thousand-plus years of history.
We are: The religion and the people that first came up with the idea that the highest and best use of a human being should be to help others and to avoid being harmful to others. “Do not do that which you would not want done to you.” That is Judaism “while standing on one leg,” as a great Jewish sage said.
The Jews are the religion and the people who gave the world a huge fraction of the great inventions and scientific breakthroughs of mankind. The religion of psychology, polio vaccine, balanced budgets, uncountable Nobel Prizes. The Jews gave the world the nutcase idea of Marxism, but also the great idea of Christianity.
To continue, the Jews are the religion and people that have been the most persecuted and tormented of all history. When you read the history of the Jews, there is blood, pain, suffering, torment, on every page.
Why? Why do people hate Jews so much? This stands before me as the central question of man’s history. Why, because we were the other? But the Jews of Germany were fully assimilated and yet they were for the most part murdered. Why, because we were thought to be disloyal? And yet the Jews of the Kaiser’s army won Iron Crosses in great numbers. One of my best friends on this earth had a grandfather and grandmother from a small town near Frankfurt who were murdered in the Holocaust—and the grandfather had in his pocket as he was being deported the Iron Cross he had been awarded in WWI.
Why do some people—not all people, not Americans except in tiny numbers—hate Jews? Yes, we have our share of bad apples. We have our share of bad drivers. We have our share of scammers. But so does every other group.
Why is it that Jews are singled out for hatred? They have been hated throughout history, whether they were weak or strong.
It has to be some kind of envy. It’s got to be some kind of wild envy of our ability to keep on taking a beating generation after generation, millennium after millennium, and still keep coming back. It has to be the historical truth that Jews are extremely high achievers no matter how badly they are treated in and around their times.
Human beings envy other human beings who can achieve. It’s like what a famous Jewish psychoanalyst said about Israel and its neighbors: There are some kids who can build a beautiful castle out of sand, and there are other kids who cannot do that, so they knock down the castle. That, in a word, is POSSIBLY the story of the Jews.
But how things have changed just in my lifetime.
Look, I have been alive as the drama of the Jewish people was unfolding boldly and horrifyingly. When I was born in November of 1944, the Jews of Eastern Europe were still being murdered in vast numbers: The Jews of Hungary were pouring into the death camps and Auschwitz, and the Nazis were killing more than 10,000 Jews a day.
That was in my lifetime.
Yet in that same lifetime, we have seen the elevation of the Jews to a level we would not have thought possible.
The Holocaust, the attempt to wipe out the Jews of Europe, and then the founding of Eretz Israel. What could be a more astounding story?
What could be a more astounding, uplifting story than how the Arabs used all of their numerical strength and their oil money and their friendship with the Soviet Union and Russia to try to drive the Jews into the sea, and each time Israel emerged stronger until it is now—with a tiny population—one of the great powers of the world?
What could be a more elevating story than of how the Jews of Europe arrived in glorious, glorious America in rags, penniless, no English, despised, spoken of as unto beasts of burden, and a century later are in positions of the highest possible influence in the United States?
How can it be that a people who comprise fewer than 2 percent of the U.S. population have the power and influence Jews have? And how quickly it happened! The gates were opened just a crack, and the Jews of Europe—and now of the Middle East—rushed through those doors and made lives for themselves beyond what our grandfathers or great-grandfathers could have imagined.
That is a story of the intelligence, incredible capacity for work, and diligence of the Jews, of us Jews.
But it is also a story of America in the postwar world. The Jews of our era in America are the most blessed humans who ever lived.
We constantly bitch and moan about how bad things are in America. Even men and women I respect very much complain about life in America.
I will add that, in my own lifetime, there was much to complain about.
When I was, say, 4 years old, this was a segregated country. The repression of black Americans was a disgrace. As recently as the late 1940s, close to one third of the school children in America went to schools segregated by race.
The doors of access to a decent education were slammed shut in the black man’s face. This was all over America—from Maryland, where I grew up, to Florida, to Texas, up to Oklahoma and Kansas and parts of Missouri.
The schools were not just segregated. The schools the blacks went to were a total mess. Now, that’s all changed.
Well, I talked about that for quite a long time in my doodlings for my speech, and a thought came to me as I sat at my desk with my dog by my side:
Jews have marched in America for civil rights for blacks, for shorter hours for factory workers, for justice for accused black murderers and rapists in the South. But I cannot recall ever any kind of march by Jews for greater civil rights for Jews. No parades down Connecticut Avenue, Northwest, to demand membership in the Chevy Chase Club. Instead, Jews have just worked hard and persistently to create institutions for themselves in which we could feel comfortable and happy.
When the great Civil Rights Acts of the LBJ era came through and Jews could own homes in Wesley Heights, we did. But we didn’t march for it. We just came through as the civil rights of blacks were the main focus.
Jews’ mothers don’t tell them to demonstrate. They tell them to study. That apparently is the right road to take.
Now, I have to rest and get ready to go out to dinner…
Another beautiful fall day in Beverly Hills. I had lunch with Phil DeMuth at the Polo Lounge and he and I talked about Jews and persecution and triumph. As usual, Phil made the smartest point about the subject.
“It’s mostly envy of the abilities of the Jews,” he said. “Envy plays an immense role in life. But it’s more than that. It’s metaphysical. It’s supernatural.”
I was rocked back on my heels by that. Now I was sitting, but I was still rocked back on my heels. Luckily, the patio at the hotel was just cram-jammed with gorgeous girls so I had that sight to buffer Phil’s insight. There was a whole table of simply stunning girls from the Marlborough School, where Phil’s daughter goes. There were also girls from Archer at the table. I talked to them briefly. They were so young and beautiful and happy. It’s great to be young and beautiful.
There was also a family from London with a college-age daughter who was spellbindingly pretty.
But what if the Jews are God’s Chosen People? Why, in that case, did God choose for them to be so tortured in some times and places and so happy in other times and places?
Why, why, why?
And why, when I was born almost 69 years ago, did I get to be born in D.C., instead of in some horrible village in Hungary where I would have been killed?
I cannot explain all of the Lord’s dispensations for me. I can only say that America is the greatest gift of all time, and I am on my knees with gratitude for it every moment of every day.
For the soldiers and the Marines and the sailors and the airmen and all who have ever fought to keep this a law-abiding, peaceful society in my time.
My genius pal John Barber, who lives in England, wrote me from a fast train in China today about how much he appreciates living in a lawful, good-natured society. What a gift from God the British Isles were and how stupendous that the best of their thought came to us in our Constitution.
How many, many gifts we have. Too many to count.
Alex and I took our dogs for a walk tonight through the leaf-strewn sidewalks of Beverly Hills. How can it be that I am here in this fresh autumn air and not an ash in Poland, not suffocating on Zyklon B?
Thank you, God, and I cannot understand it. I can only thank you and have faith.