In 1999, I practiced complex civil business litigation at the Los Angeles offices of one of the 10 most prominent law firms in California: Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe. Heller Ehrman was the most left-wing major law firm you could find, with national headquarters based in San Francisco. I had just done four years at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue — another top firm — and Heller Ehrman fooled me into jumping over by promising they would honor all my Jewish holy days and other Orthodox Jewish observances without my having to seek special indulgences. Specifically, they gave me a personal promise that they would honor my observance of Shmini Atzeret, a holy day that is explicitly listed four places in the Bible at Leviticus 23:36, Numbers 29:35, Nehemiah 8:18, and 2 Chronicles 7:9. As things turned out, they lied to me.
It was a challenge getting hired by Heller because one of the partners who interviewed me was a left-wing Jew who was deeply anti-Orthodox. Orthodox Jews know they are more bigoted against us than are the KKK and Ilhan Omar combined. Well, this liberal put me through the wringer. There never was a question about my qualifications, but she actually had the temerity to ask me at the interview whether I am a homophobe. I had done nothing in my life to suggest such a possibility, and my LGBTQ students who would study law under me at my next two decades teaching at two extreme-left law schools would be the first to tell of ways I supported them emotionally (and in one case partly financially) through law school. But this leftist beamed in on my yarmulka and assumed wrongly and prejudicially that, if I am Orthodox, I must be bigoted. (That is the price nowadays of too many defamatory Netflix series.) So I answered her questions the only way I could during a job interview where it was the bigot who was asking the questions — softly, gently, and with a warm smile — and I ultimately got hired.
I now was among the Woke.
Heller Ehrman was so Woke that it eventually Woked itself into bankruptcy. Not that it ever refused a piece of the corporate pie from such sought-after clients as Phillip Morris. When that company found itself ensnared amid the national series of lawsuits filed by state attorneys general against tobacco companies, Heller smoked them out and got a piece of the litigation action. I was placed in charge to oversee the massive, massive document production, and I had to fly every Sunday to San Francisco to head a 10-person team of attorneys and paralegals sifting through gazillions of documents, and I would fly back every Friday to be home with my wife and kids for Shabbat (Sabbath). While there, I located the one really fun certified kosher restaurant in Frisco, “Lotus Gardens,” a vegan Southeast Asian place, and there I would eat with members of my team twice a day, courtesy of Phillip Morris. No ands. No ifs.
Though, I guess, butts.
Heller Ehrman could not be Woke enough. Long before all the craziness of nowadays, Heller Ehrman was forcing us — many of us decidedly against our will — to undergo weekly reeducation camp. As long as we were permitted to bill the hours towards our annual billing requirement, we learned to live with it. But there was a whole entire underground of closet conservatives among us who discovered each other during the mandatory reeducation training. It was like homosexuals identifying others in the 1950s when one wrong word could lead to a lost job, a lost career, a lost family, and even suicide.
Two decades later, I still remember the reeducation classes. They brought in some “expert” from San Francisco, and she showed us slides and trigger films and forced us to break into groups that would explore our sensitivity. That is what they called it in those days before “diversity training,” “inclusiveness training,” “safe spaces,” “microaggressions,” and “trigger warnings”: sensitivity training. I, just having concluded a 10-year career as a congregational rabbi, having counseled people through family crises and deaths and other pain, now would be trained in sensitivity by an expert from Haight-Ashbury.
I still remember the fraud of it all. There was the litigation partner who often began sentences with “F***” and ended sentences that way and used that word in the middle of sentences, but he now was sensitized no longer to say “Indian” when he meant “Native American.” There was the partner who regularly insulted junior associates but learned not to say “Negro” when meaning “African American,” such as when referring to people from Jamaica who never have been to Africa in their lives. Most of all, we learned sensitivity. To be sensitive.
One day in mid-January, the managing partner called me in. She berated the living daylights out of me. I was not ready for it. She was furious at me for having taken vacation days in late January but having worked the last week of December. She wanted to know what is wrong with me. I explained that I love my children, who still were of school age, and I wanted to spend their winter vacation week with them. In the Orthodox Jewish community, the yeshivas (Jewish day schools) do winter vacation the third week in January because we do not do Christmas. We strongly support Christian observances for Christians. We support prayer in public schools and do not care how many Christmas carols public school glee clubs sing. We do not care about Christmas crèches on public grounds, and we heartily wish our Christian friends “Merry Christmas.” But we don’t do Christmas with any greater frequency than we expect Christians to do Shmini Atzeret. So our yeshivas give the winter week vacation late in January, by which time the amusement parks no longer are replete with Santa and reindeer, nor still are pumping in all those Christmas carols written by Jews (e.g., “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Silver Bells”).
And, as a bonus, the lines at Disneyland in late January are less than two hours per ride, even without a wheelchair and seeing-eye dog.
Well, she tore into me, this Woke managing partner: “What is wrong with you?! Why can’t you be like normal people?” (Try saying that to a homosexual, not to mention a transexual.) “What is with you people?” (Try saying that to a Black, a “Latinx,” or any other “person of color.”) “You may have your traditions, but you have to fit in here!” (Try saying that to an Asian-Pacific Islander or an Indigenous Native American.)
Bottom line: Since others take off for Christmas week, my boss may yell and scream like a child at me for my wanting to be with my daughters and son when their yeshiva day school gives them winter vacation. Sensitivity.
And then, one day, she went over the line again — but this time when addressing a junior associate who was of Native American lineage. Uh-oh. This time she went after a protected class, not just a guy with a yarmulka. And that was the end of that. The Woke firm had their internal meetings, and a new office managing partner was named. We lived happily and sensitively ever after because he really was a great guy.
Critical race theory is not at all about theory, and it sure is not critical. It simply is about race.
But, you see, that really is what critical race theory ultimately is about. It is not about making people better people. It is not about teaching Christian charity or Jewish gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness). It is not about opening your home to a wayfarer or feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. It is not about walking down the street, seeing a boy or girl who has fallen off a bicycle and is crying and bleeding, and stopping to comfort and help. It is not about driving on the highway or freeway, seeing a distressed vehicle on the side of the road, and calling 911. It is not about hearing people mocked or jeered at the office water cooler and speaking up and saying, “That is unfair; I am privy to that incident’s background, and it is different from what you may have heard.”
Instead, critical race theory is not at all about theory, and it sure is not critical. It simply is about race. It aims to continue the nation’s present race to race madness, convincing White people that we somehow are inferior or owe apologies to others. I am Jewish, and I know that White supremacists have no tolerance for me, but I also am White. Am I proud to be White? Why should I be? That would be like being proud to have brown hair or adorable hazel-green eyes. But I sure am proud to be an American. I am proud to be free. I am proud to be a Jew.
And I am proud of what I have achieved through my own hard work, without government handouts, by the grace of G-d. My college diploma from Columbia University. My law degree from UCLA Law School. My semikha (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshiva University. My honorary membership on the Starship Enterprise. That Ellen of blessed memory found me worthy of her. That Denise now does. That my four kids are not complete vagrants but instead managed, respectively, to become a Juris Doctor, a nationally honored high school teacher, a doctor of psychology, and a Phi Beta Kappa. That’s what I’m proud of. I am proud of my parentage and grandparentage, though none among those six, all of blessed memory, was famous nor even has a Wikipedia entry.
But to be proud of my skin color? Are you kidding me? A week outdoors in Florida or my backyard changes that.
Yes, America has a deep blot on its past. Own up to it, those of you who, like Kamala Harris, descend from slaveowners. But, as my dear precious Ellen jokingly would say, in a girly tone with girlish eyes, whenever an earthquake would hit California, “Dov, I didn’t do it.” Slavery — I didn’t do it. My zeydes (grandfathers) and bubbies (grandmothers) arrived here during the great mass 1881–1914 Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe that began when Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. Are you of Irish descent? That immigration was generated mostly by the nightmarish, horrific potato famine of 1845–52. By the time your ancestors arrived here, they faced terrible discrimination and typically were conscripted to fight for the Union armies to liberate Black slaves in a war they had nothing to do with. Are you of Italian descent? That great immigration began in the 1890s. Are you Polish? Those waves mostly occurred during the 1860s and increased in the 1870s through 1914 as others broke up a great country after the Napoleonic wars, with some for Prussia’s Kaiser, some for Russia’s Tsar, and Galicia for Austria. Are you German? That immigration likewise began in the 1840s and continued into the 1870s.
You didn’t own slaves. Your ancestors did not own slaves. Rather, they were the targets of terrible discrimination. In great measure, the 18th Amendment and Prohibition was a movement to make America inhospitable to Germans (Lutherans, beer), Italians (Catholics, wine), Irish (Catholics, whiskey), Poles (Catholics), and Jews (non-Christian, the alcohol industry). The Bloody Monday massacre of August 6, 1855, saw Louisville mobs attack and murder Irish and German immigrants. Thousands of Catholics fled the city; yet no one ever was prosecuted. Ever heard of Sacco and Vanzetti? Leo Frank? The anti-Irish Bible Riots of 1844? The Ku Klux Klan? A mob of Know-Nothings even tossed in the Potomac River a marble block given by Pope Pius IX for the building of the Washington Monument.
So America and Americans have a record that should have been different. But that is true of all people in all countries. Have you any idea of what the Native American tribes did to each other? Do you think war paint and scalping was developed only to deal with George Armstrong Custer? Or what went on in Central and South America before the Spanish arrived? Meanwhile, the wars of Europe consumed the Middle Ages. A “Hundred Years War”? What’s that all about? England and France and Germany killing each other — that seems to be the theme of every other Shakespeare play, not to mention “comedies” like The Merchant of Venice. English monarchs chopping off heads. French revolutionaries chopping off heads. Then they dragged us into more of their wars: the Great War, which soon after gained an ordinal designation when World War II erupted.
And racism? How many Black prime ministers and presidents have all the countries in Europe, combined, elected during, oh, the past 2,000 years? (Hint: The answer rhymes with Nero and Schmero.) Who created ghettoes? Italy. Who constructed them? Europe. Western Europe or Eastern? Both.
The history of Africa and South America and Asia all are as bad or worse. If Ilhan Omar is unhappy with the America that charitably and foolishly let her in, what did she leave behind in Somalia? How many Nobel Prizes, marking achievements contributing to humanity’s advance and betterment, have Somalians won in the entire history of Ilhan Omar’s Somalia? At latest count: zero and counting.
When I attended school, I learned what I needed to learn about America’s slavery past that ended 150 years ago. It was evil and cruel and brutal. We all know this. We don’t need Woke elementary-school teachers inculcating this with a spiked curriculum into our innocent kids’ precious minds. Few of us Americans alive today share any more part of that history and responsibility than do Germans alive today bear liability for the Shoah (the Holocaust genocide). One of my best friends — in my life — is of German-American lineage and served as a colonel in America’s armed forces and as a mayor in Middle America. He is beyond a great guy. What am I supposed to do, reeducate him to wash my feet? Demand that he assume personal responsibility for Dachau? All while Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar get free passes for their Jew-hatred because they fall into an approved intersectionalist category for Jew-hatred?
The problem with critical race theory is not the theory so much as the practice. We have seen what happens when Republicans and conservative populists drowse and sleep while the Left tiptoes in to teach our children. Look at what has become of the colleges. Look at what they have done to journalism, to entertainment, even to sports. Everything they touch, they ruin and destroy. Journalism now is 90 percent rabid opinion, not fact reporting. Movies and TV once entertained without preaching a political agenda: Young Frankenstein, Some Like It Hot, A Night at the Opera, Arsenic and Old Lace, Moonstruck. Now we cannot even find a simple nighttime talk show that, like Johnny Carson or Jay Leno, leaves the viewer unsure of the comedian’s politics because it is bedtime, and one just wants to go to sleep after giggling to Charles Nelson Reilly, whoever he is, or Joey Bishop, whoever he was. The simply funny and often ridiculous Saturday Night Live of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner now is so screechingly preachy-political that the Left-dominated Washington Post summarizes it every week as a political news item while more than half the country, people like you and me, have not watched it for 10 years and more.
That is why I utterly oppose critical race theory — because it is not about a “theory.” Rather, as with the Starship Enterprise, it is about the last frontier: here, childhood and teen education. It is the last place where America and innocence intersect. That is an intersectionalism we need to preserve and protect. I enjoyed that. I want that for my grandkids — and for yours. And I want to keep the Woke away from corrupting my kids.
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