The Jewish and Judaism




                               The Jews and Judaism



          A week or so ago, I was struck with the heart of a Churchill quotation which, to me, is absolutely right: “No thoughtful person can deny the fact that Jews are, beyond any question, the most formidable and remarkable race which has appeared in the world.” Look about you and, if you’re fair, you’ll agree. The most prominent book on the subject is The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement by Steven Pease, who is both non-Jewish, and a respected author. “When I was a kid,” he once said, “the prospect of catching polio was terrifying…. Two Jewish doctors vanquished that disease and removed such fear forever, Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin are but two of the Jews we honor….”

      Some people, other than Jewish, believe that the reason for the intellectual intelligence exists because the generations of parenthood insist their children be made to study, study and still study. Maybe. When I was in school in Nova Scotia, both elementary and high school, the children of Jewish families, for the most part, were academic leaders. They studied but, as I recall, they were not so-called “bookworms.” In my own experience, I was a debater in both high school and university, and found that my Jewish colleagues were ready to debate, male or female. In my childhood, at five years old, Enid and I were close friends. It was the same when we both ended up in Toronto – she as a lawyer me as a minister-journalist. Finally as the years brought us both to old age, I stood at her bedside at the last moments with her children. A day or so later, as a Christian minister, I spoke, along with her rabbi, at her funeral service.

    Winston Churchill’s vision of a remarkable Jewish culture leads to thinking why? I do wonder if it emerges from one intelligent Jewish male marrying one intelligent Jewish female. As we know that’s the custom and tradition. In fact, in the European past, it was absolute rejection for any person who marries one who is not Jewish. Hence the Jewish male’s intelligent genes couple with the Jewish female’s intelligent genes. Thereby follows the professions from medicine to astronomy. Given all this commitment accompanied by intellect, energy and ambition, the Jewish culture is the most inventive and energetic

 in leading creation of new inventive techniques and industries, fresh theatrical forms and, of course, large and well-staffed hospitals.

      There is no surprise in any of the above for the simple reason that Jewish energy, creativity, ambition and achievement has been with us for centuries. Pease’s book with its engaging title “The Debate over Jewish Achievement.” (By the way, Pease, is an activist and Presbyterian.) In researching and writing his books on the Jewish community he referred to the Jewish culture saying: “They are an astonishing tribe of high achievers. Even more, though, it is an exploration of how more of us can achieve and contribute as well. We need not have Jewish genes to appreciate and learn from their performance.”   

    The most interesting to me — as a reader — of his published replies is this question put to him by the interviewer: “Your focus on Jewish achievement appears to be based on the idea that if you could only pinpoint the reasons for this achievement, it might be possible for other sectors to make use of the formula. If I might say so, this is an intelligent idea. Would you elaborate? “            Pease replied with this answer: “Yes, you are spot on in your surmise. It is what Obama might call: ‘a teaching moment.’ I would note that other cultures share many of the same or similar important cultural values. We can learn from them as well. But over the last 200 years the most dramatic example of these values and the group with the most astonishing record of performance has been the Jews. And as I have said, when I look down the list, there is nothing uniquely Jewish in any one of these cultural values. The blend may be unique, but the ingredients are not and most of them are shared with other groups…..”

      Others who ponder this very evident achievement, actually include Jewish citizens themselves. One said to Pease that cultural changes –- not unlike the principle posed by the questioner above – suggests that “cultural changes must be led from inside….” Pease was quick on the reply: No, cultures are malleable… We can be shaped by different cultures, by conscious awareness, and by self-determination. Think of the US Marine Corps. Raw recruits come from all races and backgrounds but within six months they’re shaped in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives.    

       It’s a complex human issue. Over the years, I’ve observed Jewish friends who either have that wisdom or seek it seriously from the classroom or the household. In fact, as I look back on the Jewish culture of my town, I form the impression or the conviction, that the household of most Jewish families — at least 90 percent of it – arrange or press ambition upon the young, and the table talk is  most serious and about the economy, history,  or the Jewish culture. Obviously most of this is consciously directed at the sons and daughters, and if they don’t adopt the spirit of learning, they are treated as lesser achievers with serious family disappointment. I don’t agree with those who look past this sort of child and give more attention to the other. It’s a rare occurrence, but once or twice, I’ve seen a child in a Jewish family, without ambition. It’s rare indeed. It reminds me of what Salvatore Dali said: “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” Still, the Jewish community, on the whole, leads the way in intellectualism and industry. They lead the way as if taught by Heraclitus. His famous saying was this and most Jewish young people adhere to it without ever being told: “Big results require big ambitions…” 



Submit a Comment