YICCHUS - (STATUS)So great is the Jewish "commercial spirit," so omnipresent, and so much part of Jewish religious teachings themselves, that, beginning in the 19th century, many Jews socializing into "civil" Christian society found themselves embarrassed by the crass behavior that resounded from the Orthodox synagogues. "There were many modern, acculturated Jews," observes Howard Sachar, "who were increasingly repelled by the synagogue's cacophony: the nasal singing, the selling of prayers, the gossiping of women in the gallery, the absence of decorum." [SACHAR, p. 159]"In Judaism," says Martin Sklare, "there is no sharp division between the sacred and secular, and consequently little development of separate norms in each area. This system conflicts with the Christian -- and American -- one which distinguishes between the sacred and profane, defines which situations belong to each category, and provides for special behavior." [SKLARE]In other words, in Orthodox Judaism everything anywhere may be "profaned;" there is no physical sanctuary -- including a synagogue -- from the ubiquitous prowl of economic exploits (the Sabbath -- the day of rest -- is, for the religious, the exceptions). Jay Gonen notes an old joke about Jewish obsession with money even in religious contexts, circulated not by Gentile anti-Semites, but by Jews in Israel:"Two Jews, by a miracle, find time to pause and reflect in front of a holysite, the Wailing Wall, or the western wall of the Second Temple. Oneof them notices that the other is weeping profusely over the destructionof the Second Temple. 'Why are you crying so much?' he says, 'True,the Temple has been destroyed, but the lot is still worth something."[GONEN, p. 27]Jewish comedian Joan Rivers explains materialist and ostentatious Jewish identity this way: "I'm Jewish. If God wanted me to exercise he would've put diamonds on the floor." [SAPOSNIK, 1998] One of Jewish comedian Milton Berle's jokes went: "A Jewish youngster asked the boy next door to play with him. The boy answered, 'My father says I can't play with you because you're Jewish.' The Jewish lad answered, 'Oh, that's all right. We won't play for money.'" [BERLE, M., 1996, p. 311] Or, "The Israelis have just developed a brand-new car. It not only stops on a dime, it picks it up." [BERLE, M., 1996, p. 305] And: "Why did the Israelis win the Six-Day War?" "Because the equipment was rented." [BERLE, M., 1996, p. 305]
Another joke of the same genre circulated in the American Jewish community runs like this:"And then there was the Jewish Santa Claus. He came down the chimneyand said: 'Hi, kids. Want to buy some presents?'" [BLOOMFIELD, p.29]Another joke even addresses manipulation of anti-materialist notions of respect in the Gentile world towards Jewish economic advancement:"A wealthy Boston Brahmin was on his deathbed. The end was near,and he asked his three business partners, a Catholic, a Protestant, anda Jew, to come to the hospital to discuss some matters pertaining to hisestate.'You boys know I have no family,' he began, 'so I'm dividing mywealth among the three of you, in three equal shares. As a sign of yourgood friendship, however, I would like each of you to make a tokengesture after I'm gone, by putting a thousand dollars into my coffinbefore it is lowered into the ground.'Several days later, the funeral was conducted according to the wishesof the deceased. At the appropriate time, the Catholic friend walked upto the coffin and placed in it an envelope containing one thousanddollars. The Protestant friend came forward and did likewise. Finally,the Jew walked up to the coffin, took out the two envelopes, andreplaced them with a check for three thousand dollars." [NOVAK/WALDOKS, 1981, p. 95]As always in Jewish folklore, Gentiles are -- to the wily, down-to-earth Jew -- stupid.William Novak and Moshe Waldoks call the following joke "a favorite, found in most collections of Jewish humor”:"A minister, a rabbi, and a priest were discussing how they madeuse of the funds in the collection plate. The minister said, 'I drawa line on the floor, and I throw the money into the air. Everythingthat lands to the right of the line is for God; everything on the leftis for me.''That's pretty much what I do,' said the priest. 'But instead ofa line, I draw a circle. Everything in the circle is for God; everythingoutside the circle I keep for myself.''I, too, have a system,' said the rabbi, 'I take the money and throwit up in the air, and whatever God catches He can keep." [NOVAK/WALDOKS, 1981, p. 95]Such observations about Jewish values are acceptable, and common, within the Jewish community itself but, as Jewish scholar Nancy Jo Silberman-Federman notes, such a joke told from a Gentile would flag him or her as an anti-Semite. She notes the self-deprecating (and/or exploitive) tone of many Hanukkah cards sent by Jews to each other:"[In one case] the front of the card pictures a Jewish woman huggingSanta. The copy reads, 'Merry Christmas! Thank goodness forGentiles.' The inside reads, 'Somebody has to buy retail!' If certainjokes are told by non-Jews, both the teller and the joke would beconsidered anti-Semitic ... This [celebrating of such jokes in Jewishcircles] may be seen socially as a mechanism for in-group solidarity."[SILBERMAN-FEDERMAN, p. 220]Whereas in most -- if not all -- other religious faiths, adherents seek physical refuge from the anchors of materialist concern while they pray, in Orthodox Judaism, overt pecuniary transactions -- involving personal egos and status assertion -- are an integral part of the traditional Jewish religious service itself. Jewish sociologist Martin Sklare calls it "commercialism in the synagogue." This includes "shenodering, the pledging of money for the opportunity of participating in the Torah service ... , the holding of auctions during holidays and festival services for the purpose of 'selling' certain particularly honorific privileges; by stimulating competitive instincts, large amounts may be pledged; and the Yom Kippur appeal: fund raising which takes place during Kol Nidre, a particularly holy service." [SKLARE, p. 363]To traditional Christian -- and other religious temperaments -- such vulgarization in a "House of God" inevitably calls to mind the old Christian story of Jesus becoming outraged at the Israelite money changers on Temple grounds. [Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11: 15-17; Luke 19: 45-46] What kind of religion, non-Jews have found themselves asking through history, is this?In modern times, of course, to ask such a question is to attract assault as an "anti-Semite." And, however bizarre, Jewish scholar Sara Horowitz's comments, post Holocaust, in linking Jesus’ outrage at Jewish money-dealing in the sacred Temple to the Nazi persecution of Jewry is typical:"The New Testament [has] multiple descriptions of Jews defiling theTemple and Jesus' consequent need to purify the holy space by throwingout the Jewish money changers ... Historically, the image of the Jewishmoney changer whose presence defiles sacred space conflates with Jewsas money lender, with the typing of the Jew as materialist and avaricious.Jewish attachment to money over attachment to God, to nation, or toother people is repeatedly portrayed in Nazi propaganda newsreels andfeature films." [HOROWTIZ, p. 125]But even when the Zionist "father" of modern Israel, Theodore Herzl, visited (in the late 19th century) the famed Jerusalem Wailing Wall, the supposed last remaining edifice of the ancient Temple itself, so revered in Jewish religious tradition and a magnet to Jewish pilgrims, he could only write with disdain that "we have been to the Wailing Wall. A deeper emotion refused to come, because that place is pervaded by a hideous, wretched, speculative beggary." [HERZL, in PATAI, p. 746-747]Isaac Baer Levinsohn describes the Eastern European synagogue of the nineteenth century:"Each ... synagogue abides by ... only general disorder ... This [person]jumps while another shouts; this one moans his loss while another onecomplacently smokes ... One has just begun his prayer as another hasfinished it ... this one jokes and pulls another by the ear. Quarrels andfisticuffs often ensue about private as well as public matters ... Oneaspires to be the sixth to come up to the Torah, another seeks the honorof taking the Torah out of the Ark and often they quarrel on thataccount." [SACHAR, p. 217]As many Jews, leaving their ghettos and Orthodox Judaism in the 19th century attuned themselves to surrounding Christian "civil" society, many became concerned about "embarrassing solicitations" in the synagogue. One American Conservative Judaism publication even chastised its community, saying:"There is no charitable expression in the English language that canconnote the desecration of a Torah honor and the degradation of aHouse of Worship into a market place of vulgar vanities and rudecommercialism." [SKLARE, p. 363]Sklare describes Orthodox religious gatherings:"The Orthodox shul with the accompanying multidinous prayers, jams ofpeople and children, all joined together in a cacophonous symphony ofloud and sometimes raucous appeals to the Almighty." [SKLARE, p.372]"The Orthodox synagogue," says James Yaffe, "seemed [to Reform-minded Jews] dirty, shabby, unruly, un-American." [YAFFE, J., 1968, p. 98] Conversely, even today in America, notes Solomon Poll,"the Hasidim [ultra-Orthodox Jews] noticed the great tendency toimitate the non-Jews. Jewish weddings had bridal processions. Thegroom was led in by his own parents; the rabbi also participated inthe bridal procession; ushers attended the ceremony; the rabbi madea speech during the ceremony; pictures were taken -- many times,movies. All these appeared to the Hasidim as mockeries and imitationof the goyim to which they vehemently objected." [POLL, 1969, p. 41]Martin Sklare notes that one of the major affectations in the creation of the modern Conservative Judaism movement was a change toward "decorum." In Orthodox Judaism, he notes, "should a worshipper consistently adopt what would generally be considered a reverent demeanor ... his deportment might well be the subject of intense criticism ... The form of Orthodox worship does seem to be almost unique in its lack of solemnity." [SKLARE, p. 361]
Although, "when I was a boy," says Earl Shorris, "I was told that the reason why there was no musical instruments in the synagogue was that we were mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem." [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p. 89]The novelist Herman Wouk wrote with fondness about his memories of Orthodox synagogue culture brought to America with Jews from Eastern Europe:"Calls to the Torah, opening of the Ark, and so forth, all wentfor a price. The auctions were colorful and exciting enough,but the mood of prayer naturally vanished while they went on.They were often pretty long. During the reading of the Torah,moreover, it became the practice of each man, as he was calledto his aliya, or reading turn, to announced his contributionto the synagogue's many charities. For each announcementhe or his family received a public blessing by the shamas. Againthis was a process of high economic value, but not attuned tothe thoughts of the higher world ...They enabled many tiny congregations to survive and growinto majestic congregations and fashionable temples. With theprospering of the Jewish community, these devices ofdesperation have gradually given way to conventional fundraising.'Five dollars for the third reading!' Nor do I want to forget thehistoric auction one Yom Kippur afternoon nearly forty yearsago, in a synagogue in a Bronx cellar, when my father outbidmen with far more money (though they were all poor strugglingimmigrants) for the reading of the Book of Jonah ... Theseauctions are a thing of the past and it is better so, but they serveda purpose. Children in such synagogues learned unmistakablywhat a precious thing a call to the Torah was."[WOUK, p. 123-125]The value of the Torah would seem to suggest a price tag. Auctioning off the rights to recite prayers and announcing in public, each in turn, individuals’ charitable contributions reveals a lot more about Jewish merchant culture -- and its pressures, struggles for community status, and symbiotic religious dogma -- than it does anything remotely spiritual. Wouk's fond memories for all the big bills flying around the Torah in his synagogue (albeit for religious intention) reflect a nakedly material concern. Such activity reaffirms what the Torah was largely intended as: recipes, rules, and regulations for Jewish self-advancement in a hostile political world, or -- as apologists like to frame it -- communal survival through the centuries. Wouk's childhood memories of high auction recitation prices confirming the Torah's value are obviously rooted in pride for his father and his status as an economic victor, as well as a general fascination with the wheeling and dealing of a street bazaar. Even the synagogue could function as a forum to celebrate human vanity in one's ability to pay for something, in this case the right to recite sacred texts. (Synagogue members have even been sued in recent years for not paying membership dues. In Rockaway, New York, for example, in 2001 David Slossberg and three others were sued for back payment by the White Meadow Temple.) [GOLDWERT, M., 1-5-01] "Conspicuous charity," wrote Judith Kramer and Seymour Levantman about the Jewish American community in 1961, "is less a matter of religious or ideological commitment than a conventional social obligation serving as a source of status." [KRAMER, p. 101]Anthony Polonsky notes the Jewish tradition of "ostentatious generosity" in seventeenth century Poland:"Was this piety on the part of a few rich individuals shared by allJews? To answer this question clearly, one must study the religiousattitudes of the time. It seems that participation in services wasmotivated more by a desire to shine in public than by profoundfaith. If previously a synagogue seat was a sign of respectabilityin the community, now unfortunately they were being sold. Indeed,the practice of buying seats, backed by a deed of sale becamecommon." [POLONSKY, p. 59]For an Eastern European Jewish community ever fixated upon worldly accomplishment and the hierarchical status of respective members, even in their most holy religious center "the prosteh yidh [common Jews] sat at the back of the synagogue." [ZBOROWSKI, p. 74]In the late 1950s the American Jewish poet, d. a. levy, wrote:My father and iwent to a temple to hearthe servicessat down in timeto hear the hauntinglanguage for just a momentwhen someone told us we had to stand in theback - we had chosen 'reserved seats'seats that had been paid forwe left and it was there i completedmy external jewish education [PORTER, p. 126]As James Yaffe observed in 1968:"The synagogue charges no admissions fee to services, except on HighHoly Day, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanah, when everybody comesto worship. Then most synagogues require worshipers to buytickets, and many sell reserved seats; the closer to the altar, thehigher the price ... 'Passing the plate' is not a custom in thesynagogue. Sometimes a plain white envelope is left on theworshiper's seat. Inside he finds a slip of paper with his nameon it, and a list of suggested contributions, from twenty dollarsup; he will put a check next to the amount her prefers, and slipthe piece of paper back into the envelope. In old-fashionedOrthodox synagogues the method is often less decorous; therabbi reads out the member's names, and each man is expectedto call out how much he intends to give." [YAFFE, J., 1968, p. 154]
Paul Cowan recalls the synagogue memories of his father (former CBS-TV president Lew Cowan):
Jewish student Silja Talvi complains about this Jewish tradition of charging steep admission to the most sacred of Jewish holy days (she blames "capitalism" for this custom, however, and rationalizes that the high prices are somehow useful in keeping "psychopathic anti-Semites" out of synagogues):
"It is not a stretch to surmise that many more established synagogues have
taken their cues from the capitalist economy that surrounds them, having
arrived at the point of valuing finances about kehilla [community]. For all
this kvetching about all the lost, unaffiliated Jews, how many among the
country's mainstream Jewish religious leadership have stopped to think
about dropping cost-prohibitive barriers to getting in through the
front door? ... In this regard, Jewish religious institutions would do well
to take inspiration from the Lubavitchers and Christian churches alike:
Free admission, fundraising drives and donation baskets have a certain
logical and friendly appeal, especially for those unaffiliated, lower-income
Jews who have reason to feel uneasy about spending close to $100
to be allowed a seat at a temple to spend the day or evening in prayer.
Non-Jews who have overheard me in conversation about the fees involved
in obtaining tickets for Jewish holiday services have expressed confusion
at the very existence of fee schedules and entrance tickets. The tickets, I
explain, are a necessary and common-sense precaution for Jewish
institutions that hope to make it more difficult for psychopathic anti-Semites
to walk through their doors. But why the high cost, they ask? For once,
I don't have a good answer." [TALVI, S., 2001]
Convert to Judaism Lydia Kukoffmn explains the Jewish idea of "paying to pray" like this:
"I remember how put off I was at the thought of tickets for religious services.
It was so foreign to my way of thinking. Over the years, however, I have come
to realize that, although I may still resist the idea of paying to pray, it is the one
time of the year when the temple is able to assure its continuity, and thereby
its potential for service to its members." [KUKOFF, L., 1981, p. 84-65]
There are even Jewish jokes about such materialism in the synagogue:
"It is Yom Kippur. A man comes to the synagogue in a state of obvious
excitement. The usher is at the door looking at admission tickets. As the
man tries to walk in, the usher stops him: 'Let's see your ticket.'
'I don't have a ticket. I just want to see my brother, Abe Teitelbaum.
I have an important message for him.'
'A likely story. There's always someone like you, trying to sneak in
in for the High Holy Day services. Forget it, friend. Try somewhere
'Honest. I swear to you. I have to tell my brother something. You'll
see. I'll only be a minute.'
The usher gave him a long look. 'All right,' he says, 'I'll give you the
benefit of the doubt. You can go in. But don't let me catch you praying!"
[SILBIGER, S., 2000, p. 44]
"Once, when I was a boy, my father told me that he recalled the Yom Kippurs
he went to synagogue and watched Jake Cohen [Lew's father] weep and beat
his breast to atone for his sins. Then, after services, Lou would walk home
with his parents and the rest of the huge Cohen clan and listen, appalled,
as they fought over status and money; as they gossiped cruelly about siblings
who weren't there. That wasn't religion, my father would tell me angrily. That
was hypocrisy." [COWAN, P., 1982, p. 6]
In 1982, Earl Shorris recalled his childhood memories of the kinds of men who headed his synagogue:
"We arrived at the synagogue as a family, three generations led by my grandfather
... My grandfather spoke to his friend Eddie -- Big Eddie, he called him. They
spoke as members of the board of directors of the synagogue, important men,
big donors. My grandfather earned his money from the labor of Italian and Polish women who sewed clothing in his factories. Big Eddie sold cheap wine and whiskey
to the poor of the town. We did not approve of Big Eddie. His diamond ring and
his fat cigar offended us ... [H]is business offended us. There were fights in front
of his store, stabbings, more than one killing. There were rumors about him.
Some people said he dealt with criminals. It as said that he gave so much to
the synagogue to atone for the way he made his money ... He traded donations
for a position as a director of the synagogue. My grandfather said Eddie wanted
to be president, that he was willing to donate a community center if the directors
would elect him president .... [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p. 3-4] [When Big Eddie
finally strode up at the synagogue to be so honored, "the man our community commended to God" (p.7)] the color of his flesh was as rich and vulgar as his
suit. [Grandfather,] you were so small, so pale beside him. Jerusalem was
conquered, the Temple was destroyed, and there was no prophet in all of Israel.
After the service I asked my father why it had happened. Money, was all he
said. Sometimes you have to do these things, my grandfather added. A
building doesn't come cheap." [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p.7]
Jewish pride and concern for status and material affluence has a long history. There is a Yiddish word for it: yicchus, which connotes the traditional Jewish importance of personal and familial prestige, status, and a respected reputation in the community. This yicchus could be obtained for parents by their children's marriage to a spouse of higher standing. But yicchus could be lost too, for instance, by stooping to manual labor. [ZBOROWSKI, p. 78]"In his ghetto community [the Jew] strove for yicchus," wrote Harry Golden, "a word which has remained to this day the most important word in Jewish culture ... [It] is more than a thousand years old ... Yiddish and Hebrew are filled with words denoting the nuances of community standing." [CUDDIHY, p. xi]Originally supposedly rooted in family genealogies and scholarship, it also grew to reflect upper class occupations, material affluence, and -- for many -- ostentatious display of ownership. As Zborowski and Herzog put it:"Historically, traditionally, ideally, learning has been and is regarded asthe primary value and wealth as subsidiary or complementary. Economicpressures and outside influence have made of wealth a constantcontender for first place in the value hierarchy." [ZBOROWSKI, p. 74]David Koskoff even suggests that the idea of the marriage bond expressed as expensive jewelry has roots in ancient Jewish history, where the wedding ring had to be"large, heavy, and gold. It was expected to be of a specified valueand fully paid for! Indeed, in the Hebrew stipulation that the ringmust have a stipulated value, we see, perhaps, the origins of latercustoms which laid down that a wedding ring must be durable andof some worth -- not a mere trifle ... The basic principle survivestoday. It is not the thought that counts, it is the money." [KOSKOFF, p.273]In non-religious Jewish circles, the principles of economic status (and embarrassment) are the same. "Community pressure can be exerted in many other ways," says Yaffe,"Some [Jewish] federations publish a book at the end of each [fund-raising] campaign, in which the names of all contributors and theamounts of their contributions are listed. In Cleveland this book ismailed free of charge to every affiliated member of the Jewish community... [YAFFE, J., 1968, p. 172] ... [At fund-raising dinners] the same thinggoes on ... After the food and the speeches, the name of each guest isread out from a stack of cards, and he is required to stand up andannounce how much he intends to give -- and to hand in his signedpledge then and there." [YAFFE, J., 1968, p. 173]Zalman Schachter was asked why many young Jews in the post-1960s era left Judaism for other faiths like Buddhism. "First," he replied,"it doesn't feel real if it comes from their own thing. If you come toshul on Yom Kippur -- this is the gross level, yah? -- and you knowyou're going to be hit for the United Jewish Appeal and the buildingfund, you can't take your own tradition seriously." [KAMENETZ, R.,1994, p. 150]The above kinds of expression of Jewish competitive pride, material self-worth, ostentation, and economic centeredness even at the heart of their religion -- often aggravating anti-Jewish sentiment in surrounding Gentile populations -- have been widely criticized.The wealthy Jewish gravitation to ostentation in Amsterdam (in the 1500s and 1600s) is noted by Jewish scholar Herbert Bloom:"If we compare [in Amsterdam] the Sephardic Jews' luxurious andextravagant lifestyle with the simpler and more restrained ways ofthe average wealthy Dutchman, the contrast is striking and servedto accentuate the traditional association between the Jew and money."[BLOOM, H., p. xvi]
"In Germany," notes Joachim Prinz,
"forty Marrano ['secret' Jewish] families paticipated in founding the Bank of Hamburg
in 1619, and by the middle of that century they were accused of having too
luxurious a life style, as evidenced by their palatial homes and their ostentatious
funerals and weddings ... Some of the finest homes in Amsterdam belonged to
newly arrived Marranos." [PRINZ, J., 1973, p. 127]
Oscar Rank (formerly Rosenfeld), an earlier Jewish psychoanalyst and follower of Sigmund Freud in the early 1900's, complained that Jews in Vienna go "out of boredom to the synagogue and reduce it to a place of business, as if it were a branch of the stock exchange. The women show off their dresses, or what is beneath them; the men discuss petty affairs, but not what is beneath them." [KLEIN]
Walter Rathenau, the first Jewish foreign minister of Germany, noted (in 1897) Jewish ostentatious display in Germany, where he spotted "the curious vision of a completely alien tribe of people, conspicuously overdressed, of mobile and hot-blooded gesture. An Asiatic horde here on the sands of Brandenburg!" [GRUNFELD, F., 1996, p.. 203]Another Jew, Mordechai Breuer, took a harsher look at the European synagogue tradition as Jewry looked at itself during the Enlightenment: "What will the goyim say? was the question many an Ashkenazi Jew asked himself in view of the uncouth behavior, noisy commotion, and lack of formal structure that had established themselves in numerous synagogues." [BREUER, p. 244]Walter Lippman, a prominent American journalist of German-Jewish descent, complained about excessive expressions of ostentation in the Jewish community of New York City in the early decades of the twentieth century:"The rich and vulgar and pretentious Jews of our big cities are perhapsthe greatest misfortune that has ever befallen the Jewish people. Theyare the real fountain of anti-Semitism. They are everywhere in sight,and though their vices may be no greater than those of other jazzyelements in the population, they are a thousand times moreconspicuous... When they rush about in super-automobiles,bejeweled and be-furred and painted and overbarbered, whenthey build themselves French chateaus and Italian palazzi, theystir up the latent hatred against crude wealth in the hands ofshallow people: and that hatred diffuses itself. They underminethe natural liberalism of the American people... The Jew isconspicuous, and unless in his own conduct of life he managesto demonstrate the art of moderate, clean and generous living,every failure will magnify itself in woe upon the heads of thehelpless and unfortunate. " [LIPPMAN, Quoted in Cuddihy, p. 143]Harold Hochschild, Jewish chairman of a mining conglomerate, noted in a private memo in 1940 that"Anyone who visits restaurants, theatre or other places of entertainmentin New York especially on Saturday or holiday nights, who has traveledon large pleasure-cruise ships, or who has seen certain types of Jewishsummer hotels or camps near similar Gentile resorts must admit thatdifferences in behavior play a strong part in anti-Semitism ... It may notbe morally wrong for Jewish women to overdress and overloadthemselves with jewelry and makeup, but these habits are certainlyrepugnant to many Gentiles." [HOCHSCHILD, A., 1986, p. 184]Even Chaim Weitzmann, a pioneer Zionist and first President of modern Israel, had deep concern about many American Jews and their self-created magnetism for anti-Jewish hostility. "He believed," says Peter Grose, "that the [American] anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s was partly the Jews own fault." Weitzmann worried that"Along with a new generation of modest and honest workers, there is acertain part of Jewish bourgeoisie -- rich, quasi-powerful, loud, vulgar,pulling a weight far in excess of their numbers, ostentatious, in the eyesof the Gentiles they and they alone represent Jewry, and this is a gravedanger." [GROSE, p. 167]A compilation of non-Jewish observers were featured in an article about anti-Semitism in the American Hebrew of 1890, says Marie-Jane Rochelson:"Possible reasons cited for the dislike of Jews included their commercial'sharpness,' their 'clannishness,' and their 'vulgar' ostentation in dressand manners. It is hardly surprising that [prominent Jewish author Israel]Zangwill's portrait of wealthy, materialistic, and family-oriented Jews in'Grandchildren' [a chapter in one of his books] evoked discomfort[among Jewish readers]." [ZANGWILL, 1998, p. 26]The respected Danish-American social crusader, Jacob Riis, and Lewis Hine, were the foremost photographic chroniclers of immigrant life in New York City in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bringing to public attention the harsh urban conditions of the new poor and dispossessed from all over the world. Observing the Jewish community, Riis wrote:"Money is their God. Life is of so little value compared with eventhe leanest bank account. In no other spot does life wear so intenselyBALD and materialist an aspect in Ludlow Street ... Proprieties donot count on the East Side; nothing counts that cannot be convertedinto hard cash." [RIIS, quoted in CUDDIHY, p. 140]"The great mass of American Jews," wrote Jewish author Ralph Boas in 1917, "have sunk into a comfortable materialism ... The sad result is that in prosperity the Jewish self-consciousness ceases to be religious and becomes merely racial." [BOAS, p. 150]
"The Jew party [was] appalling," [future First Lady] Eleanor [Roosevelt] had written her mother-in-law in 1918 after an evening with [influential Jewish mogul/politician] Bernard Baruch, "I never wish to hear money, jewels or sables mentioned again." [GOODWIN, D.K., 1995, p. 102]Jews in early 20th century America, notes sociologist John Higham, were popularly seen as"the quintessential parvenu -- glittering with conspicuous and vulgarjewelry ... attracting attention by clamorous behavior, and alwaysforcing his way into society that was above him. To treat this stereotypeentirely as a scapegoat for somebody else's psychological frustrationsis to overemphasize the irrational sources of 'prejudice' and to clothethe Jews in defensive innocence." [MACDONALD, p. 49]In mid-twentieth century, Judith Kramer and Seymour Levantman noted that"Lacking occupational variety and economic yichus (the prestige of oldand respected family businesses), [second generation Jewish Americans]substituted money as the measure of success. Money, and what it canbuy, has remained the major source of status stratifying the [JewishAmerican] gilded ghetto and justifying its popular appellation."[KRAMER, p. 13]In 1998, apologist Jewish professor Judith Elkin sought to explain parallel kinds of Jewish ostentation away in Latin America, explaining that "for tourists unfamiliar with the prevailing ostentatious lifestyle of the wealthy, the expectation of Jewish wealth may appear to be borne out on first contact with mercantile and industrial entrepreneurs, especially in the Caribbean basin ... Actually, a princely lifestyle can be sustained in Peru, Colombia, Mexico, or Brazil quite cheaply, and a household with five or six servants may be only middle class in terms of the net financial worth of the head of household." [ELKIN, p. 156]Jewish historian Howard Sachar also notes Jewish communal ostentation in the public sphere throughout Latin America:"In Sao Paolo [Brazil], as in Mexico City or Buenos Aires [Argentina],a major focus of Jewish identity is a luxurious sports facility-countryclub-community center ... Like its model in Buenos Aires, it is calledHebraica ... Not to be outdone, the Jews of Rio have constructedtheir own modern Hebraica building on the prestigious Rua desLaranjeiras. A seven-story building, it is equipped with comparablefacilities." [SACHAR, H., 1985, p. 262]The sister of Jewish comedian Roseanne Barr remembers growing up in Salt Lake City and her feelings when she her family went to the local synagogue: "In a synagogue parking lot filled with Mercedeses, Lincolns, and Cadillacs, our old Chevy stood out like a sore thumb." [BARR, p. 3] Barr eventually made it big in Hollywood where many famous moguls go home at the end of the work day to nearby Beverly Hills, a famed and wealthy enclave that is largely Jewish. (According to the local Jewish Federation Council, the 1990s population of Beverly Hills was 62% Jewish). [HASSE, 1998] Beverly Hills, notes Jewish journalist Connie Bruck, is "one of the most ostentatious displays of wealth that exists in this country, a town that spawns every excess that money can by." [BRUCK, p. 80] This city, adds Janet Steinberg, "is the quintessential symbol of opulent California life." [STEINBERG, J., 7-15-99, p. 37] As Jewish professor Barry Shain notes about this lifestyle: "I understand [President Bill Clinton's sex playmate] Monica Lewinsky [who was raised in Beverly Hills, and is Jewish] very well. I never knew her personally, but I went to Beverly Hills High School. I understand her moral life from my experiences growing up with those wealthy Jewish women. They look upon the world as an opportunity to amuse themselves." [LUCIER, J., 3-2, 98, p. 12]There are those who think that Palm Beach, Florida, is more "decadent" than Beverly Hills. One Washington DC newspaper declared, for instance, that Palm Beach is "the wealthiest and most decadent, glamorous and self-indulgent place on earth." Not surprisingly, the population of metropolitan Palm Beach, too, is over 50 percent Jewish. [CHAFFEE, K., 12-3-1999, p. C12] "In 1962," noted the Palm Beach Post in 1999, "only about 3,000 Jewish people lived in the greater West Palm Beach area. Today, estimates put that number at 100,000." [HAYES, R., 1-26-99, p. 2B]
The results of this invasion into a once predomnantly WASP enclave is noted by Jewish author Ronald Kessler whohas written an entire book about Palm Beach, highlighting what he describes as "anti-Semitism": "I tried to lean over backwards not to probe too deeply into anti-Semitism on the island. But I soon learned that I would be missing a big chunk of the story [of Palm Beach] if I skirted a subject that made me uncomfortable professionally and that was personally painful." [KESSLER, R., 1999, p. 68] Symbolic perhaps of the changing elite guard, is the fact that The Social Index Directory, an elitiest listing of Palm Beach society people, "is now owned by the family of Robert Gordon, who is Jewish." [KESSLER, R., 1999, p. 9] Although Jews have their own exclusive country club in Palm Beach (the Palm Beach Country Club), with 350 members, Kessler assails the non-Jewish community, complaining that "the [WASP] aristocrats are still in charge [of Palm Beach], the upper crust intact, the future of WASPdom secure." [KESSLER, R., 1999, p. 52]Melvin Urofsky notes the 1940s visit of eventual Israeli prime minister Golda Meir to Palm Beach:"At Palm Beach, Florida, she was stunned at the elegance of thedinner crowd, their jewels and furs, and she mentally contrasted thescene of wealthy men and women vacationing in their posh resortsand that of Haganah [the early Israeli army] soldiers freezing in theJudean hills. 'These people don't want to hear about fighting and deathin Palestine,' she thought, but she was wrong, and before the eveninghad ended, they had pledged her $1.5 million, enough to buy awinter coat for every soldier in the Haganah." [UROFSKY, M., 1978,p. 162]
In 1998 Jewish mogul Ira Rennert made national news and came under widespread public attack for his plans to build the largest -- and most ostentatious -- home in America on New York's Long Island. His 63-acre compound would include three separate buildings, 29 bedrooms, 39 bathrooms, two bowling alleys, a 164-seat cinema, 17 acres of manicured garden, and parking for 200 cars. The Washington Post likened it all to the "architecture of egoism." [HARDEN, p. A1] Rennert, also noted the [London) Daily Telegraph, "is an enthusiastic Zionist and financial backer of Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has led to [neighbor] fears [that Rennert's new home is really] a school or a conference center." [SAPSTED, p. B2]
How about the posh Hamptons enclave for the super-rich on Long Island, New York? "The placement of the Jewish Community Center so prominently at the entrance to the town," notes Steven Gaines,
"gave [Jewish real estate baron Evan] Frankel great satisfaction over the years
and had its desired effect, particularly during the Jewish High Holidays, when
Woods Lane was line end to end with the luxury cars of those attending
services. One year, a local man was provoked to count the number of
German-made cars parked in front of the synagogue and remark in an
indignant letter to the East Hampton Star that the Jews must have forgotten
Germans' war crimes." [GAINES, S., 1998, p. 216]
Another Jewish home builder on Long Island, Barry Trupin also engendered local wrath for his reconstruction of the Chestertown House. "What irked everyone," notes Steven Gaines," was the arrogance of it all -- not just to tamper with a famous old house, but to tamper with it so badly ... The house was indeed a grotesque creation, part faux-Normandy castle, part Disneyland on LSD. It was the largest private renovation project ever undertaken in New York State." [GAINES, S., 1998, p. 220-221] Plans for the home included a personal zoo, a helicopter landing pad, and "an indoor barrier reef ... a vast sunken acquarium ... with a twenty-foot waterfall cascading down chunks of rock imported from Vermont, into a pool in which guests could not only swim but skin-dive, with hidden underwater air nozzles. The reef was stocked with 500 species, including lobster, parrot fish, sea anemones, grouper, and octopus." [GAINES, S., 1998, p. 232]
Another such Jewish mogul is David Saperstein, the largest stockholder in America's largest radio network, Westwood One. "He's building a much-touted mansion in an exclusive neighborhood near Beverly Hills," noted Mother Jones magazine in 2001, "the 45,000-square-foot extravagance, dubbed the 'Fleur de Lys,' will include a ballroom to host dinner parties of 250, according to the Los Angles Times." [MOTHER JONES, 5-3-01] [Note also, elsewhere in this work, immigrant Jewish Iranian tendencies to mansionize existing homes, Norman Lear's unique mansion, and Hollywood producer Aaron Spelling's comparably spectacular, and newsworthy, home ostentation in Los Angeles].
Chaim Bermant notes the style of Hollywood's old guard Jewish movie moguls:
"If there was little intrinsically Jewish in the output of the Hollywood tycoons,
there was something particularly Jewish in their style. The elder Selznick
once told his son David (producer of Gone With the Wind): 'Live expensively!
Throw it around! Give it away! Always remember to live beyond your means.
It gives a man confidence.' This was not, in fact, far from the principles on
which Hollywood operated, where the very cost of a film -- 'this multi-
million dollar epic' -- was often used by the publicity department as a
commendation." [BERMANT, C., 1977, p. 98]In 1959, apologetic Rabbi Albert Goldman observed that"often unable to distinguish between the real and the apparent, thesubstance of worth and the tawdry yet glittering imitation, their ersatzvalues attest to their basic superficialities. Lacking the understandingand support of their Hebraic traditions and group life, some surburbanJews fall prey to the current cultural 'success system' and, in their owninsecurity, scramble madly after prestige and power. They believe thatthe undiscriminating expenditure of money alone will assure theattainment of their life goals." [GOLDMAN, A., p. 203]In modern times, suggested Roger Kahn in 1968, "it is only slightly hyperbolic to suggest that when a Jewish businessman feels threatened he reaches not for a gun or a club, but for a checkbook." [KAHN, R., p. 181] And Jonathan and Judith Pearl note the common nature of the modern Jewish bar mitzvah ceremony: "While scholars debate whether this centrality is part of a historical continuum or aberration, the fact is that for many American Jews, the focus of bar mitzvah has shifted from scholarly achievement to lavish partying ... This focus on extravagance is all too well known." [PEARL/PEARL p. 16]"Many people feel that the supreme Jewish crime is materialism," noted Jewish author James Yaffe in 1968,"Jews, under the impact of the American experience, are said tohave become money grubbers and turned away from the Almighty inorder to worship the Almighty Dollar. It certainly isn't hard to findinstances which seem to bear this out ... Spending money to make asplash to achieve status with friends and relations, has become acommon game among American Jews. Everyone makes jokes aboutthe women at Miami Beach with their mink coats and their jewelry, thewomen on Park Avenue with their wall-to-wall carpeting and theirexpensive furnishings in the style sometimes known as BrooklynRenaissance, the men in their long black Cadillacs. ('Can your littleboy walk yet, Mrs. Cohen?' 'God forbid he should ever have to!')The popularity of these jokes itself is proof that they correspond toa reality -- though the people who make them always insist they referto 'those other Jews.' If you want to see that reality with your own eyes,spend a day or two at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills ... Even morehorrible examples of lavishness and vulgarity are provided by manywedding and bar mitzvah parties. Extraordinary things occur." [YAFFE,J., 1968, p. 270-271]
Here's an observation by Jonathan Rieder in his study about Italians and Jews in a section of Brooklyn:
"Two Italian women with many Jewish friends decried the way the ostentatious
show of status debased the meaning of genuine tradition: 'These fancy weddings
and bar mitzvahs are disgusting,' they complained. 'None of that has anything
to do with tradition. It's better to spend the money and go to Israel. It's showing
off, keeping up with the Jonses. There's a "Can you top this?" attitude. It's all
show." [REISER, J., 1985, p. 30]In 1984 Dov Fisch complained about bar mitzvahs "with scantily clad go-go girls" and the president of the Monticello Raceway who defrauded it of nearly $5,000 for his son's bar mitzvah. "Tragically," he wrote, "the bar mitzvah syndrome has become a symbol of so much of what is wrong with American Jewish life today. The one-upmanship knows no bounds." Hence, a Long Island boy was zoomed to his bar mitzvah by a motorcycle racer, another arrived home to parade beneath, literally, a "fiddler on the roof," and a Jewish couple spent $2,000 for a "Car Mitzva" which commemorated "the thirteenth year of their Rolls Royce." Harvey Cohen's bar mitzvah was at the rented Orange Bowl football stadium in Miami, where"the parents shamelessly invited two hundred guests to the spectacle,featuring a sixty-four piece band, bartenders dressed as referees,waitresses dressed as cheerleaders, and pom-pom girls wearingsweaters with the letter 'H' for Harvey ... [The] electric scoreboardlit up with the words: 'Happy Birthday Harvey.'" [FISCH, D., 1984,p. 224-225]
Famous Jewish prostitute Xaviera Hollander notes one of her most memorable Jewish lovers:
"Take the case of the obscenely rich young investment banker with whom I
had formed what is politely termed a relationship. I had arranged romantic
music, shimmering candlelight, an exquisite meal and I was wearing the most
seductive perfume. Casanova Cohen, the ardent lover, rushed into bed.
He gave me a perfunctory kiss and then got down to business. Literally.
He treated me to a resume of his day's dealings and then demonstrated his
refinement by cataloguing his cherished possessions from Rolex to Rolls
Royce. I think that he expected me to be overawed and could not comprehend
that I found him boring, intellectually, not physically." [HOLLANDER, X., 2000,
Stephen Bloom notes what happened when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews bought a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, in 1987, and soon began to make their influence felt in the town:
"Generally, newcomers are eager to assimilate to a new culture. That's why
they came in the first place. But instead of arriving at the lowest rung of the
economic ladder, these Jews had arrived already on top. The Jews who
settled in Postville came from cities, and many brought with them large sums
of money ... Sholom Rubashkin built an enormous house on Wilson Street
in an area of Postville thta the locals quickly labeled 'Kosher Hill.' Iowans
were loathe to show such material wealth. 'That Rubashkin home is a palace,'
Alicia [one of the non-Jewish local people] said, and no one denied it."
[BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 50]"In recent years," wrote Gerald Krefetz in 1982, "some Jews have succumbed to that all-American tendency to compound braggadocio and vulgarity in touting their ability to make it. Leaving discretion and taste aside, they boast of their abilities, vanities, and riches. One observer noted that after generations of oppression, 'it is not simply that living well is the best revenge but rather that living well is an obligation.' And telling about it is a compulsion. Jewish leaders, particularly those of the old school, feel called upon to ask 'followers to avoid ostentatious display, fearing it might create antagonism.'" [KREFETZ, p. 5]Such requests generally fall on deaf ears: materialist "this world" consumption is championed by the Jewish religious faith itself, after all. Take the 1996 case of Jewish scholar, Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, who laments the fact that his ex-wife expects him to economically support her enrollment in a religious school to become a rabbi, and continue payments on her BMW. (The woman eventually became Orthodox, where she was forbidden to become a rabbi by sexist Orthodox standards). [RUBIN-DORSKY, p. 456]Samuel Heilman notes the concern an Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbi had for the materialism of another ultra-Orthodox rabbi in America:"'I visited someone in the United States a few years ago, a ben Torah,"[said the rabbi]. Stern nodded as he spoke, as if to imply that I hadcaught the drift of his message. 'We got into his car, a beautiful car.'He said 'beautiful' as if it were two words: 'beauty full.' 'The car hadeverything. Beautiful thick velvet seats, beautiful radio, lots of room,even a telephone -- this was before so many people had telephonesin their cars. So I said to him -- we'll call him 'Reb [Rabbi] Shmuel --'Reb Shmuel, this is a beautiful car.''And you know what he said to me? He said to me: 'Reb Moshe,bist a na'ar [you're naive]. This is last year's model; I've alreadyordered next year's model.''Why?' I asked him. 'This is a wonderful car; you could keep itstill for years.' You know, it was one of those big Lincolns, areally gorgeous car.'And he said to me: 'Reb Moshe, my neighbor already has a newmodel and it's eating me up.'" [HEILMAN, S., 1992, p. 250]Still, some embarrassed Jews seek to blame non-Jewish origins for the ancient Jewish propensity towards materialism and ostentation. "We [Jews]," says Hillel Levine, "woke up from the American dream and tried to discover who we really were. For many of us this now means turning our concerns inward into the Jewish community, because we are disenchanted with the crass materialism of the larger society. Yet where can we find inspiration in the multimillion dollar presences of suburbia?" [LEVINE, p. 185]Norman Podhoretz recalls taking a fellow secular Jewish author, Norman Mailer, to an Orthodox synagogue in New York City:"He asked me to take him to a synagogue on Yom Kippur because hewanted to see the Hassid in the flesh ... There were wooden benches,and as common in this kind of setup, these were young men, studentssmoking and dropping cigarettes on the floor. Orthodox Jews, especiallyHassidic Jews, don't treat synagogues like a church ... After a short whileNorman announced he'd had enough." [MANSO, p. 367]
Stephen Bloom notes the ultra-Orthodox community of Postville, Iowa, and its raucous religious effect on the tranquil town:
"An hour must have passed, and then, as though on cue, a great roar of voices
erupted from within the shul. The worship had ended and the men broke into
raucous song. These liturgical melodies were booming and boisterous, each
lasting twenty to thirty minutes. Soon, the singing was accomanied by banging.
The men were pounding the metal tables with fists. They were stamping the
shul's wooden floor with the heels of their shoes and boots. The collective sound
signaled to me that they must have been drunk .. I was eavesdropping on some
sort of loud, inebriated religious reverie ... The sounds shooting out from the
shul's windows and front door were deafening on this otherwise serene Iowa
night." [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 36]
He also notes, once he is actualy among these worshipers, that they "seemed drowned in showmanship -- who could wail loudest, bow farthest without falling over, read the longest Hebrew passage fastest and without taking a breath." [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 203] They also get drunk as part of their relgious activity: This was an old fashioned chugging contest. Tast after toast followed ... [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 206] "Rapturous song, powerful drink, and overwhelming body heat was the Holy Communion of these believers. Everything about the day was intense and bodily: the dirty mikveh [communal bath], drinking, singing, the body odor, the pounding of fists and feet." [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 207]Secular Jew Howard Jacobson wrote in 1993 about his experiences while waiting to see the famous Orthodox Lubavitcher rabbi, Menachem Schneerson, in New York City. For a decade, the rabbi gave out a dollar (symbolic charity) to each of those who came to wait in lines to see him. As Jacobson notes:"I am taken down -- and I stress the preposition: down, down, down --and into the shul of the Lubavitcher headquarters, where the dollar-queue will form, and here I behold a sight which beats evenAreyonga in the Central Australian Desert for uncouthness, foroutlandishness, for other-worldliness beyond any imaginings ofother worlds. The shul teems and shudders with men and boys inevery attitude of Hebraic, and to my eyes pre-Hebraic, worship ...And here's the most startling thing of all -- men and boys begging,begging in the synagogue, banging for your money, pulling at yoursleeves for charity -- tsodekeh, tsodekeh -- offering to pray for youfor money, to pray for your parents for money, selling you raffletickets, shoving them into your pockets, into your breast pockets --a mitzva, a mitzva -- except that that's not the most startling thingof all, because the most startling thing of all is that they're sellinggold watches down here.I try to hold on to my nerve. Jesus lost his sense of humor andproportion in the temple, and I am determined not to lose mine."[JACOBSON, H., 1995, p. 144-145]"We [Jews]," Jacobson consoles himself, "believe there's no distinction between the world's business and the business of the spirit." [JACOBSON, H., 1995,p. 145]Leaving his momentary personal audience with the rabbi, "no sooner do you beat back the first wave of beggars [in the synagogue]," recounts Jacobson,"than you find yourself waylaid by tradesmen wanting to sell youpolythene sleeves to store your dollar in. For two dollars you canprotect the one dollar. Or you can have it sealed and plasticated,turned into a place-mat with a date and a picture of the Rebbe [rabbi]."