COLUMNIST CRAIG GLAZER CONSIDERS HIS KANSAS CITY JEWISH HERITAGE!!!
TKC NOTE: Tonight, we're proud to feature EXCEPTIONALLY THOUGHTFUL writing from Kansas City media impresario Craig Glazer which not only offers a perspective on his faith life but also provides an EXCELLENT insight into Kansas City's Jewish community. Check it:
The American Jew
Being a Jew is kind of an odd situation. Is it a race of people or is it a religion or both? Like most minorities, the Jews have their stereotypes wrapped around their neck. The most popular stereotype is that Jews are cheap; that they hoard their money. You’ve heard the comment ‘He tried to Jew me down’. Let’s examine this popular stereotype.
Like most stereotypes there is some truth to the attachment. That is the case here as well. When the Jews ran from Europe in the late 1800’s and through the early 1900’s they could only escape their fate by having enough money to get to America. Though many of these Jewish families were well to do back in their homelands; those being predominately Russian, Polish, German and other Eastern European countries, most lost their finances in an attempt to escape the constant pogroms. Jews were being killed by the thousands overseas long before Hitler came on the scene.
So these Jewish families who mostly ended up on the East Coast of the United States in or around the New York area and later began to spread out across the country, they were poor and they didn’t speak English. On top of that, they didn’t believe in Jesus, and as we all knew, in the hearts of white America we are predominately a Christian nation, so they were at the bottom of the totem pole right away. To be honest, when you look at photographs of large groups of Jewish men and women in that era they mostly looked like Europeans; smallish, darker skinned, black curly hair, drab clothing and tended to be on the religious side at the turn of the century.
What made the Jews successful in America is a simple formula: family unity (a divorce among the Jewish community in those days was extremely rare), education was a must, and the parents sacrificed everything for their children so they would grow up and have everything that the parents didn’t have. At that time, keeping all the Jewish traditions was also placed upon the children. You’ve heard the expression ‘My son’s going to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer’, that is mostly associated with Jews because that is what they tried to do. Wasn’t a bad game plan, was it?
Yes, the Irish and the Italians had similar values in those days. However, they were Christians. According to the Christians, the Jews were despised because they killed Jesus. Even according to Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of the Christ’, it wasn’t the Jews who tortured, beat, kicked and eventually crucified Jesus. From where I sat it looked to be the Romans. At worst, some Jewish leaders jealous of rabbi Jesus’ growing popularity went to the authorities looking to take away his power…but I never heard of them suggesting he be maimed and nailed to a cross, that was more the Roman way of doing things. At worst, some Jewish leaders conspired with the Roman government to remove Jesus from his position which led to the events that caused his death. I’ve always found it interesting that the Romans, i.e. the Roman Catholics, are essentially the heads of the Christian religion today via the Pope and the Jews became the bad guys.
In today’s America, things are much different. There are few places that openly are prejudiced against Jews in this country. As recently as the 1950’s and ‘60’s, Jews were not welcome to live in Leawood, Kansas. Today, Jewish families are one of the dominant presences in south Johnson County including Leawood. Even Country Clubs like Mission Hills now have Jewish members when just a few decades ago that was taboo. Today it’s much more difficult to look at someone and decide by their clothing or appearance that they must be Jewish. There are many American Jews with blonde hair and blue eyes, you’ve heard the Adam Sandler ‘Hannukah Song’ that explains it. The American Jew has excelled in entertainment, banking, real estate and yes, the medical and legal professions. What I wrote above regarding stereotypes is generally no longer true. You might even say young Jewish people are some of the best tippers and biggest spenders out there.
Jews are rarely involved in violent crimes but it happens. The Jews have their Madoff’s and Boesky’s. But the American Jew heads up more lists of award winning accomplishments than almost any other group that includes Pulitzer Prizes, Academy Awards and endless humanitarian awards.
I think most young Jewish people are embarrassed about the six million Jews killed in World War II and the fact that history shows they went along with the program hoping to survive instead of fighting back. A brutal lesson well etched on the brain of every Jewish person on the planet. Meaning ‘don’t expect any help, you have to fight for yourself’ and thus the Israeli military battle cry, ‘Never Again’.
Today the nation of Israel is America’s number one ally. This small nations military might is unequalled by anyone on the planet except the United States. The Israeli combat victories going back to the Six Day War against all the Arab nations is more than impressive. Being a Jew, I was proud of the fact that the Israeli military would not leave hostages behind and attacked the military base where those hostages were held in Entebbe and were able to save most of the hostages. They don’t fuck around.
Yes, I’m an American Jew and not religious, but proud to be a Jew. The sacrifice and success of the Jewish people is truly a modern miracle. I am in awe of their history. Do I think people are still anti-Semitic and don’t like Jews? Sure, there’s no doubt about that. The majority will always find issues with the minority, that’s just the way it is. One thing is clear, the marriage between the United States and what was once the European Jew has been a massive success for both sides.
When my parents got divorced back in the late ‘60’s I was pretty upset about it as most teenagers would be. I felt ostracized by the wealthy Jewish community I’d once been a part of because now my family had no money. Yes, even the American Jewish families could be stuck up and a little cold-blooded like everybody else. I blamed the leader of our congregation, Rabbi Morris Margolies, for not doing more to help keep my parents together. I thought I was a tough kid with my black leather jacket, t-shirt, blue jeans and black boots so I faced him down in the hallway of the Beth Shalom Synogogue. The rabbi was probably in his late thirties or early forties at that time. I said to him ‘I’ll bet if we were still rich Oakwood Jews, you’d have come over more often to help patch things up with my parents, but now that we’re not you don’t give a shit’. The rabbi said, ‘Do you believe in God, Craig?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘When I was a young man your age I was sure there was a God, when I got older I began to have my doubts and today I feel this way. If you want to find God look at the end of your own right arm, there you will find the Lord.’ He turned and walked away.
Over the years, I came to know what the Rabbi meant; while there may not be a Jesus or Mohammed or human figure that is God or ever was, the spirit force out there more important than any other is within us. That God is within every human being. Because like God in our own lives we make good and bad decisions and in the end we’re never really sure if the decisions that we make are ever the right ones. A footnote: Years later I was in Federal prison in my early thirties and every month I would write to Rabbi Margolies and he would write me back. We became good friends; he was a wise, wise man. My brother Jeff and I would visit him in his offices at Beth Shalom to talk about our lives and families as well as his. The rabbi passed away fairly recently, I must confess I miss those talks we had. I don’t know if anyone has the answers to religion, race or God, but I do know one thing, I am proud to be an American Jew.