In the Gift of the Jews Thomas Cahill tells us the new idea the Hebrews bring to the world was a changed sense that life is not a just a wheel that spins predictably and inevitably around seasons, birth, and death – but instead life carries a greater meaning defined by the relationship of a people to their one-true God.
However, history does appear to unfold a bit like the ancient wheel, with repeating stories of birth, death, tragedy and everything else that encompasses the human experience. It was perhaps the storytellers, and later the written word, exposing past experiences to their audiences, that reinforced the idea of the wheel as a competing force against the ideas of the Hebrews.
After all, the old stories always looked like the present in any moment they were shared - rife with jealousy, wars, villains, and heroes. These are the stories that go on and on.
It appears life as a wheel competed with the Hebrew’s perspective very well for a couple of thousand years – until Paul and his merry band made a compelling argument for the Hebrew’s version of the meaning of life – with a twist of course - they added Jesus to the story. From there Judaism and Christianity went their separate ways – with a wide chasm over the centuries opening between them.
And that, believe –it-or-not, brings me to about a hundred years ago, when Russian Jews were pouring through Ellis Island and a great debate was raging about immigration. As I read Vincent Cannato’s, American Passage, about that debate and listen to the words and ‘code’ associated with immigration today, I am reminded again of the wheel. This time it’s the repeating and endless drumbeat of humanity surging through the barriers that keep them poor – and those on the other side of the barriers that are driven by fear to push them back.
As Cannato tells the story in 1909, the US Immigration Service decided an immigrant had to have $25.00 to be allowed into the country. (That’s about $570.00 in today’s dollars.) Without that minimum stake the immigration service claimed they were likely to become public charges.
Because of this requirement a number of Russian Jews were being held at Ellis Island and many were being sent back to Russia. However, many Jews had already immigrated into the country and had formed various organizations and even had their own newspapers. In essence, the first Jewish lobby was up and running in the early 1900’s.
The proto-Jewish lobby and its lawyers came to the aid of Russian-Jews (actually identified by the Immigration Service as Russian-Hebrews) and that brought some strong responses from immigration opponents. One influential supporter of the Immigration Service wrote, “What a stench in the nostrils of true Americans are the dirty Jew lawyers who rush to the defense of their kin…”
The fact that Russian Jews at Ellis Island were the only individuals being identified by both race and religion when their cases were in front of boards-of-inquiry did not go unnoticed by their Jewish attorneys. It was obvious to the lawyers the idea of identifying their clients by both race and religion was to subtly highlight their foreignness to the American public. In their legal brief they stated the following:
“…things foreign to our own conception produce at least a subconscious feeling, and that we may entertain prejudices of which we have no distinct consciousness.”
A hundred years later, can you hear Fox News and Mitt Romney suggesting Obama doesn’t seem American – suggesting every so subtly (and sometimes not) that he’s just too foreign for most Americans?
But here’s a simple twist of fate – today the forces of the right, the fundamentalists, the Palins, the Limbaughs, the political descendants of those that railed against ‘Jew lawyers and their kin’ – have formed an alliance with the Jewish lobby. The former enemies have been drawn together by a common threat – Muslims and particularly Iran. Another political truism that keeps repeating itself over time has reared its ugly head: The enemy of my enemy – is my friend.
Indeed, at times that may be true –but I would add this: Enemies drawn together by a common foe will soon be back with daggers at each other’s throats. An alliance between American Jewish organizations, Christian Fundamentalists, NeoCons, and Glen Beck’s Tea Party flies in the face of 4000 years of Jewish experience.
As Romney, his radical Jewish donors, and AIPAC, beat the drums of war with Iran - somewhere a twist of fate, hidden deep within events yet to unfold - awaits to tear their unholy alliance asunder.
I am also acutely aware that in Mr. Romney’s zeal to get busy spilling blood in Iran– none will be from his children – they’ll be at the beach house.