May 7, 2023
by Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher
We met at a musical event. A Jewish guy from Brooklyn, quite erudite regarding jazz and accomplished on the clarinet, Q came to my place once, and then I visited him. Several phone calls also encouraged a relationship. Aside from conversations with my daughter and my cousin Larry, I can't remember the last time I just chatted on the phone with someone.
My interactions with people are usually purposeful. I don't have much time for socializing. Then, when I do, it's rare when I am not much more interested in my side of any conversation. But Q, providing a stream of interesting content, always more than held his own. Just days after returning from New Orleans, on a Friday night, I invited him over for my Sabbath dinner.
"Six days you shall work and on the seventh you shall rest" fits right in with my schedule. It takes six days of work to publish my Friday newsletter, and then I need to rest.
A day off, the Sabbath is one of the gifts of the Jews. Without it American pioneers would have worked themselves to death. The Jewish Sabbath is a bit theatrical, a bit auto-suggestion, a bit participation mystique. If you act like everything is already done, then you relax and manifest completion. In some strange, inhuman sense everything is already perfect. As Buddha said, "Everyone is already enlightened."
My Friday night table is not like my weekday table; there are candles and song, short snatches of prayer and ceremony. I insist that the subject matter discussed be elevating. I'm afraid that I brought up Q rather too abruptly in this regard, interrupting him when he started to talk about my cat and, again, about how stupid Carlos Santana's brother was. But he adapted quickly and even turned the tables once when I digressed into the quotidian.
Q is very Jewish and a bit shy and guilty about it, which is also very Jewish. So I was being confrontational when, at the start of our evening. I suggested that most of the things Q valued about himself and society were inherently Jewish.
The gifts of the Jews to Western civilization include: tolerance ("What is hateful unto you do not do unto others"), charity/care of the poor, women's rights (the right to her own property and to decide whom to marry), universal education, and justice (equal application of the law), confronting authority, hygiene. These days, I suggested, it is harder to see the difference between gentiles and Jews, because the gentiles, so long encouraged by the church to be passively ignorant, are acting more Jewish.
From the get go Q objected, smearing Judaism, telling me that his Israeli saxophonist friend told him that the rabbinic dictum that "To save one life is equivalent to saving the world" only applies when the life in peril is Jewish.
I objected to that: "Your friend is wrong. The saying specifically refers to when Adam was the only person alive. Then, saving Adam's life would literally have been saving the entire human world. And Adam wasn't Jewish."
That caught Q up short. But rather than granting me the point and allowing me to proceed to my larger point, he dug his heels in, announcing that he would ask the saxophonist about my "interpretation." I insisted, "It is neither mine nor an interpretation. It is the universally accepted explanation. It is, in fact, a mathematical proof." Then, I conceded, "Judaism does have a bias in favor of Jews, but your friend reveals his anti-Jewish prejudice in bringing up this saying to demonstrate that bias."
Unrelenting, Q brought up another antisemitic smear, I can't remember which, propounded by another Jewish friend of his, B. I answered it and judged B to be a "self-hating Jew." Q conceded that B, in fact, refers to himself as a "proud self-hating Jew," but insisted that I meant the label differently than B does when he applies it to himself.
Taken quite aback by Q's intransigence, his ungracious refusal to grant me the point and allow me to continue, to come along to my conclusion, I rather imperiously declared, "If I think B is a self-hating Jew, and B thinks himself a self-hating Jew, then I think you ought to allow that B and I agree on that point." While, in the sober light of day, I am sorry for my high-handed tone, I think that Q, with his stubborn refusal, has more for which to apologize.
According to the UN's definition, antisemitism includes holding Jews to a higher standard: do Jews have more avarice than the Han Chinese or Indian immigrants to the US?; do Israelis want the Two State Solution less than the Palestinians? It is beyond irony to blame the Jews for not always living up to the high ideals, which traditionally, religiously, we impose upon themselves. It is unreasonable to hate us, as we are hated (most hate crimes in the US are directed at Jews), for faults we share with all peoples.
When I suggested that America was founded on Hebraic values (the story of David, Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan held up to prove that King George was not above the law) the evening went from bad to worse. Q disgustedly ejaculated that the Founding Fathers' reference to "the pursuit of happiness" meant only property.
The discussion, already difficult, Q angrily raising his voice, I pleaded to no avail that if they had meant only property, then they would have written property, adding that property rights are meant to guarantee our happiness. Then, in a stroke of genius, to much better effect, I suggested, "Your clarinet is your property. Your clarinet makes you happy."
This left him speechless, but the evening was already over. After a few parting niceties Q excused himself and left.
He wrote me the next morning: