We love to see Jews in the news – unless, of course, the news is bad. July brought several such scenarios. New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner appears to be having inappropriate online conversations with a college student. Baseball player Ryan Braun has been suspended for allegedly taking performance-enhancing drugs that beefed up his numbers.
Naturally, in the blink of an eye, the social media were rife with epithets about these people who have some connection to the Jewish people. The blame game is always out there, regardless of the ethnicity, race, religion or nationality. Underdogs blame overachievers. The poor blame the rich. Regardless of the circumstances, there will be haters. Jews seem to get more than their fair share.
Because such a tiny minority of people has achieved so much for so long, in spite of nearly impossible odds, people are going to wonder about it. Some people, such as Mark Twain, marveled at the resilience and achievements of Jews. Not everybody is going to share that kind of admiration when Jews achieve, and not everybody is going to be forgiving when a person of Jewish descent is caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When there are two such instances in the same month, the online comments are bound to be ugly.
To the anti-Semite – or to any kind of bigot – the issue is not the person who is the source of the wrongdoing. It is the fact that there is a convenient target, a scapegoat, for blame. The need for the blame may have less to do with the misdeed than the fact that the person on the screaming end of the conversation simply needs someone to blame.
Should Jews be held to higher standards than everyone else? Let me answer that in three contexts.
If someone other than a Jew were given certain epithets because of his ethnicity, race, religion or nationality, the Jews would be the first people to be up in arms about it. We have organizations that investigate such evil and take such matters to court. Discrimination against anyone is not the Jewish way. God made all human beings in His image, so calling them out on the basis of differences is wrong.
If someone does resort to anti-Semitic behavior, we should not be afraid to point it out and deal with it. Case in point, when the late Helen Thomas engaged in anti-Semitic vitriol, it tainted her whole persona as a no-nonsense, pioneering female journalist. Reporting on her legacy without mentioning how she thought the Jews should leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland and how she thought the Zionists owned Congress would have been dishonest journalism.
But should Jews be held to higher standards? One could easily argue that if these people were living up to Jewish standards in the first place, we would not be having this conversation. During this month of Elul, this time of introspection, this time when we wonder how we can be better human beings, we put ourselves in the position of, as the Hebrew National commercial says, answering to a higher authority. We are always striving to be better. With our own perseverance and with the help of that higher authority, we will.