“Why do some people think Jews are
obsessed with money, control and power?”
--A small ad for a lecture topic at
The Museum of Tolerance in
Los Angeles, April 10, 2002.
I have been thinking about Jews a lot lately. It could be because I am living in Los Angeles, or Culver City to be exact. Here, I live sandwiched between major film studios, and often, I watch badly, but comfortable dressed white men of all ages in shorts and t-shirts, with the lone woman, or lone Asian male, on film crews shooting in nearby parking lots, or rented storefronts.
They pay me little mind, as they go about their business of creating illusions of reality, as they are watched over closely by hatless off-duty, or retired armed motorcycle cops, along with a noticeable increase in private, unarmed security guards.
Occasionally, the younger men will venture out from their protected, fort-like studios, and I would see a small group of them walking to lunch, their identification badges, with their photos attached, swinging causally in front of them.
As I watched the large equipment and make-up trucks, and actor’s trailers everywhere, as movies, commercials, music videos, and television shows are shot all around me, I am strangely detached. I knew these white men were engaged in a world that would never include someone like me, at least not in my lifetime.
I also knew it was good for my mental health not to want their world, even though I still would like to see myself—the dashing, clever, handsome, sexual, cosmopolitan me, that resides in the deep interior of my mind—on the big screen at least once in my lifetime. But I was not a cop, or a grinning, buck-eyed comic, or a deeply ghetto challenged homeboy, or a sidekick, just a cranky old Afro-American, as the case may be.
Still, this is where my knowledge of film history, often against my will—started kicking in.
I have taught film history at UC Berkeley, SUNY Old Westbury and Cal State Northridge, and as I walked these hallow grounds of Culver City, on my way to the supermarket, or Starbucks for coffee, and watched these men work, I could almost hear the ghosts of Louis B. Mayer, David O. Selznick, Hal Roach, and many other Jewish immigrants who once ruled these streets—whispering to me.
These men had just boldly seized control of the infant movie industry from the artistic dullard Thomas Edison, and fled West, and made Los Angeles, and lonely, overlooked Culver City, home.
And, I knew that it was not just the bright, reliable sunshine that brought these men to what was a small dusty outpost on the edge of the Pacific. I knew they wanted to be close to the Mexican broader, for a quick escape.
I knew that despite their considerable bravado, they kept one eye peeled, on the lookout for brutal thugs from the Edison Trust, which were sent out from New Jersey to all corners of the US to pursue these upstarts, until in 1915, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Trust illegal.
I could almost hear the quiet, lonely, prop-like streets—once alive with little, high-voiced Munchkins, handsome, sexual Clark Gables, cute, precocious Shelly Temples and creative, tough talking, short Jewish men with big cigars—talking softly to me in a endless chatter, every step of the way, as I made my rounds.
But it was not the memories of these single-minded men that were keeping Jews foremost in my mind. At least three times a week, I find myself eating at a classic New York style Jewish Deli somewhere in the Valley, or the Fairfax District, or Pico on the edge of Beverly Hills. Places like “Jerry’s,” “Canter’s,” or the “Nathan’s” on Pico, near Beverly Drive, where I first started writing this essay, triggered by that ad in The Jewish Journal for the lecture on perceived pushy Jews (that same issue also pointedly asked where was the voice of rich, powerful, Jewish Hollywood in support of beleaguered Israel?)
For me, earthly heaven is a big, fat, artery clogging, greasy pastrami sandwich, with mustard and plenty of pickles on the side. I once had a Jewish girlfriend who will still swear, unhesitant, on anyone’s stack of bibles, that I have Jewish blood.
“Come on! Analytical! Sex obsessed! An I.Q. off the charts! The Arts! Deeply conflicted! Pastrami sandwiches! You are Woody Allen’s long, lost twin.”
We both laughed. She could be generous, that was for sure, which was why I liked her so much. After we broke up, she thanked me profusely for introducing her to her first husband. The marriage only lasted six month, but still she was happy.
“At least I don’t have that awful name anymore. And I thank you for that,” she explained.
Again, we both laughed, only this time, a part of me felt a sudden discomfort; as if I had just joined in something anti-Jewish, although the person sitting across from me was clearly a Jew.
Her last name was Cohen when we first met. Now it was a nice, safe Anglo name. And, as much as I searched the personal data bank in my mind, I couldn’t find a Jew anywhere in my family tree. But my friend must have surely had a WASP somewhere in her background!
Still, these restaurants reminded me of New York City, the New York City I grew up in, surrounded by Jewish food, Italian food, Soul food, Chinese food, Puerto Rican food, Irish food—all kinds of good food.
So eating this great tasting food, sometimes surrounded by women in long skirts, and little hats, and men wearing those little beanies they call Yarmulke, was also making me think a lot about Jews.
There were additional reasons as well. The headlines, and daily television news programs, and talk shows, and magazine articles were now almost always about the Middle East.
Tanks, gunfire, death, and more death, made me more than once turn off the nightly news and listen to KOST-fm, and reread one of my brilliant, insightful novels.
This was much better than watching a large, bearded Jewish man hold up a plastic, zip-lock bag containing a severed hand, as chaos and misery reign all around him, as the result of yet another suicide bombing unfolded. Soon, as we all know, the Jews were replaced on the same small screen with angry Arabs marching through the streets of the Mid-east, in large numbers chanting: “Strike, Bin Laden, Strike!
Oh Vey! Who wouldn’t turn off the television! Who wouldn’t want to escape to a world of one owns making! Who wouldn’t be thinking about Jews!
But, the current problems in the Mid-east notwithstanding, this thinking about Jews started long before all hell broke loose in the “Holy Land.” (God, if Nietzsche was wrong, and he is still watching us from his home on high, must be busily covering his old eyes and ears in stunned disbelief!)
I have also been thinking about Jews, and organized religion so much because of the horrible events of Sept. 11, and turning 62, and thinking about my own soon demise; this made me want to revisit many of the ideas that interested me at a far younger age. And foremost among these ideas, were the ideas of organized religion and the nature of belief.
What was new to my thinking was what on earth, or in the heavens, as the case may be, could cause someone, in the name of God, to crash airplanes into buildings, killing thousands of innocent, unsuspecting victims?
And it is impossible to think about such things, and not think about Jews. I know many people think about Jews as money and power orientated, secular people, as that ad suggested. But one of the most surprising discoveries in of my life, was when I learned that Jews were not just another ethnic group, as I had long thought growing up, but a people with a deeply felt religious point of view which profoundly informs them, much of which, also deeply informs me.
For, when all is said and done, we are all Jewish if we believe in Islam and Christianity They are both just a variations of the same Jewish idea:
There is but one God, and every now and then, he talks to human prophets just to let the world know that he is still alive and well, and we better behave ourselves! This was clearly the Jews greatest idea!
Friedrich Nietzsche and William James: The “Wrath-snorter”
vs “bellicose excitement.”
To help take me on this interesting intellectual journey of pure thought, I consulted with people I had consulted with years ago. I had Professor William James once again explain to me The Varieties of Religious Experience.
The great San Francisco Longshoreman/philosopher, Eric Hoffer, America’s everyman intellectual, showed me the mind of The True Believer.
Evil Adolph Hitler revealed the mind of the true fanatic in Mien Kampf.
And the poverty stricken, half-blind, Friedrich Nietzsche, and his Thus Spoke Zarathustra once again, said forget it man, God is dead!
To update my reading, I turned to one of the finest writers in the English language, V.S. Naipual, and his exceptional, Among the Believers for a look at modern day Islam.
In a post-deconstruction, post-modernist literary world, the mere thought that some long dead white men, or someone from a different culture could teach me, an Afro-American, a black, someone who was once even called a “Negro”—something, was what my 25 year old daughter Alexis would call “retro.”
My daughter’s language is somewhat different than mine, however. I would call what I was doing, “quaint.”
But still I forged on.
The last time I visited William James was during the late 60’s, and his message, and insights revealed themselves to me grudgingly. But now I slowly found myself drawn into his lectures, and began to thoroughly enjoy myself, as I stretched my imagination to try to understand the world of religious experience.
I loved his analysis of the lone, seemingly madman, who wanders for years in a real desert, or in a desert of his own mind, and comes back to real life and manages just to convert one person to his idea of God, and soon this idea of God becomes the idea of God for millions, because it strike a nerve which is often more political, and social, than any inherent religious truth.
Professor James’ cool, logical, penetrating presentation of the religious experience, was in mark contrast, and bore little resemblances to the colorful, emotional theatrics I witness on Christian television.
Friedrich Nietzsche was also a surprise. Again, we are presented with a lone wanderer in the austere back roads of human existence seeking truth, who suddenly emerges back into the company of people, crazed, wild-eyed, shouting strange, frightening, newly discovered truths.
Now, however, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra spoke to me with startling clarity, unlike in the late 60’s when I just scratched my head at his crazed message: God is indeed dead. But this is not a cause for despair, for it’s this very death that has now liberated humans, and will finally allow them to become fully realized Overmen!
It couldn’t get any clearer than this, as on a cold, lonely road, Zarathustra, seeped with human compassion, sadly confronts the lonely, confused, out-of-sorts “Old Pope” who had loved, and had served the now dead God, but now did not know what to do with his rootless, empty life.
“Let him go! Let him go,” said Zarathustra. “He is gone. And although it does you credit that you say only good things about him who is now dead, you know as well as I who he was, and that his ways were queer…How angry he got with us, this wrath-snorter, because we understood him badly! But why did he not speak more clearly? And if it was the fault of our ears, why did he give us ears that heard him badly? If there was mud in our ears—well who put it there? He bungled too much…away with such a God! Rather no God, rather make a destiny on one’s own, rather be a fool, rather be a God oneself!”
Here is what his contemporary, William James, thought of Nietzsche’s Overman:
“A society where all were invariably aggressive would destroy itself by inner friction, and in a society where some are aggressive, others must be non-resistant, if there is to be any kind of order…The saint is therefore abstractly a higher type of man than the “strong man,” because he is adapted to the highest society conceivable, whether that society ever be concretely possible or not. The strong man would immediately tend by his presence to make that society deteriorate. It would become inferior in everything save a certain kind of bellicose excitement.”
Bellicose excitement, indeed!
Obviously, neither Professor James, nor Friedrich Nietzsche lived long enough to see the use that our other author, Adolf Hitler, made of Nietzsche’s Overman. And it is clear in the 20/20 hindsight that only history can give us, that James was correct, as Hitler’s hyper-aggressive Overmen introduced more “bellicose excitement” the world had ever seen.
Mediocrity, pity and weakness---virtues which Nietzsche hated with the grand passion that only obsessed seekers of truth like him can muster—and which organize religion firmly embraces, must exist side by side with the brilliant, the capable, for a society to function properly and have balance. That was James’ great insight.
V.S.Niapaul’s book was nothing but a profound revelation, and made me once again proud to be a writer. Suddenly, with just one book, Shia, and Sunnis were not just names in the news, but living, breathing human beings. The entire complexion of the world changed for me, as centuries old, epic struggle artfully unfolded, the stiff, strait-lace language of Professor James long gone.
I was truly amazed at how badly educated I was; how little I, and those around me, talked about during our daily life; me, a college professor, a magazine and newspaper editor, a watcher of PBS, a lifelong reader of books, newspapers and magazines.
It begged the question: how can America lead the world when most of us know so little about it?
But it was good old Eric Hoffer—a common man, a thinking man, a working class man, a man from humble beginnings, a man whose name will be called long after all the millionaires that once ordered him about are long forgotten; a born generalizer , an admirer of Pascal—who was the greatest turn-on.
I first met him in the early 60’s, on the television program, The Open Mind, and such a brilliant man transfixed me. I didn’t know people like him existed. But there he was. So, it was an unbelievable delight to meet once again, such a good old friend.
Here is what my old friend had to say, in his grand style, about people like me:
“Mass movements do not rise until the prevailing order has been discredited. The discrediting is not an automatic result of the blunders and abuses of those in power, but the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance. There is a deep-seated craving common to all men of words…it is a craving for recognition; a craving for a clearly marked status above the common run of humanity.
“’Vanity,” said Napoleon, “made the Revolution; liberty was only a pretext.’”
When Hoffer wrote those words in the 50’s, America was still a place full of men of words with a grievance: leftist Jews, sexually repressed WASPS, oppressed blacks, powerless women and exploited immigrants.
And yes Eric, The True Believer, may not be tossing bombs in the name of Communism, or killing Jews in the name of Fascism—but he is alive and well at the beginning of the 21st Century, still tossing bombs..
Hitler: The Ultimate Overman
In the end—after months of thinking about this interesting intellectual journey back into a world of grand, sweeping ideas that wouldn’t be dared today—it was finally Hitler’s blunt, mean-spirited, candid, anti-intellectual blueprint for destruction that had the greatest impact on this trip of discovery.
When I first read his book, again, during 60’s (the last decade of true debate and interest in ideas in America before PC, money, television and Hollywood dulled everyone’s brains), my motivation was because I wanted to understand what it was that caused this person to hate Jews so much.
As a black, European anti-Semitism was at first a real puzzle. They were all still white folks in the end, all enjoying the world at the expense of blacks! I also grew up listening to what the Nazis did to the Jews, but in all of that, there was still the unanswered question of why?
I learned about the infamous Versailles Treaty, where rogue nations like England and France humiliated the defeated Germans after the end of the first European tribal conflict they call “World War One.” I knew Germans were brooding about that, as the English and French continued to loot most of the world, and wouldn’t cut them in for a fair share.
But why did Hitler hate Jews so much? They didn’t own the mid-east, most of Asia and Africa and all of India like the English and the French, who deserved to be hated. Why Jews? They didn’t run around the world trying to convert other people to their way of life like Christians and Muslins (Hitler would say that was because they needed non-Jews to make their beds, cook their food, cut their grass and look after their children.)
They had no armies, or navies. They just went about their business. Was he crazy? If so, why did millions of Germans and Poles agree with him, and cheer on the destruction of the Jews? Were they all crazy? If so, what drove them so crazy? What were they so afraid of?
When I first read Mien Kampf, I did indeed think that Hitler was crazy, but brilliant. Now, years later as I reread it, I still think that he is crazy, but I no longer think that he was brilliant. Compared to the real brilliance of Naipual, William James, Hoofer, or even Nietzsche, he seems more like a common politician; albeit, one with homicidal tendencies.
I chuckled with faint amusement at his bizarre notions of race, including calling his white, next-door neighbors the French, “a bastard race.”
One thing that did come through this rereading crystal clear, was Hitler’s
admiration for the English, and the other Northern European settlers that came to the new world and introduced the world to genocide, terrorism and refined the techniques of biological warfare.
“No more than nature,” Hitler wrote, “desires the mating of weaker with stronger individuals, even less does she desire the blending of a higher with a lower race, since, if she did, her whole work of higher breeding, over perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, might be ruined with one blow.
“Historical experience offers countless proofs of this. It shows with terrifying clarity that in every mingling of Aryan blood with that of lower peoples the results was the end of the cultured people. North America, whose population consists in by far the largest part of Germanic elements, shows a different humanity and culture from Central and South America, where the predominantly Latin immigrants often mixed with the aborigines on a large scale. The Germanic inhabitant of the American continent, who has remained racially pure and unmixed, rose to be master of the continent; he will remain the master as long as they does not fall a victim to defilement of the blood.”
One wonders what excuse Hitler would have for a low achieving, confused, and bankrupted Argentina, with its unmixed European population, including large numbers of escaped Nazis! No masters of their new continent them!
Hitler was also wrong about his Germanic ancestors refraining from mixing with the “lower” in the United States. They just came up with a clever idea called “The One Drop Rule” to cover their tracks. Now a New World Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and a highly intriguing, mysterious, Condi Rice (who would make a great character in anyone series of novels), stand mightily on the world stage, mixed race and all!
I am also quite sure that I am not the only person who realized that many of his ideas in Mien Kampf drew from this example of North Americans using the twin pillars of slavery and genocide to build a new society.
His attitude toward blacks was interesting, and I saw clearly the difference
between European racism toward black people like me, and anti-Semitism. He was totally dismissive of “Negroes,” giving us only a few hard slaps upside the head. We were of no importance to the world except as slave labor, hardly worth thinking about.
But Jews? Now that was something different. They were worth thinking about. They bedeviled Hitler. They may not have had an Army or Navy, but Hitler saw an invisible hand trying to control the world with money, lies, and more lies; the mighty British, French and Americans mere hapless, unsuspecting pawns.
Jews owned banks. They communicated across nations. They had newspapers and book publishing companies. They controlled Hollywood and American radio. They patted each other on the back, and called each other geniuses. They interfered in every important activity known to mankind. They just wouldn’t hold their tongue.
So what lay at the bottom of his thinking about Jews was fear: naked, raw fear.
It was funny seeing the great bully so full of fear of a tiny minority in the world. Yet, as I thought about the overriding fear he had of Jews, I knew that that fear still existed in the world today; which was why my ex-girlfriend was so happy that her name was no longer Cohen.
I saw this fear recently; in fact, twice in one week. Now that I am a published author, with a growing paper trail, I am often sought out, sometimes in ways I like, sometimes in negative ways, way beyond anything I had hoped for when I first put words to paper.
I will always respond to would-be writers, however, because I bitterly remember what it was like, as all those writers I once helped when I worked as an editor, thumbed their noses at me when I asked them to read something I had written.
I vowed not to be like that!
This time, I was sitting at Starbucks at Culver and Venice having coffee with an older black man, with graying dreads. A friend had sent me his self-published novel and asked me to read it. She said it was slow at the start, but she “couldn’t put it down” after she got into it.
The plot was about the making of the first all-black musical in Hollywood.
Now this was a story I knew well, and it was a marvelous story, and I had spent many hours standing in front of a class explaining how in 1929, Hollywood decided to exploit “the great black voice.”
This voice had been long known to the world, from slave owners listening to blacks singing in the fields, to the stage world of the great Ira Aldridge in Europe, to the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, who toured worldwide. Now that Hollywood was talking (in 1927, a blackface Al Jolson introduced to the world a faux black voice) why not take advantage of such a gift of nature?
Two all black musicals were made in 1929, King Vidor’s Hallelujah and Heart in Dixie. Hollywood was not that enthralled with the great black voice, however because it
wasn’t until 1943 when Stormy Weather, and Cabin in The Sky were made, that any other all black musicals, or all black anything, was seen on the big screen.
The Jewish Moguls clearly identified their interest with the interest of white supremacy, and starred a long parade of dumb, sassy maids, and slow talking black male buffoon, boosting the racial ego of whites everywhere.
I found my friend’s friend book slow going, and also, the history was missing. Where was “Poverty Row? “ Where was “Gower Gulch?” Where was the 19 year-old Nina May McKinney, black America’s first screen sex Goddess? And who were these Irish guys anyway? Finally, and most importantly, where the hell were the Jews!
“You mean you don’t like the fact that I made the head of the studio Irish,” he answered. “It’s just fiction. Can’t I do something like that?”
“Of course you can,” I answered somewhat bemused, “but it would be like writing a novel about slavery in the old south and making the slaves Mexicans.”
He lowered his voice and looked around, as if someone might have overheard us, and leaned into me, putting his light brown face close to mine. “Listen, I want this to be a six-part mini-series. You know what I mean? You know there are things you can’t say. All kinds of unsavory things go on at the studio I wrote about. You know what I mean? You know….”
His voice trailed off, and he held up his hands in a helpless gesture. Of course I knew what he meant!
A few days later, I had a meeting with another would-be writer, an older, retired Irish fire Captain who was an ex-New Yorker like me. We hit it off immediately because we both knew how to talk like the wise guys we knew growing up ( FORGITABOUTIT!).
I knew he was happy to be out and about, and in the company of a published author who had taken the time to read his work.
He had written a classic New York City urban tome that featured drunken Irishmen, Italian mobsters running around whacking each other, scary black street thugs, quiet Chinese hit men, love crazed Puerto Ricans—the usual suspects we had grown to love growing up in the Big Apple.
There was one segment I found very interesting, but woefully underdeveloped. It concerned Jewish businessmen doing nefarious things.
“Hey, that part was great,” I said.
He beamed. “You’re a real pisser! You like that, huh?”
“It was great. Very strong, but it went nowhere.”
“Why?” I asked, “There was so much drama there.”
“Because my new agent said that there was no point in offending the Jews who owned the publishing industry. Look,” he said, lowering his voice, and looking around, just like the black writer had done a few days before, “I ain’t anti-Semitic. I just thought it was a good story, and it’s based on facts. I did a lot of research for this book. I ain’t anti anybody.”
I eagerly agreed with him. I didn’t think he was anti anyone, just a good Irish story-teller. As a black, I wasn’t offended by what he had to say about blacks. In fact, I would have been offended if he had made us all saints, because that would have been a tip-off that he didn’t know any real blacks, and didn’t respect us.
I also knew that he was not afraid that somehow, street blacks, or tipsy Irish men, or Italian wise guys, or Chinese gangsters, or passionate Puerto Ricans—had the power to deny him access to the world of authorship.
I knew that he was afraid of Jews because he thought that they had this power, just as the black writer was afraid that these same Jews would see to it that his six-part mini-series would never see the light of day if anything vaguely negative was said about them.
At this point, it mattered little if in fact Jews had all of this power to deny these men their fondest dreams. To a very large extent they agreed with Hitler, that a powerful, invisible hand guided what we read in books, watch on television, or see on the big screen.
These two very different men, one from the black, mean streets of Oakland, the other, a white, middle –class homeboy from my beloved New York City—had readily censored themselves because of the perception that this power existed.
All of this does not bode well for the Jewish community in America, or for Jews in the world at large. I can see clearly why the Rabbi chose such a topic for discussion at The Museum of Tolerance on April 10, 2002. Only a real anti-Semitic wouldn’t be alarmed that so many people deeply believed that the very essence of their life is controlled by Jews.
I don’t share the same fear, however, which is why I can write this essay freely. I feel no fear, or hated from either Jews, or myself when eating my pastrami sandwich, surrounded by Jews; and, I won’t hesitate to date one, if she is willing to date me.
But Jews need to be seen as thieves and lowlifes like the rest of us. Fear is a dangerous emotion. It leads to the lowering of the voice; the looking around to see who’s listening. And can lead to even worse, and could cause people to strike out blindly. We saw that once in its full flowering in the last century, with the “bellicose excitement” unleashed by Friedrich Nietzsche ’s Overmen, and no one in their right mind would ever want to see that again.