Growing up in the Betar youth movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky in America there were always plenty of interesting characters in-and-around the movement. The organization used to own a brownstone on East 79th Street, and a studio apartment in the building was rented by a young outspoken American-Israeli named Ze’ev Maghen who always used to pester the Betarim about the issue of the hour which would affect the future of the Jews.
For me, from the age of 15 or so I recall Maghen was catchy, cute and memorable – even as he constantly scolded us that Jews need to be proud and show pride.
One memorable day during the rise of black Anti-Semitism in the late 1980’s, Maghen harangued us that Jewish pride and Jewish response matters: “A man calls you a pig. Do you walk around with a sign explaining that, in fact, you are not a pig? Do you hand out leaflets expostulating in detail upon the manifold differences between you and a pig (“A pig has a snout, I have a nose; a pig wallows in mud, I only occasionally step in a puddle, and then, of course, inadvertently…”)? Do you stand on a soap box and discourse eruditely on why, in general, it is extremely not nice to call people pigs, and appeal to the populace to please have no truck with an individual rude and nasty enough to say such things about an upstanding citizen like yourself? Fellow Jews, where in hell is your dignity?”
It was frankly simple, memorable and so clear. Today, as an adult, many of the lessons of Betar have stuck with me and I work hard to pass them on to my children. Walk into a pizzeria and its natural and “normal” to see a flag of Italy, African-Americans are proud to display portraits of Martin Luther King. But for many of our American Jewish brethren, the Orthodox and other outwardly identifiable Jews maybe too proud, too Jewish, or “extreme”. For some of course, Chabadniks look funny – of course, the Pope doesn’t.
As I recently learned, many years later Ze’ev Maghen is still at it. Today he is the Chairman of Middle East History at Bar-Ilan University and recently wrote an amazing book entitled: “John Lennon and the Jews.” As CEO of 5WPR a top US PR Agency, the title of the book jumped out at me and is simple marketing genius.
The book is really great, and while it has little to do with John Lennon, it is a book which details the beauties of being Jewish. The challenge of Jewish identity, why to be (and stay involved) as a Jew, the book is well-written, humorous and thought-provoking. It is a book which Jews – anywhere on the religious spectrum – should pick up, read and enjoy. And then read it again.
It makes people think about Jewish issues– something young American Jews in particular don’t do enough of. Our people are so concerned about the whole world – and should in fact be more concerned about our people and our people’s future.
Maghen seemingly has devoted his life to showing Jews how “awesome” it is to be Jewish – as he says, “Jewishness is uplifting. It takes us out of the “prosaic mundanity” of the “daily drudge” and brings us into a sphere that is “powerful, exciting, fathomless, and beautiful.”
Anyone who agrees – or is curious – should get the book and keep spreading the message of Jewish pride.