Jonathan Goldin
Psychotherapist, Podcaster, Eclectic Jew

Chutzpah Wanted: Apply Here

A spritz of chutzpah is an essential antidote to a fear-based “ghetto mentality.” Claiming that American Jews have a ghetto mentality will offend almost all of my Tribe. Here’s my retort: if we had the strength and courage of our ancestors, we’d have moved much faster in fighting back to stem the tide, this tsunami of Jew-hatred.

(My use of “ghetto” for dramatic emphasis is misleading; the overwhelming majority of American Jews instead live in a “comfortable bubble.”)

If not for the bubble, we’d be unapologetic in standing up to the bullies. We would not make sacrificing Jewish pride as the default choice to avoid or exacerbate antisemitism. Done for all the bourgeois excuses. We fit in unobtrusively, until we don’t.

If we weren’t locked into our hard-earned privilege, we’d know who are allies are because we’d have ventured outside the bubble.

We’d also be cognizant of how our enemies and “neutrals” (more on them later) perceive us, and Israel, and our relation to Israel.

I believe American Jews are viewed as entitled, spoiled, selfish, and elitist. For those millions of Americans who feel alienated, marginalized, and resentful, we’re a natural and prize target.

Israel is seen as greedy (American aid), arrogant (boasting about their dominant military and Intelligence), and dishonest (wrongfully claiming victimhood).

Our ties to Israel are seen as excessive: not only about “dual loyalty” but also holding our country hostage to their foreign interests.

In this horrible assortment of clear and present dangers, it’s absolute folly to engage in Talmudic dialectics to find the “perfect definition of antisemitism,” lest we accidentally overreach once or twice. A generous portion of gut instinct instead of academic semantics is long overdue.

My three proposals (pleas) for a radical course correction are about employing hard-hitting spritzes to shame the extremist bullies. These messages should resonate among the saner portions of the population. Admittedly these spritzes are no substitute for an activist grass-roots, militant movement, but hopefully offer a partial blueprint.

Number One: “It’s not our fault!” Jewish Americans and Jews throughout the Diaspora share no blame for the extremist, self-destructive tactics and policies of the Israeli government. Its unwillingness to cooperate even on basic humanitarian needs for Gaza, have left Israel wide-open to being judged as a pariah, a perception that may last for decades.

(This suggestion is not relevant for those who believe that Israel’s actions are blameless.)

In Good Will Hunting, the climactic moment occurs when the humanistic psychiatrist, played by Robin Williams, repeatedly and emphatically challenges his patient, played by Matt Damon: “It’s not your fault.” Until the working-class kid with a chip on his shoulder, a victim of trauma by an alcoholic father, breaks down, and is finally able to begin the process.

This statement “It’s not our fault” is not equivalent to being a “fair-weathered friend.” Why not? Because unlike the successful campaign slogan against drunk driving, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” we don’t hold the keys! Without holding the keys to the car (metaphor), or having other leverage beyond our government, we can only watch in sadness and horror at the daily tragedy. We choose however not to label Israel as a pariah; rather we hope for a major course correction.

Number Two: Where are “the Christians”? Are they “Silent bystanders” again? Haven’t they learned the lessons of the Holocaust? The evangelicals have voiced strong support for Israel, but where are the organized mainstream Protestants and Catholics? They can seize the opportunity, along with Pope Francis, to negate their shameful past and step up to the plate. Theoretically, they can play a mediating and healing role, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, but more broadly, among the three Abrahamic faiths across the globe.

The distrust of evangelicals and fundamentalists that many Jewish Americans have is mistaken. This may be merely anecdotal, but I’ve met hundreds in the Midwest while lecturing mental health professionals and when I shared my Jewish identity and connection to Israel, the response was uniformly positive.

Number Three: “Single issue absolutists” * (SIAs) use a single-issue litmus test as their guide. Their sloganeering substitute for principled politics has degenerated to “Genocide Joe” epithets. This ideology must be confronted.

They’ve often played a destructive role in American politics by doing harm to broad coalitions which are necessary for success. This current self-righteous single-issue campaign could lead to the election of a neo-fascist Narcissist who threatens the nation with his insurrectionist plans.

Meanwhile the campaign for Biden, a progressive, decent man, a lifelong friend of Israel and Americans Jews, who is decidedly not a Narcissist, but is threatened by the SIA litmus test on Israel-Palestine.

I share the critique held by most liberal and progressive democrats, that Biden’s hesitation to push for a ceasefire sooner is a stark reminder that even good people make tragic mistakes. A reminder also that politics is a struggle for power, not a moral philosophy seminar or an Oxford Union debate. The well-known adage, “the perfect is the enemy of the good” applies, and Biden is by all rational standards a good man and a good president.

Consider this: Trump will likely terminate democracy and “the rule of law”, and this may be the last fair and free presidential election for years to come. Furthermore, if the boycott of Biden gains steam, Democratic senators, representatives, and governors could go down.

I count BDS as one of the most pernicious of SIAs because their determination of who to consider a fair target, includes anyone with any connection to Israel, however remote and even not linked to the IDF or the government.

How else could boycotting and attacking a women’s volleyball team, a Jewish restaurant in Philadelphia, the Israeli Eurovision entry, and the Mt Sinai hospital in Toronto even be contemplated? BDS has gone far down the food chain such that Matisyahu’s recent cancelations were not due to pressure from BDS on the venues, but rather due to the staff refusing to work!

To have a fighting chance to divert and diminish the propaganda success of the fanatics, will must engage in collective and tough self-reckoning.

For example, what’s with these Jewish students? What happened to courage and solidarity? If they feel “unsafe” at Harvard or Boston University (my alma mater), what if they happen to be confronted by Christian Nationalists or Maga insurrectionists?

Did too many Jewish parents raise a generation of hypersensitive, overprotected, overachieving, snowflakes?

If so, it’s time to stop. Now!

About the Author
Jonathan (Johnny) Goldin is a psychotherapist (LICSW) in private practice for more than 20 years, first in Amherst and now Lexington, MA. Known particularly for his work with Adult ADHD he completed his MSW at Boston University in 1997, received a J.D. from American University Law School 1982 and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1983. He's been to Israel seven times between 1969-1994 and lived in Jerusalem 71-72. Born and raised near Washington, DC, he's also lived in the Bay Area (CA), the Boston Area, and Western Massachusetts.
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