Jon Taub

Enough Trope

It was much simpler when I was in high school. (A cliche I’m using for the first time. Ever.)

I attended an ostensibly Modern Orthodox high school that will remain unnamed towards the end of the Cold War. (Only ostensibly Modern, because: it was all-boys; and at least some of the Jewish Studies faculty likely wished that things were a little less “modern”.)

Politically, the overwhelming majority of the student body probably leaned right wing, though that was more likely due to testosteronic miasma rather than any well-thought out ideology, even in the Age of Reagan.  So when mechanchim and administrators in my high school years expressed strong disapproval of student “activity”, it usually had to do with one of three issues: untucked shirts; “goyish music”; and mixed — well, mixed anything.

Now it seems yeshiva high school administrators contend with a different set of adolescent inclinations.

Recently, an SAR student complained that his “administration [] persuaded many students not to participate in the national “Walkout” called for by the Women’s March to protest rampant gun violence because of the alleged anti-Semitism of certain leaders of the Women’s March.”

Let there be no doubt: SAR got this right. Furthermore, knowing how the administration of the school has dealt with other controversial issues, which, in this writer’s opinion, they tackled correctly, indicates that they definitely cannot be pegged as a reflexively “Right Wing” institution”; in fact, one was specifically in response to the Orlando massacre, so no one should be under any illusion that SAR is the NRA.

As part of his complaint, the student felt compelled to assert that “[t]his “anti-Semitism on the left” trope is definitely overplayed… , conflates anti-Zionism and pro-peace activism with true hateful anti-Semitism, [and] verges upon fear-mongering”.


The real “trope” here is the intersectional mindset that this student has bought into, the implication that “[s]ocial justice advocacy” is only genuine in “left-leaning circles”, and that “we Jewish teens” can only be “reasserting our place in social justice work” if they follow the dictates of the leading lights of intersectionality, like the Sarsour/Perez/Mallory axis at the head of the Women’s March that has swallowed up any and all ostensibly legitimate “progressive” grievance.

It appears as if the students in question will trade one Orthodoxy for another. At least in my high school years, the testeronic agitations didn’t lead to a near-wholesale adoption of another set of ikkarim, even to the point of appearing to grant legitimacy to anti-Zionism by, in contradistinction to his complaint, conflating “pro-Peace advocacy” with “anti-Zionism,” which might be telling enough”: the bought-into mindset that unless one is anti-Zionist, one might be an enemy of peace.

(There should be a zero-tolerance policy in Zionist yeshiva high schools for the public expression of appeasement for quislingery.  There is no lack of Jewish institutions that would welcome students who express hard progressive sentiments.  They might have a place there.)

Maybe there’s one thing the SAR administration still needs to do here, and that’s educate its students on the perils of the self-inflicted harm caused by close association with intersectional progressive movement by examining the history and philosophy of those movement so that its students can distinguish between legitimate liberal, even “progressive”, causes, and doctrinaire hard leftism that is certainly detrimental to communal interests.

Here are a few talking points they could use.

1) Intersectionality is, above all, intersectionalitarian.  Not because it “isn’t Jewish” per se (i.e. “Easv sonei es Yaakov”),  but because, like communism, its ideology is in practice antisemitic even if in theory it shouldn’t be.  To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart: despite its theoretical definition, you know it when you see it.  Linda Sarsour.  The BLM platform and “apartheid”.  And now the refusal to disavow Farrakhan or acknowledge when a prominent member of the movement leaves because of it.  In fact, if the student marchers wanted to truly be courageous and independent-thinking, they’d follow the lead of Alyssa Klein by disassociating publicly with the movement, instead of attempting to “Jewify” [the] program”.

2) Re “Jewify-ing” [the] program”: The student claims that this would be “[h]arkening back to American Jewry’s rich involvement with the civil rights movement, we wanted to sing Hebrew protest songs and chant biblical peace slogans”.

Someone oughtta teach these kids American history.

The specific issue of gun control and the contemporary application of the Second Amendment bears little resemblance to anything vis-a-vis civil rights battles of the 1950s and ’60s that surrounded the application specifically of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Furthermore, if one really wants to make a “civil rights issue” out of the Secomd Amendment, one would be compelled to acknowledge try Black Panthers’ approach: they were pro-gun before the NRA ever was.  (And they were more anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist than Wayne LaPierre on his worst day.  But that’s a whole other discussion.)

3) Sorry: this “gun fight” is NOT our fight or your fight.  While maybe we should be advocating for a polity that follows Israel’s “gun culture” (although I think even the most “Right Wing” schools don’t even give lip service to, much less ascribe to, American “gun culture”), we should NOT be advocating for “gun free” zones EVER.  Even if — and this is why this fight isn’t ours — we are certainly in more danger of attack by methods employed by allies of the Sarsour/Mallory/Perez axis rather than by white supremacists with military grade firearms.  Or by disgruntled former students.

Furthermore, even if arming teachers isn’t the brightest idea, it might be time to equate firearms training with swimming lessons, even on a halachic level (pace TB Kid. 29a), and start communal drives towards more of it.  Reflexively anti-gun types shouldn’t worry: this would not have anything to do with advocating for unfettered gun ownership — you don’t have to own a gun to go to a range and learn how to handle a weapon and shoot. It bears repeating that one idee fixe that is NOT even remotely rampant in our institutions and communities is unfettered gun culture. If anyone can do this in a responsible manner, it’s us.

3) As part of the aforementioned history lesson, the students should be exposed to the genesis of the terms “Social Justice” and “Political Correctness.” Specifically: how the former was the journal of one Father Charles Coughlin, a perceived champion of populist causes who might have been the most prominent virulent anti-Semite in 20th century America; and how the latter was used to describe the enforced Soviet attitude towards Communists who were uncomfortable with the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact of 1939.

It isn’t even that “leadership of Women’s March’s flirtation with anti-Semitism might confirm what us Jewish high school students hear from our teachers and college advisors all too often”, or even that the teachers would have tried to advise against “Jewify” [the] program,” which would have been the more likely outcome in my high school years.  SAR is too open minded to do that, and it isn’t even necessary.  The real messages of disapproval can be limited to this specific intersectionalitarian movement: its agendas and eminences are deeply hostile to everything Orthodoxy — including liberal Orthodoxy — stands for, even to the point that it denigrates our very existence. You can express your horror at the NRA and gun culture — even publicly!!! — without taking to the streets with allies of your declared mortal enemies.

Intersectionalitarians just want to give us enough trope to hang ourselves.  We should not be stupid enough to help them out.  And our teachers and administrators should be empowered to stop those who have been misled into considering that approach.

About the Author
Jon Taub is an ex-Upper West Sider, now-married Riverdalean who has two MA's, plays three instruments, and consults for biostartups.
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