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Invoking “The Kinkster”: Thoughts After Colleyville

Known for his uniquely irreverent wit, Richard “Kinky” Friedman is a Jewish country-western singer/songwriter from my home state of Texas. He is also the author of detective mysteries and a former gubernatorial candidate.

Although not among the most famous in show business, “the Kinkster” (as he is affectionately known) has been around a while. Fifty years ago, he caught the attention of the American Jewish community with his iconic song “Ride ‘Em, Jewboy”. The lyrics tell of a cowboy who imagines himself watching Jews herded into the trains going to Auschwitz, and comparing them to the cattle he herds, which eventually also will be slaughtered. Although the title was deemed offensive (and still is, by some), the lyrics themselves are quite poignant.

That song was followed a couple of years later by another eye-brow raiser on his second album–the uber-politically incorrect “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”. Sung in the first person, it tells of a Jewish guy in a bar who challenges a “redneck” patron for spewing all kinds of racial epithets. After some initial verbal exchanges, the narrator “hits him with everything I had, right square between the eyes”, then confidently declares to the other bar patrons:

“They ain’t makin’ Jews like Jesus anymore
We don’t turn the other cheek the way we done before”.

In the wake of Colleyville—and Pittsburgh and Poway–I’ve been thinking about these words. They were first recorded not long after the Yom Kippur War. Six years earlier, Israel miraculously defeated several Arab armies in a war for her survival. Although the Yom Kippur War was longer and more devastating, it ended with Israel still victorious.

Since then, Israel has fought more wars. Against conventional armies and terrorist groups, she has continued to show the world that, after the Holocaust–“we don’t turn the other cheek the way we done before”. Or, as someone else once succinctly expressed the same sentiment– “never again”!

That “someone” was the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League. Never Again is the title of his book, first published in 1972. At that time, Jews were being attacked in this country and abroad by Palestinian terrorists (Munich), radical Black activists (NYC), and far-Left terrorist groups sympathetic to the Arab cause (e.g., the Japanese Red Army and the German Baader-Meinhof Gang). With attacks coming from so many directions and the memory of the Holocaust still fresh, Kahane’s message was this: Jews needed to understand that responses to physical attacks had to be more than just writing letters to the editor and appealing to society’s “better angels”. Ultimately Jews are responsible for their own safety and security. Therefore, they had to learn how to respond with physical force, both armed and unarmed. Such sentiments led to the founding of the JDL and helped to make the rabbi an anathema among many if not most Jews in America.

Fast forward 50+ years: same scenarios, different characters. Rabbi Kahane still remains an anathema among most American Jews. Yet, ironically, the same Jews who hold him in such contempt reliably repeat his words “Never Again!” Why? Because 50+ years later, the words have a different tenor. Originally, they were a call for Jews to learn physical self-defense, and not rely only on law enforcement. Today, the phrase has become more of a bromide, a cliché. Reliably invoked in the wake of attacks on Jewish individuals or institutions, it has become the inspiration to write more letters, hold more vigils, or organize more outreach to those who either hate us, or who are indifferent to what happens to us. In other words, to be righteously indignant—but politely and without offense.

To be sure, in the wake of Pittsburgh, Poway and now Colleyville, Jewish institutions all over the world are beefing up security with better technology and hiring professional security personnel. Local and national government resources offer training on how to respond to an active shooter (“run, hide, and fight”). All of these are good and necessary. But they are not sufficient. As we are seeing today, even first-line precautions don’t always stop the virus. Intruders can get through the most sophisticated technology and neutralize armed security. Thus, the intended victims may have to stop aggression with their own counter-aggression. And yet, despite the stories we tell about our warrior-ancestors Joshua, King David and Judah Maccabee, despite the memory of the Holocaust when only few Jews took up arms against their enemies, despite the State of Israel’s showing the world that now Jews “don’t the other cheek the way we done before”, mainstream American Jewry still hasn’t gotten the memo.

Item: Both congregations in Pittsburgh and Colleyville reportedly had offered active-shooter training to their congregations. From the beginning, the people in Colleyville were never able to hide and apparently had nothing to fight back with. After eleven hours (!), the rabbi distracted the intruder by throwing a chair at him, and the hostages were able to escape. When the congregants in Pittsburgh responded to the shooter by doing what they had been told to do–hide by ducking under the pews– the shooter walked up and down the aisles, picking them off one by one.

Item: In the face of ongoing threats, Jews are told to be more vigilant. Yet, on the very day that the Colleyville congregation’s security officer was absent, vigilance and situational awareness should have been heightened and standard security protocol should have been followed. Yet, allowing compassion to eclipse good judgment, the rabbi himself let the intruder in. This is not to take away from the courage he showed during the 11-hour ordeal. But the hard truth is that his “good deed” endangered his life and the lives of his congregants. For those 11 hours, everyone in that synagogue was at the intruder’s mercy. Had the intruder been more competent and more focused, the situation most probably would have ended very badly.

A recent op-ed piece in the UK’s Jewish Chronicle that appeared after Colleyville stated:

“Anti-Semitism is no longer at arms-length, somewhere else on the globe and irrelevant. It is here, it has power, and it is ferocious. It is aiming at America and Jews together. The Jewish community is waking to its danger and the danger to the America that has given them a place to live, to strive, and to thrive for so long.”

Anti-Semitism no longer being at arms-length means that our Jewish cheeks, as it were, are also no longer at arms-length. Regrettably, we live in a time when our cheeks may be hit from any direction—from the Right or from the Left, from in front of us or from behind us.

If we are going to continue to thrive as a vibrant community in America, we must not succumb to weakness or victimhood. Instead, we as a community must be resolute in affirming in words and actions “WE DON’T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK THE WAY WE DONE BEFORE!”.

And as “the Kinkster” reminds us in another song also from that second album:

It’s time for the chosen ones to choose.

About the Author
Cary Kozberg is a rabbi who has served in congregations, Hillel, and health care chaplaincy. He is currently rabbi of Temple Sholom in Springfield, Ohio
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