Dutch-based JTA correspondent Cnaan Liphshiz sets more and more, Jews of the Netherlands on the international map – which is such a welcome thing. He now reports enthusiastically on a Dutch documentary series about the Jews. It’s made by Maurice Swirc, who has a good name, and is based on interviews with special and great Jews. Would that be enough for quality and novelty? The JTA reporter is working on his Dutch but does he master enough already to get the subtleties? Let’s have a look.
Problem is that years ago, Jewish broadcasting was unfunded in the Netherlands. Since then, the Dutch Evangelical Broadcaster (EO) has had a Jewish corner, and many Jews love its product but its programs are very problematic to me. Each one of them seems to have the same character: technically and artistically beautiful, philosemitic (saying something most Jews would love) and somehow saying: poor dear Jews – your lives could have been so much better if you’d just embraced our Savior but we love you still. This, together with absolute mistakes about Judaism and Jews that get passed on without a filter because none of the EO people seem to have a clue about either. Would this series be any different, better?
I want to judge the series on two points: What message does it send to the Jews and what message does it give Gentiles? On the latter point: Does it have any power to sway the autochthon and the immigrant slightly and seriously anti-Jewish Dutch? Further, I would want to signal any and all mistakes in content. Special attention should go to openings and endings of its 40-minute installments because they have a special power to enthrall/repel viewers, respectively to color whatever was said and shown before.
The ambiguous series’ title doesn’t promise much good. It translates as something like: Only imagine being chosen. In Dutch, it can be understood as something wondrous (many Evangelicals feel it mysterious like that) or something horrible (many Jews feel it bitter-sweet like that). You choose.
The opening of the first part is already absolutely dreadful. It confirms so many stereotypes about Jews that it’s impossible to all report. The token exception is that there are also irreligious Jews – which always spooks and amazes many Evangelicals as they are prone to see Jews as themselves, as a religious group, and not as a People. But if we believe the intro, all Jews are outspoken and smart and successful at whatever they do. They are as diverse as designing successful cars (Citroen, but it forgot Hitler’s Beetle!), opening unique businesses, inventors bringing epoch-turning E=mc2 and the atom bomb, artists (Doctor Zhivago, lead actor, Superman creator), journalists (bringing down Nixon) and politicians (Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan), diamond cutters (the relatively rich laborers under the dead-poor Amsterdam proletariat, and by showing a diamond instead of the workers, reigniting that all Jews are rich), inventor of jeans (Levi), Rasta Bob Marley (but no Ethiopian or Indian or other non-White Jews), sports heroes (boxing). Then some intellectual Jews reporting that we’re not better but still need to be special. Stereotypically Jewish, typically EO.
The first installment also has its own intro, teaching that one is Jewish whether one likes it or not (what a negative opening!) and that persecution had forced the Jews to have a special survivalist mind; we have a lot of energy but being chosen can be burdensome. THAT, is what you want to teach about Jews? Nothing about having a special calling. No word on the integrity not to sell out one’s Tradition in the face of threats.
Then we are invited to sit in on a Christian lecture on the start of the Jews. A nomadic People (No, the Patriarchs were a nomadic family, the Jews leaving Egypt were a People but not nomadic, heading for the Promised Land) in the desert through the Ten Commandments (typically Christian to focus on that part of the Torah) and Biblical history lay the foundation of Christianity and Islam and the West. Didn’t they forget a Monotheistic Tradition? Jews are not just the historic forerunners of Christians! They are a living People, very much alive – thank you.
Then a famous French Jewish secular philosopher lies that G^d did not choose the Jews but the Jews mean that the Jews chose G^d. This is demonstrably untrue. What is also untrue is that chosen would mean better or privileged. Noblesse oblige, the French say so well: Biblically, chosen means: having a higher calling. If one answers that, one is perfect, but if one doesn’t, one is less than someone not-chosen who does what s/he needs to do. Chosen means having a mission. One doesn’t need to be Jewish to have a mission, even a G^d-given mission.
Then we get, without any explanation, some big Hebrew letters against a desert background, misspelling The Holy One, He is a Source of Blessing, and Torah, or, together, The Holy One, He is a Source of Blessing, of the Torah. The misspellings I understand: they don’t know Hebrew. Google Translate gives it as Hebrew translation for Creator. But what is this plug doing here? Trying to subliminally wow unknowledgeable Jews?
We get to hear, without any objection, that Christianity is a Jewish sect. And then back to the Ten Commandments. This view has nothing to do with Jews. It is Christianity with a Jewish dressing, said by ignorant Jews.
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook; it amusingly mistranslates smoelenboek; when an interviewee uses gospel as bible in “the internet bible,” it is not translated, which says a lot about the translator) is presented as quintessentially Jewish. Shockingly, they mean his genius and that he supposedly runs a dubious dishonest company, not his leading charity activity. Facebook is a Jewish conspiracy, we are told, so successful because Jews are not smarter but they are excellent at connecting people. An extremely troublesome section!
I’m critical about these Evangelical broadcasters. I argue why. But I don’t generalize that all Evangelicals/Christians see Jews wrongly or dubiously.
Back to their historical overview. That means: the destruction of the Second Temple and the ensuing Dispersion. Not a word on the destruction of the First Temple, the exile to Babylon and the start of the famed Babylonian Talmud. The Oral Law doesn’t play any open role in Christianity (though quoted all over their New Testament, but they don’t know that), so is ignored. (If one wants to show Jewish influence on the Western world and Christianity, show the Talmudic quotes in the Greek Bible. But no, none of this.) The Jesus story plays against the backdrop of the Second Temple so that must be their reason to focus on that.
Then we get 22 seconds of truth. With the Dispersion, Judaism totally changed. But that 2.6% of the time so far, after 97.4% dubious content.
Then we finally get to see an Orthodox Jew. But not a real one. It’s the stereotypical stubborn heartless legalistic father in the Yentl movie. (We also get to hear how heartless Barbara Streisand’s mother raised her.) Much about the phenomenal musical side of Streisand but not a word about her extremely anti-Zionistic political activism. Seamlessly on to Amy Winehouse, just about her exceptional talent, without mentioning the price that she paid, accidentally drinking herself to death.
Much attention for the Jewish English Diaspora. The Dutch would really have a story to tell here, but we haven’t heard a word about it yet. No doubt, the EO wants to translate the series and sell it internationally.
Surprisingly back to the desert and Abraham. As basis of Christianity. We get to hear a passionate statement about following Jesus. But no such passion for Abraham, Moses, Maimonides or the late Chief Rabbi Just.
Christianity had a better marketing strategy for Jewish values. The Christians have won. I beg your pardon? Was it not Christian persecution that endangered survival and hindered propagation of Jews’ messages?!
We are told that “You must have a heart of concrete if it doesn’t melt from [hearing] I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Irving (Israel) Berlin (Beilin) wrote it. Outright offensive to claim that everyone must love it! Followed by advertising Christmas and presenting many Christmas carols written by Jews (they had to make a living, didn’t they?). Embarrassing or shameless, I’m not sure, to sell this as a view on Jews and to show that Jews and Christ(mas) can go together very well.
Moses wrote that you should love your neighbor as yourself. That would be a much better example of Jews shaping Christianity.
This is only installment one. The EO has never before been as open in propagating Christianity as the religion fit for Jews. Shocking.
As always, elegantly, beautifully made. Clever and deceitful. Disgusting.
The second installment – they were all broadcasted a week apart – deals with Jews and personal problems, and is euphemistically called “The beauty of imperfection” but sounds to me more like the old Christian stereotype of the Jews: a suffering people. Tormented geniuses.
It presents Woody Allen – just this week we heard of yet another relationship he, as a grown and famous man, had with another underage teen – allegedly. A dirty man and a genius, he’s called. But his sexist jokes about “too dominant” mothers are hilarious – supposedly.
A whole slew of people who know absolutely nothing about Freud (“trend watchers”) get to analyze him. A token sentence that his work was very Jewish gets drowned out by nonsense and platitudes. Soon we hear that he was mostly inspired by an abstract painting (The Tormented Mind by Mark Rothko). Not a word about Freud’s deceit in building his theories (the Oedipus complex) that had to hide widespread incest he knew about. His made-up ideas about female sexuality hurt generations of women, which is mentioned but then nuanced with that he at least legitimized talking about sexuality. The pictures that illustrate this part are very stressful (without nudity) and sexist. He was a famous Jew and therefore a mastermind. Shockingly, the business Jew is presented again with: “Freud discovered that there was a market for psychoanalysis.”
Next is that understanding trauma digestion would be nowhere without Jewish psychiatrists that survived the Holocaust. And Jews were also masters in never say die. That surviving Jews in the Netherlands never got one hour of psychotherapy is not mentioned. The Jews who came out ragingly mad, totally depressed or committed suicide are not mentioned. Jews are all super-survivors and we need to know that preconception.
This second part, so far, had few anti-Jewish statements, but here we go again: Jewish Messianic thought is depressing, lies the philosopher.
Assimilation is explained as a wish to adopt the culture of the new country with the old norms just as decoration. Not a word on that that new country did not support a Jewish lifestyle (not working on Shabbat).
Again, long pieces about Jewish immigration into the US and the art that came from them, musicals, movies and hero comics that set new standards. I’ve no idea what that has to do with anything. The theme moved from Jewish pain to Jewish-American famous artists. Oh, but it is explained: only an immigrant can feel enough pain to want to belong.
After non-functional brief frontal female nudity, we’re back at the psychological with a focus on leading Jewish sexologists, the Dutch Professor Coenraad van Emde Boas and the German Magnus Hirschfeld. It says that one of the first books that were confiscated and burned by the Nazis were Hirschfeld’s books. As if that were the books he had written. No, in 1933, his whole monumental research library was reduced to ashes. And the Stonewall Riots were not in the ’70s but in 1969. Media personality Ruth Westheimer is the token woman in the collection. Condoms and other anti-conception family planning round off this part.
We can’t expect an EO series to say that “openness” of Jews about sexuality is merely a reflection of the rejection by classical Christianity of any intimacy other than for procreation. And, sure enough, it doesn’t.
The Jewish bottom line: You should try to improve the world but with the cynical awareness that you will never completely succeed.
This second installment has much less Jew bashing. But it’s not dealing with Jews. It only discusses the most famous and successful for the West.
Let’s wait and see if I’ll review the other parts of this series.
Thanks to the moderators of the HOI, the Yahoo group for the Dutch in Israel, who have banned only my political writings (they’re all unshakably sold on Haaretz) but were so friendly to find me the link to this Dutch series.