This is the second Tuvia Tenenbom book that I’ve read, following the enlightening “Catch the Jew!” which penetrates the bubble surrounding many Israelis and journalists. Tuvia (his irreverent style breeds a strange familiarity) is an expat Israeli who has lived in the United States, Germany and elsewhere for many decades, working as a journalist and author. Holding many academic degrees, Tuvia is also a playwright, essayist, and the founding artistic director of the Jewish Theater of New York.
Tuvia’s first book, “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” was an eye-opening account of anti-Semitism in Germany. It was the success of that book that lead to Tuvia’s invitation to write “Catch the Jew!” about Israel, which was very successful. Hence this new book, which is an examination of the American character, especially the fixation on “causes” and race.
Sorry to say, this book presents a very negative picture of America: “It is racist, it is hateful and its citizens are bound to destroy themselves.” Tuvia bitingly avers that Blacks and some Spanish (now called Latinos) have nothing better to do than shoot each other; that Jews are self-haters; that Indians (now called Natives) have lost their spirituality, and all the rest fear one another. As for American diversity, Tuvia said the “melting pot” has resulted in a loss of historic culture with nothing worthwhile in return. He’s an equal opportunity castigator of the “liberals” and the “conservatives.”
Tuvia’s very idiosyncratic style may not be to every reader’s liking. His sardonic personality goes well with his cherubic appearance, and the reader is either soon caught up by Tuvia’s droll reporting of everyday conversations, or repelled by his familiarity and proclivity to anthropomorphize his rental cars. Nevertheless, there are some interesting observations to note in Tuvia’s often-scathing insights about Americans.
Below are some of the things I learned from Tuvia’s excursion across America: First and foremost, the progressive-liberal Americans he meets prefer Palestinians to Israelis; the Jews are very concerned about racism, mostly against darker people, not themselves; the environmentalists generally characterize themselves as anti-global warming, anti-cigarettes, pro-environment, pro-marijuana, pro-gay, pro-choice, and pro-Palestine; that owning guns is bad; that flying the flag is suspect; and that Americans are afraid to share political or religious views.
Conversely, those who oppose the progressives believe “global warming” is a cocked up plot against them, that Israel is wonderful (sometimes, Jews too), that abortion is murder, that all the liberals are gay, that it’s great to be patriotic, and that their country is being taken over by immigrants, especially illegal ones, who are abetted by un-patriotic Americans. Tuvia comments acidly on their proclivity towards arming themselves: 100 guns per two people is not enough (he means, way too many).
In mid-book, Tuvia summarizes his recollections, which include: Native American spirituality is a crock; when one black person dies, cry – when many die, ignore; Jews blame themselves for antisemitism; smoking is a crime against humanity; Palestinians shine, Hezbollah is great; expressing your politics is dangerous; yoga is what Jews do in their Temples; Blacks kill Blacks because of their “nigga” culture; and Quakers love silence and Palestine.
Further on, Tuvia opines, “There’s one excellent American restaurant every 1,000 miles.” But hypocrites are much more common: quoting a dark-skinned immigrant, he reports that Seattle is a liberal city where they don’t like blacks but hide it, while in Texas, they show their dislike. In Alaska, Tuvia joins a group of federal workers in a bar who are accompanying a presidential visit. They tell him (it seems that Tuvia can strike up a conversation any time or any place with anyone, as well as have a picture taken) that the US supports Israel because the Jews give the politicians money. Also, everybody in Hollywood is Jewish and they got Obama elected.
At the eponymous university in Berkeley, Tuvia learns that, “Nine out of ten (students/faculty) are against Israel and for the Palestinians.” Meeting with the school’s chancellor, he is told that there’s no basis for the school’s anti-Israel reputation because a university-wide “survey” showed that Jewish students have a high level of satisfaction on campus. When Tuvia arrives in Aspen, home to some of America’s most successful Jews, he finds that young Jews there aren’t interested in anything Jewish. They prefer others different from themselves, especially in skin color, because after all, America is the great melting pot. Differences of opinion, especially political, are not tolerated.
Tuvia finds out that Americans like the idea of having blacks around, “because this makes them feel diverse.” And, they are righteous, or at least they think they are. He worries about that, because when the righteous believe in something, there’s no stopping them. He says, “Oh boy, how many people ended up dying because of the righteous!” Left or Right, makes no difference, both know that their way is the only way.
Gentrification in Dallas attracts Tuvia’s attention in a big way. Putting it mildly, he opines, “[Gentrification] means getting poor residents (Black, Hispanic) out and putting in rich residents (white) in their stead.” Of course, the new residents are often self-described liberals or even progressive liberals, “who tell everybody listening that they dedicate their lives to helping the poor…” Then after driving the poor out of the neighborhood, they go to local bars to listen to Black guys playing the blues; this makes them, “feel really, really good and very, very liberal,” according to Tuvia.
Towards the end of the book, Tuvia tells us that he has learned that Americans fear discussing politics and religion because they know that if they say what they really think, the “artificial glue that binds them together will dissolve.” Americans are not one society, but many competing ones, each afraid of the other.
Delving into the international scene, Tuvia wonders why America, foremost among the nations, feels bad about its history of conquering the land. He chalks it up to the same feeling that inhibits Americans from revealing their political choices, striving to be uncontroversial and “nice,” and feeling “sorry” for all the injustices that they have wreaked on the downtrodden. The fact that America’s enemies have no such sympathy is irrelevant.
Tuvia’s book will be enjoyable (sort of) for anyone who has enjoyed a previous book of his, or anyone who abhors political correctness. Read this book if you want an unvarnished look at America’s foibles. Don’t read it if you are in any way politically correct – for sure, you’ll be offended.
“The Lies They Tell: is available at book stores, from the publisher: gefenpublishing.com, or from Amazon.