The new Bradley Cooper biopic “Maestro” celebrating the musical genius Leonard Bernstein has provoked charges of “Jewface.” Was the not-Jewish Cooper’s prosthetic nose a best effort to recreate the maestro’s craggy, semitic face? Was it done to entertain? Or was it yet another example of Hollywood making a non-Jewish actor into a stereotypical Jewish character?
Further, some have opined that Mr. Cooper’s nose extension was a painful reminder of past virulent Jew-hating hooked-nosed caricatures featured in Der Stürmer, a Nazi-era publication. Because these are uncertain times with antisemitism clearly on the rise, the sensitivities are understandable.
All fair points. Now, let’s pivot to another “cosmetic” situation:
Did you hear the joke about the beautiful Jewish couple just blessed with the birth of their new baby?
This lucky couple had amazingly good looks, sporting classic profiles right out of Hollywood.
When they first saw their infant, they were puzzled by its sizable nose. It was like a macaw. How could that be? Was the child theirs?
It turned out they had forgotten, as adolescences, both had “nose jobs.”
This joke’s humor plays on convenient forgetfulness and the ironic consequences of wanting to assimilate. Lurking beneath this humor, are assimilation’s insidious risks.
Assimilation, beyond the superficial tweaks, can easily diminish our unique Jewish identity and values, and it can dilute the strength of our culture and traditions. We need to reaffirm our positive connections to our own people. And there are PLENTY of other reasons, besides Bradley Cooper’s makeup, to stay informed and active and prioritize Jewish pride and awareness.
Assimilation can set one on the path to abrogate inherited responsibilities. To avoid this pitfall, we must:
1-Teach our children well the richness of a unique and treasured past…to be on guard about the dangers of antisemitism …and how to knowledgeably and effectively respond to intolerance and ignorance.
2-Support Jewish institutions including houses of worship, cause-based organizations…to be philanthropic and politically active. Demand that these organizations are not just outposts for political parties.
3-See yourselves as part of Jewish peoplehood. Our tiny 15 million Jews worldwide is just .2% of the global population. Appreciate our diversity of beliefs and backgrounds, and, following biblical commands, help the ingathering of exiles and welcome converts. And appreciate our pro-Israel Christian neighbors.
4-Move beyond political dogma, whether a D or R, to highly prioritize issues that affect Israel. Do your homework to learn the facts, do not fall prey to double standards, and examine both woke and isolationist doctrines. The former dangerously devalues particularism and hypes universalism. The latter, jeopardizes the critical strategic link between Israel and the United States.
5-Speak up when political leaders need support or criticism. Don’t simplify your position based on knee-jerk reactions to the “other party.” Instead, advocate for Jewish issues and criticize your own party’s actions and policies that wound the Jewish community and Israel.
6-Respect that Israel’s story is very complex, and beware the media is often not our friend. Dig deeper to uncover the facts. The Israeli form of democracy is different from ours, their demographic mix is nuanced, her neighbors are hostile, and the existential threats are 24/7 real. Take pride in Israel’s many miracles and contributions.
Sure, if you want to, have the plastic surgery. You will, for sure, look more like Brad Pitt or Gal Gadot. Just don’t forget what’s important.
And remember, history teaches us that your enemies won’t mistake who you are.