Friday, April 23, 2021

Pausing to savor Ald. Burke’s anti-Semitism

Metropolitan Museum of Art
     “You know as well as I do, Jews are Jews,” Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said into a federal wiretap, “and they’ll deal with Jews to the exclusion of everybody else, unless ... unless there’s a reason for them to use a Christian.”
     My immediate response — I kid you not, I did this, first thing — was to consult “The Canterbury Tales.” Because there is something positively medieval to Burke’s remarks. Clannishness is such an old accusation to fling at Jews and illustrates the circular logic of bigotry: You exclude a people from society, wall them up in a ghetto, then denounce them for sticking together.
     One trick of racism — and this doesn’t get mentioned enough — is to attack specific groups for doing what all people do. When somebody accuses Jews of being fond of money, I retort, “As opposed to ... what? All those people who aren’t?” Every single ethnic, religious and social group will at times interact among themselves and exclude outsiders.
     Jews stick together, just like Presbyterians, Lithuanians and Rotarians do. Yiddish was once a unifying tongue, now simply being Jewish is a language that Jews speak.
     When I first had coffee with Rahm Emanuel, he started talking about Hanukkah, which was approaching. It confused me for a moment, because I didn’t know why the mayor would bring it up.
     Then it dawned on me, with some horror, “Ohhh, it’s because we’re both Jews. He wants me to bond with him as a fellow Jew.” I couldn’t have been more aghast had he put his hand on my knee.
     Accusations of prejudice fall into two broad categories. Complaints about actual harm that is suffered because of intolerance: hurtful remarks hurled, housing denied, police blithely killing people like yourself. Those are real evils that are legitimately decried.

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  1. I thought the "hand on my knee" comparison striking and clever; then wondered. No complaints so far?


  2. Very clever ending. I always think the inconsistency of the bigotry is also confounding. On the one hand, Jews were derided for supposedly being akin to vermin - lowly, dirty and squalid. Yet, as the posters featured with yesterday's post trumpet, at the same time they're to be despised and feared because they rule the world, are rich and money-grubbing and are responsible for every problem that one can attribute to a dark, powerful force. An odd combo.

  3. I shouldn't judge because I'm not Jewish, but what Burke said strikes me as anti-Semitism lite. Ironically enough the offending words were uttered by a member of that clannish tribe the Irish, in the pre-Civil War days of the Know Nothing Party regarded as a far greater threat to the national identity than Jews. Anti Irish riots in places like New York city and Boston claimed many lives. It was said that the Celtic Peril could best be avoided if every Irishman shot a Black man and was hanged for it.


    1. In many of the big cities of the East and Midwest, the Irish and the Jews never really got along very well. So when the italians began immigrating to America in greater numbers, and street crime became organized crime, the Italians and the Jews formed an unstoppable alliance that eventually became known as the Mob.

      The Jews had the brains and the financial smarts, and the Italians had the muscle. The Italian-Jewish combine was especially successful in New York, Chicago, and later in Vegas, which the Mob helped to create after WWII. "The Boys" (and the Boychiks) pretty much put the Irish gangs out of business (except in Boston, of course).

      Not all the nice Jewish boys grew up to become doctors, lawyers, or accountants. There were some tough Jews back in the day. Brooklyn's Murder Inc--which thrived before the war--supposedly employed a very prolific Jewish hit man. He was a stone-cold killer. But he wouldn't work on Saturdays. Sounds almost like a sick Jewish joke. Maybe it is.

    2. Detroit's Purple Gang was also a bunch of killers that were really tough Jews.

    3. Sounds like I have a couple customers for Rich Cohen's excellent book, "Tough Jews," about Jewish gangsters in the first half of the century. My father, who grew up in the Bronx, was proud that his rabbi walked Lepke Buchalter to the chair.

    4. Hell, yeah...I heard about that book years ago...still can't believe I've yet to get my paws on a copy and read it. Some of the online reviews are now over twenty years old, and not all are favorable, especially from old Brooklynites who don't care for his writing style, and challenge his accuracy, claiming he made a lot of mistakes that could easily have been easily fact-checked. F(orget) sounds like a good read anyway.

      As a kid, I thought "The Boys" were cool. Never missed "The Untouchables." Knew more about gangster names (and nicknames) than I did about the rosters of the Cubs and White Sox. Wanted to be Italian. Even had an uncle in the trucking business who was connected, which did not sit well with his younger brother. My CPA father (an honest accountant) thought gangsters were scum. He claimed to have helped put mobsters away. Since he never got fitted for any cement shoes, I called bullshit. But silently.

      Four decades later, after he died, I found the ID badges. He wore them in Federal court when he testified, for the Treaury Department, against a number of low-level wise guys. Those badges made him a deputized forensic accountant. I still have them.

      On the other hoof, my uncle was a Tough Jew. Had to be. He dealt with the Teamsters and their "business agents." They, in turn, got his Elvis-wannabe son a recording contract in the mid-Sixties. My cousin made a couple of 45s that went nowhere. Even the Boys couldn't make him a better singer. A favor can only go so far.

      For many years, my uncle and my old man rarely spoke to one another. One went down one Chicago road, and one went down another. Each of them thought the other was a chump.

  4. As a Jew, I take umbrage at Alderman Burke's statement.

    As a Clevelander, what the hell were you doing in Berea?

    1. He grew up there...father worked for NASA.
      And what the hell's so bad about Berea?
      I live just up the road from Berea.

      I'd rather be living in Berea than where I am now, on the far western edge of Cleveland. Funnily enough, Mr. S. now lives just up the road from where I grew up. It's a small world after all.

      It'll be 29 years in August since I left Chicago and moved here.
      Does that make me a Clevelander yet?

      Most natives would say no. Mainly because I didn't go to school or church at St. Whatever, or have family here. Chicagoans don't do that, because so many are originally from elsewhere.

      My wife's family came here in the Eighties. As in...the 1880s. So we ain't going anywhere. This is my last stop. But I'd gladly leave tomorrow, mostly because I hate snow. Always have, always will.

    2. Berea was nice. I suppose the usual move would have been to go to Cleveland Heights, where my mother's family lived. But my father preferred to be nearer to NASA.


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