Jews may not like life more than you do, but they talk about it more

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A woman kneels to place a candle outside the Tree of Life synagogue Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh after a shooting there left 11 people dead. | Getty

You know what’s a primary Jewish value?

Being alive.

I hope I’m not spilling the beans here. Revealing some deep rabbinic secret.

But it’s true.

We like being alive. It’s important to us. I can’t say whether Jews like living more than gentiles, since I’m not a gentile. I assume everybody likes life equally. So maybe it’s just that Jews make a bigger deal of it — “To life! To life! L’Chaim!” We talk about life more, perhaps because we like to talk about stuff, perhaps because there’s always somebody trying to kill us.


Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. Razed Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity more than 2,500 years ago. Various caesars. About 1,500 years worth of Christian leaders. Assorted Russian czars. Don’t forget Hitler and his pal Stalin. After the formation of Israel, the Arab states. When they failed, the PLO and periodic freelance Muslim terrorists, cheered on by half the sophomores around the world.

Let’s not forget home-grown American haters, like the guy who murdered 11 people Saturday at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh. That didn’t happen in a vacuum but two years into the administration of Donald Trump, who uses prejudice of all kinds to stir up and distract his base.

“I am a nationalist,” Trump said. Actually, what he said was, “I am a white nationalist.” But the “white” is unvoiced, like the “p” in “psalm.” And if you didn’t hear it, his far-right supporters certainly did.

Still, mass shootings happen so frequently in the United States — at churches, schools, concerts, workplaces — that I don’t feel inclined to join the chorus connecting this one to the anti-Semitism that Trump winks at. (Jews are the “globalists” that Trump invokes. Hitler called them “internationalists.” And people claim there is no progress.)

Maybe it’s his fault, maybe not. Maybe it’s just our turn. Next week it could be a black church.

Though I hope this slaughter will tamp down Fox’s finger-fluttering horror at the War on Christmas this season.

Nah. If anything, it’ll inflame their victim envy. They hunger for the sense of indignation that being wronged affords, without of course having to actually suffer or lose their preeminent position as cultural overlords. Just raising the subject of Christmas means we’ve strayed too far from the essential truth here: 11 innocent people killed, their unique and precious lives extinguished, the lives of their loved ones pitched into darkness.

Because some loser had guns and a heart full of hate, throwing away his own life with theirs.

Trump, true to form, waved the standard fantasy. “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him,” the president guessed, ignoring the fact that three heavily-armed, highly-trained SWAT officers were shot trying to stop him. Maybe a guard could have done something. Or maybe he would have been brushing a crumb off his shirt when the attack began and would have been the first person killed.

Novelist Gary Shteyngart retweeted Trump’s remark that if the synagogue had armed guards, the “results would have been far better” with the mordant quip, “he means more Jews could have been killed.”

Trump is like the NRA idiots who try to use the Holocaust as an argument for the gun-saturated society they yearn for, as if we don’t already live there now. I point out, “you know, the French Army had guns. Didn’t help them.” But the gun fanatics don’t listen. It’s not an argument, not a debate. Just people talking at each other.

Trump’s solution is more guns and harsher death penalty laws. Which is useless. It isn’t as if these murderers do a cost/benefit analysis first. “I’d like to shoot up a synagogue, but I could get in trouble …”

King Nebuchadnezzar, like Trump, was also impressed with himself. In his inaugural address, he said, “O merciful Marduk, may the house that I have built endure forever.”

It didn’t. A thousand years of Babylonian power ended almost immediately after him. Now it’s Iraq, war scoured, weakened, occupied, in turmoil. What endures forever, or at least in an unbroken chain from ancient Babylon until today, are the Jews. An amazing accomplishment, to survive as a cohesive people despite the odds, and something that would be more universally celebrated if it weren’t, you know, Jews doing it.

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