The Jewish world according to Jackie Mason

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The Jewish world according to Jackie Mason

He is one of Comedy Central's Top 100 stand-ups, but Jackie Mason is very serious about antisemitism

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

The comedian performed live for half a century.
The comedian performed live for half a century.

AT THE AGE OF 92, Jackie Mason sits down more than he stands, but he won’t keep shtum. Dividing his time between New York and Florida with wife Jyll, the comic who fictionally fathered The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown is officially retired but, as a former Democrat turned registered Republican, he is controversial and vocal about his allegiance.

Born in Wisconsin and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, every male in Jackie’s family from his father to his great, great-grandfather was a rabbi, so inevitably he followed them to the bimah and, from there, told jokes. The congregation loved him so much he quit to become a comedian, saying: “Somebody in the family had to make a living.”

And he made a very nice living, with a global fan base charmed by his deprecating Jewish wit delivered in an accent stranded between Delancey Street and the shtetls. “I didn’t emphasise my Jewishness because I wanted to. I just happen to have been raised in a family where everybody happened to talk like this. So why would I talk like somebody else?”

Invited to share his ancient wisdom, he wrote 2,500 words and then a few more. You won’t agree with them all, but Jackie has given you something to think about.

Every year the Jewish people gather around their seder tables and have one question,”How long until we eat?”

Along the way, there are four questions, one very long answer, plagues of frogs and grasshoppers (not to be eaten), bitter herbs and potatoes in salt water (to be eaten!) and, after all that, lots of praise for the one responsible – Hashem.

We recount for the thousandth time our lamentable escape from Egypt. “How is this night different from any other night?” I don’t know Sherlock Moses, how is it? Persecution is as prevalent as it’s ever been.

Who could believe that in the year 2020, Jews would walk the streets of America and Europe fearing for their lives.

Jackie Mason

Sounds extreme, but that is the reality, hard as it may be to grasp or even think about now there is a new enemy. It has always been challenging for me to reconcile the obvious intelligence that so many of my brethren exhibit, alongside others who are imbeciles. Mister? Yes, I’m talking to you. You really act like a putz, and I say that with the highest respect.

Now that I’ve got your attention, on the defensive and on the ropes, let me get in a knockout punch. See you let me, it was that easy. A Jew will argue aggressively and fight with words, but when reality hits him hard, he’ll refuse to believe it until the rising waters are up to his neck.

It’s not paranoia, although that’s a useful state of mind when the world has been out to get you for millennia. It’s not irrational fears, fear mongering, or media manipulation. It’s just the plain unvarnished truth. Jews are in greater danger than they’ve been in a long time.

It’s hard for them to assimilate this idea, it’s so foreign to the Jews of our time, who have lived in comparative peace to their tormented history. So, yes, it’s a great surprise for them to find out the facts on the ground have shifted.

I used to get surprised, but the benefit of ageing is you’ve seen everything, eaten at all the restaurants, tried every dish, watched all the fights, made all the bets, tried on all the clothes..Styles come full circle and suddenly you’re in style again. Some things, however, just stay the same, and although antisemitism went out of style for a while, it was always bubbling beneath the surface. So it looked okay for a couple of years, but I knew it would come back – just like wide lapels.

Krusty the Clown and his father Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky voiced by Jackie Mason.

To the constants in life – death and taxes – you can add antisemitism. A lot of people have figured out how to get around taxes and I’m still hopeful about the other, but hatred of the Jews isn’t going extinct anytime soon.

The crazy thing is Jews are often the biggest supporters and unwitting allies of antisemitism. If you go to any university today you’ll find a ‘Professor Silverstein’ preaching about intersectionality, being “woke”, and the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Is it nice that these Jewish professors sitting in their comfy colleges can preach about a volatile situation half a world away, while getting their info from those least familiar with the true nature of the problem? Well, I say it isn’t nice.

Just look at Bernie Sanders’ pontifications and woefully misinformed statements about Israel. One can only hope that it is ignorance not malice that drives him to consort with vicious antisemites and anti-Americans. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

All you ever hear is if only Israel didn’t do this or that the Palestinians would act differently. They unleash a litany of questions like the Dayenu.

If Israel didn’t build the settlements…

If Israel didn’t use unnecessary force

If Israel didn’t force harsh checkpoint measures…

Et cetera et cetera ad nauseum (Nobody knew until now that I’m fluent in Latin. And I sing well too.)

So all they do is blame everything on Israel, and it’s so obvious to anyone who has eyes and half a brain that it is nothing but blatant antisemitism. How many times has Israel tried to make peace, and how many times have the Palestinians rejected it?

There are plenty of ‘ifs’ on the other side, but the smart professors and the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] protesters don’t acknowledge them or ask what would happen IF the Palestinians …

Didn’t fire rockets into towns in Israel;

Acknowledged the Jews’ right to exist in their ancestral homeland;

Remembered with the Arab states and the rest of the world that they rejected the partition plan in 1947 and invaded with five armies;

Remember the hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews who were ejected from Arab countries and sent into exile;

Had not for years sent homicide bombers to blow up buses, restaurants and people;

Did not pay lifetime pensions to the families of these so called martyrs;

Didn’t use their resources to build tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks and

Didn’t teach their children to hate and damn their people to a lifetime of resentment, bitterness, and enmity.

And I would like to add a fifth question to the existing Passover four. Why can’t Jews stop preaching Jewish hatred?

I’m pretty certain that those most likely to hate me and disagree after reading all this will be Jewish people – which proves my point.

As Passover approaches this year, the world is facing an unprecedented crisis from which it will struggle to emerge. By next Passover, I don’t know if we’ll be in Jerusalem, but I’m praying that the virus – like a biblical plague – will pass over all your families leaving them unharmed and healthy.

I’m also fairly certain that while there will eventually be a cure for this novel virus, there is no cure and never will be a cure for the hatred known as antisemitism. It is one of the oldest and most virulent strains of hatred known to humanity.

But rather than end with a negative statement in this lead-up to Passover, I would like you to take some satisfaction in the words of Mark Twain, who in 1899 wrote the following in his essay – Concerning The Jews.

If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one per cent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. The Jew ought hardly be heard of, but he is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.

His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine are also out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

He has made a marvellous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed, made a vast noise, and they were gone. Other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind.

All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

Chag sameach to you all.


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