Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shock and stupidity

On Sunday night, we went to Bottega Louie to celebrate our twenty-third wedding anniversary! (It was a shock really, since I still don't feel like a "wife"—can't someone come up with a better name?) I'd been wary of this restaurant's slick white marble floors, blank white walls and hip downtown crowd, but once inside, it was surprisingly warm. They have a young crowd because the food is so good and not too expensive; you can expect huge portions too, maybe too big, but that's how they do things at Bottega Louie. The only drawback is the noise—hundreds of excited voices bouncing off the glass and marble make it hard to hear. If you're like us, don't forget to bring your ear trumpets!

Ear trumpets come in handy at Bottega Louie

I've gotten my daily dose of shock lately—besides being married for so long— from just reading the newspapers, and I know I'm not alone. After the initial shock of the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla, Michael Chabon wrote a piece in the NY Times formulating the idea that the "blockheadedness" of Israel was but a grim reminder that our illusions of Jewish intelligence are but a lie: "We construct the history of our wisdom only by burying our foolishness in the endnotes..." You can read the entire article here.

I never bought into the idea of Jewish intellectual superiority, although that idea was bred into me on a daily basis, much like Chabon. Why did I not believe? Because, for the most part, the Jews I grew up with were all hard- working, poor (at least at the beginning), first and second generation Jews who strove to do better than their out-of-touch immigrant parents and grandparents. Among them were smart kops and dumb clucks, but mostly, people like anyone else. In fact, I often felt the opposite: some exceptionally unenlightened people populated the Jewish community of Louisville.

illustration by Maurice Sendak, 
from "The First Shlemiel," by I.B. Singer

Within my own extended family, one could find enough stupidity to last a lifetime: there were crooks and gamblers, the mentally ill and the incurably angry, the ones who went to school and squandered their good education, and the many who never made it past high school; the beauties and the old maids, the businessmen and the door-to-door salesmen, the envious and the greedy, the well-off and the ones incapable of making a penny, who, when faced with their own miscalculations and failures, grew bitter. These were the shlemiels and shlimazels of my childhood, who still populate my head.

illustration by Maurice Sendak, 
from "The First Shlemiel," by I.B. Singer

When people talk about the exceptionalism of Jews, it's supposing Israel should have relied on its superior intelligence and not attacked the Gaza flotilla, but Israel is no more or no less wise than any other nation, its Jews no smarter than any other people, its military, no more enlightened than our own. As Chabon writes, he neither condemns nor condones, makes excuses for or forgives, but adds Israel to the long list of nations that have acted— and I might add, will continue to act—stupidly.

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