Ariel Beery pins the tendency of left-wing Jewish communities to self-destruct on Jews’ having made “the Holocaust as the pinnacle event of Jewish history.” I’m going to agree with him, for the most part, and take it a step further, or maybe just a step more specific:
Last night I saw “Black Book,” a movie about a Dutch Jewish woman who, through luck, cleverness, and sex appeal that melts the heart of many a Nazi, survives World War II and ends up in Israel, which we all know is a country in which no Jew will ever be killed on account of being Jewish. (At least not by the state, which is something, but not, alas, everything). In other cheeriness, one of the movie’s messages is that everyone hates the Jews, from the Resistance to the Nazis. In fact, those who are seemingly kindest to Jews may well hate them the most, yet the Nazis are, of course, Nazis. No-win, indeed.
The more striking, all-encompassing aspect of this movie, as with the similar “Europa Europa,” is that it is advantageous for a Jew to be able to “pass.” While you’re obviously not supposed to agree with an ideology that would have a man killed for not having a foreskin or a woman killed for having dark hair, you nevertheless root for the protagonists of both these movies to succeed in appearing “Aryan.” That early-mid-20th century European Jews did, often enough, blend in with their non-Jewish neighbors, was why the Holocaust required so much paperwork and investigation to carry out. It seems we do not, after all, have horns.
The problem with these movies, as fascinating as they are, is that American Jews see enough such scenarios, and after a certain point begin to associate survival with a Jewishness that is visually imperceptible. When someone tells me I don’t look Jewish (some say I do, some say I don’t) there’s a certain sense of this being a relief, not in the sense of this making me more attractive, but in this less obvious notion of it meaning I’d have been able to “pass” if need be. To ask a blunt question: if Holocaust education weren’t so central to Jewish learning, and if the passing-for-survival narrative weren’t all over the place, would so many American Jews today get nose jobs? (And are Israelis so much better-looking than American Jews not simply because they are more ethnically mixed, but because they do not, by and large, try to look something other than their own ethnicity?) In any case, plans for things like restructuring Jewish communal life and hoping for less intermarriage are, I would say, missing the point.