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Is It Good
For The Jews?

Joe Lieberman is either the greatest thing to happen to the Jews in the 21st century, or the harbinger of certain disaster. The point is: start worrying now.

by David Holzel

Mike Gold, whose 1930 autobiographical novel Jews Without Money detailed immigrant life on New York's Lower East Side, many years later recalled his father exclaiming, "Great news, Katie. The 20th century is coming next Thursday night."

"Whatever it is," his mother replied, "it probably means more trouble for the Jews.''

"On the one hand, Mrs. Gold's words proved prophetic. On the other hand, it's undeniable that good things happened to the Jews in the 20th century—the State of Israel, for instance, and Chinese take-out.

But Mrs. Gold's conclusion should not have been unexpected. Despite a tradition that reflects an optimistic view of life, Jews have developed an uncanny knack for taking the most miniscule detail and divining grave implications.

The time-tested yardstick for determining the malevolence of a given situation is the question, "Is it good for the Jews?" The standard answer is, of course, "no." But a rational look at the question, you might be surprised to learn, can turn up a huge swath of gray area and some unconventional conclusions.

Take cholent. Contrary to what you've always thought, it is not good for the Jews. Despite being a Shabbat staple for centuries, this slow-cooked stew is a culinary pogrom, producing enough gas in one weekend to cause another 2,000 years of Jewish suffering.

On the other hand, call waiting is very good for the Jews. Face it, Jews hate to wait, and we don't mind interrupting someone else's conversation.

Air travel? Bad for the Jews. It's confining, you're never able to relax in the bathroom, and the food they serve is lousy. And in such small portions. Worse, your life is totally in gentile hands. Fly El Al and your life is in the hands of Israelis. We're still not sure if that's good for the Jews.

Now comes Joe Lieberman. Poised to ride into Washington on a donkey, he is an unlikely messiah as there ever was. As the first Jew ever given the chance to become first sidekick, Fightin' Joe from the start raised the crucial question on everyone's mind—

Is this good for the Jews?

The first reports were mixed:

It's a proud day when a Jew is picked to be a heartbeat from the presidency.

This will bring the anti-Semites out of the woodwork.

This proves that Jews have truly made it in America.

I Ruth Bader Ginsburg hadn't Stephen Breyer realized Alan Greenspan Jews Robert Rubin hadn't Dianne Feinstein made it Michael Eisner in Jason Alexander America.

Then the really in-depth analysis began:

He's too religious. His public moralizing is breaching the wall of church and state and doing the Christian Right's work.

His open religiosity will attract Christian Americans like no Democrat has in 25 years.

His Jewishness will inflame the anti-Semitism of African-Americans.
  Poised to ride into Washington on a donkey, Lieberman is an unlikely messiah as there ever was.

His affinity with the Bible will strike a chord with African-Americans.

It began to sound like a Jackie Mason routine. He's too Jewish. He's not Jewish enough but he's too religious. He's too conservative. He's too Orthodox. He's not Orthodox enough. I wouldn't mind him being so conservative if he were just Conservative and not Orthodox. Why did he have to marry a woman named Hadassah? Why couldn't her name be Jewish Women International? Why is his daughter Hana's name spelled with one 'n'? He's not funny enough. Why couldn't Gore have picked Alan King? Now that man is funny. How do we know he's even Jewish? Maybe we're worrying for nothing.

Worry never goes to waste. But in the weeks leading to the election, Lieberman will have to confront these questions and many others, some of them irrelevant. Still, we cannot lose sight of the essential question: In a divided Jewish community, can Joe Lieberman be the man to unite us by giving all of us something to disagree about?

It's taken hundreds of years of Jewish exile and powerlessness to evolve antennae sensitive enough to determine what is good for the Jews. Despite our relative security nowadays, it never hurts to exercise our antennae. The Lieberman nomination presents just such an opportunity.

So now that you're warmed up, consider which of the following suggests catastrophe for the Jews:

A) The winner of "Survivor" is an under-exercised, frequently unclothed gay man.

B) Bell Atlantic changes its name to Verizon.

C) Unemployment inches up, meaning the Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates.

D) Gwyneth Paltrow becomes a blond again.

E) All of the above.

You picked E, didn't you? Thought so. Pass the sweet and sour sauce.

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