YICCHUS - (STATUS)
Another joke of the same genre circulated in the American Jewish community runs like this:
Although, "when I was a boy," says Earl Shorris, "I was told that the reason why there was no musical instruments in the synagogue was that we were mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem." [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p. 89]
Paul Cowan recalls the synagogue memories of his father (former CBS-TV president Lew Cowan):
Jewish student Silja Talvi complains about this Jewish tradition of charging steep admission to the most sacred of Jewish holy days (she blames "capitalism" for this custom, however, and rationalizes that the high prices are somehow useful in keeping "psychopathic anti-Semites" out of synagogues):
"It is not a stretch to surmise that many more established synagogues have
taken their cues from the capitalist economy that surrounds them, having
arrived at the point of valuing finances about kehilla [community]. For all
this kvetching about all the lost, unaffiliated Jews, how many among the
country's mainstream Jewish religious leadership have stopped to think
about dropping cost-prohibitive barriers to getting in through the
front door? ... In this regard, Jewish religious institutions would do well
to take inspiration from the Lubavitchers and Christian churches alike:
Free admission, fundraising drives and donation baskets have a certain
logical and friendly appeal, especially for those unaffiliated, lower-income
Jews who have reason to feel uneasy about spending close to $100
to be allowed a seat at a temple to spend the day or evening in prayer.
Non-Jews who have overheard me in conversation about the fees involved
in obtaining tickets for Jewish holiday services have expressed confusion
at the very existence of fee schedules and entrance tickets. The tickets, I
explain, are a necessary and common-sense precaution for Jewish
institutions that hope to make it more difficult for psychopathic anti-Semites
to walk through their doors. But why the high cost, they ask? For once,
I don't have a good answer." [TALVI, S., 2001]
Convert to Judaism Lydia Kukoffmn explains the Jewish idea of "paying to pray" like this:
"I remember how put off I was at the thought of tickets for religious services.
It was so foreign to my way of thinking. Over the years, however, I have come
to realize that, although I may still resist the idea of paying to pray, it is the one
time of the year when the temple is able to assure its continuity, and thereby
its potential for service to its members." [KUKOFF, L., 1981, p. 84-65]
There are even Jewish jokes about such materialism in the synagogue:
"It is Yom Kippur. A man comes to the synagogue in a state of obvious
excitement. The usher is at the door looking at admission tickets. As the
man tries to walk in, the usher stops him: 'Let's see your ticket.'
'I don't have a ticket. I just want to see my brother, Abe Teitelbaum.
I have an important message for him.'
'A likely story. There's always someone like you, trying to sneak in
in for the High Holy Day services. Forget it, friend. Try somewhere
'Honest. I swear to you. I have to tell my brother something. You'll
see. I'll only be a minute.'
The usher gave him a long look. 'All right,' he says, 'I'll give you the
benefit of the doubt. You can go in. But don't let me catch you praying!"
[SILBIGER, S., 2000, p. 44]
"Once, when I was a boy, my father told me that he recalled the Yom Kippurs
he went to synagogue and watched Jake Cohen [Lew's father] weep and beat
his breast to atone for his sins. Then, after services, Lou would walk home
with his parents and the rest of the huge Cohen clan and listen, appalled,
as they fought over status and money; as they gossiped cruelly about siblings
who weren't there. That wasn't religion, my father would tell me angrily. That
was hypocrisy." [COWAN, P., 1982, p. 6]
In 1982, Earl Shorris recalled his childhood memories of the kinds of men who headed his synagogue:
"We arrived at the synagogue as a family, three generations led by my grandfather
... My grandfather spoke to his friend Eddie -- Big Eddie, he called him. They
spoke as members of the board of directors of the synagogue, important men,
big donors. My grandfather earned his money from the labor of Italian and Polish
women who sewed clothing in his factories. Big Eddie sold cheap wine and whiskey
to the poor of the town. We did not approve of Big Eddie. His diamond ring and
his fat cigar offended us ... [H]is business offended us. There were fights in front
of his store, stabbings, more than one killing. There were rumors about him.
Some people said he dealt with criminals. It as said that he gave so much to
the synagogue to atone for the way he made his money ... He traded donations
for a position as a director of the synagogue. My grandfather said Eddie wanted
to be president, that he was willing to donate a community center if the directors
would elect him president .... [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p. 3-4] [When Big Eddie
finally strode up at the synagogue to be so honored, "the man our community
commended to God" (p.7)] the color of his flesh was as rich and vulgar as his
suit. [Grandfather,] you were so small, so pale beside him. Jerusalem was
conquered, the Temple was destroyed, and there was no prophet in all of Israel.
After the service I asked my father why it had happened. Money, was all he
said. Sometimes you have to do these things, my grandfather added. A
building doesn't come cheap." [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p.7]
"In Germany," notes Joachim Prinz,
"forty Marrano ['secret' Jewish] families paticipated in founding the Bank of Hamburg
in 1619, and by the middle of that century they were accused of having too
luxurious a life style, as evidenced by their palatial homes and their ostentatious
funerals and weddings ... Some of the finest homes in Amsterdam belonged to
newly arrived Marranos." [PRINZ, J., 1973, p. 127]
Walter Rathenau, the first Jewish foreign minister of Germany, noted (in 1897) Jewish ostentatious display in Germany, where he spotted "the curious vision of a completely alien tribe of people, conspicuously overdressed, of mobile and hot-blooded gesture. An Asiatic horde here on the sands of Brandenburg!" [GRUNFELD, F., 1996, p.. 203]
"The Jew party [was] appalling," [future First Lady] Eleanor [Roosevelt] had written her mother-in-law in 1918 after an evening with [influential Jewish mogul/politician] Bernard Baruch, "I never wish to hear money, jewels or sables mentioned again." [GOODWIN, D.K., 1995, p. 102]
The results of this invasion into a once predomnantly WASP enclave is noted by Jewish author Ronald Kessler whohas written an entire book about Palm Beach, highlighting what he describes as "anti-Semitism": "I tried to lean over backwards not to probe too deeply into anti-Semitism on the island. But I soon learned that I would be missing a big chunk of the story [of Palm Beach] if I skirted a subject that made me uncomfortable professionally and that was personally painful." [KESSLER, R., 1999, p. 68] Symbolic perhaps of the changing elite guard, is the fact that The Social Index Directory, an elitiest listing of Palm Beach society people, "is now owned by the family of Robert Gordon, who is Jewish." [KESSLER, R., 1999, p. 9] Although Jews have their own exclusive country club in Palm Beach (the Palm Beach Country Club), with 350 members, Kessler assails the non-Jewish community, complaining that "the [WASP] aristocrats are still in charge [of Palm Beach], the upper crust intact, the future of WASPdom secure." [KESSLER, R., 1999, p. 52]
In 1998 Jewish mogul Ira Rennert made national news and came under widespread public attack for his plans to build the largest -- and most ostentatious -- home in America on New York's Long Island. His 63-acre compound would include three separate buildings, 29 bedrooms, 39 bathrooms, two bowling alleys, a 164-seat cinema, 17 acres of manicured garden, and parking for 200 cars. The Washington Post likened it all to the "architecture of egoism." [HARDEN, p. A1] Rennert, also noted the [London)Daily Telegraph, "is an enthusiastic Zionist and financial backer of Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has led to [neighbor] fears [that Rennert's new home is really] a school or a conference center." [SAPSTED, p. B2]
How about the posh Hamptons enclave for the super-rich on Long Island, New York? "The placement of the Jewish Community Center so prominently at the entrance to the town," notes Steven Gaines,
"gave [Jewish real estate baron Evan] Frankel great satisfaction over the years
and had its desired effect, particularly during the Jewish High Holidays, when
Woods Lane was line end to end with the luxury cars of those attending
services. One year, a local man was provoked to count the number of
German-made cars parked in front of the synagogue and remark in an
indignant letter to the East Hampton Star that the Jews must have forgotten
Germans' war crimes." [GAINES, S., 1998, p. 216]
Another Jewish home builder on Long Island, Barry Trupin also engendered local wrath for his reconstruction of the Chestertown House. "What irked everyone," notes Steven Gaines," was the arrogance of it all -- not just to tamper with a famous old house, but to tamper with it so badly ... The house was indeed a grotesque creation, part faux-Normandy castle, part Disneyland on LSD. It was the largest private renovation project ever undertaken in New York State." [GAINES, S., 1998, p. 220-221] Plans for the home included a personal zoo, a helicopter landing pad, and "an indoor barrier reef ... a vast sunken acquarium ... with a twenty-foot waterfall cascading down chunks of rock imported from Vermont, into a pool in which guests could not only swim but skin-dive, with hidden underwater air nozzles. The reef was stocked with 500 species, including lobster, parrot fish, sea anemones, grouper, and octopus." [GAINES, S., 1998, p. 232]
Another such Jewish mogul is David Saperstein, the largest stockholder in America's largest radio network, Westwood One. "He's building a much-touted mansion in an exclusive neighborhood near Beverly Hills," noted Mother Jones magazine in 2001, "the 45,000-square-foot extravagance, dubbed the 'Fleur de Lys,' will include a ballroom to host dinner parties of 250, according to the Los Angles Times." [MOTHER JONES, 5-3-01] [Note also, elsewhere in this work, immigrant Jewish Iranian tendencies to mansionize existing homes, Norman Lear's unique mansion, and Hollywood producer Aaron Spelling's comparably spectacular, and newsworthy, home ostentation in Los Angeles].
Chaim Bermant notes the style of Hollywood's old guard Jewish movie moguls:
"If there was little intrinsically Jewish in the output of the Hollywood tycoons,
there was something particularly Jewish in their style. The elder Selznick
once told his son David (producer of Gone With the Wind): 'Live expensively!
Throw it around! Give it away! Always remember to live beyond your means.
It gives a man confidence.' This was not, in fact, far from the principles on
which Hollywood operated, where the very cost of a film -- 'this multi-
million dollar epic' -- was often used by the publicity department as a
commendation." [BERMANT, C., 1977, p. 98]
Here's an observation by Jonathan Rieder in his study about Italians and Jews in a section of Brooklyn:
"Two Italian women with many Jewish friends decried the way the ostentatious
show of status debased the meaning of genuine tradition: 'These fancy weddings
and bar mitzvahs are disgusting,' they complained. 'None of that has anything
to do with tradition. It's better to spend the money and go to Israel. It's showing
off, keeping up with the Jonses. There's a "Can you top this?" attitude. It's all
show." [REISER, J., 1985, p. 30]
Famous Jewish prostitute Xaviera Hollander notes one of her most memorable Jewish lovers:
"Take the case of the obscenely rich young investment banker with whom I
had formed what is politely termed a relationship. I had arranged romantic
music, shimmering candlelight, an exquisite meal and I was wearing the most
seductive perfume. Casanova Cohen, the ardent lover, rushed into bed.
He gave me a perfunctory kiss and then got down to business. Literally.
He treated me to a resume of his day's dealings and then demonstrated his
refinement by cataloguing his cherished possessions from Rolex to Rolls
Royce. I think that he expected me to be overawed and could not comprehend
that I found him boring, intellectually, not physically." [HOLLANDER, X., 2000,
Stephen Bloom notes what happened when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews bought a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, in 1987, and soon began to make their influence felt in the town:
"Generally, newcomers are eager to assimilate to a new culture. That's why
they came in the first place. But instead of arriving at the lowest rung of the
economic ladder, these Jews had arrived already on top. The Jews who
settled in Postville came from cities, and many brought with them large sums
of money ... Sholom Rubashkin built an enormous house on Wilson Street
in an area of Postville thta the locals quickly labeled 'Kosher Hill.' Iowans
were loathe to show such material wealth. 'That Rubashkin home is a palace,'
Alicia [one of the non-Jewish local people] said, and no one denied it."
[BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 50]
Stephen Bloom notes the ultra-Orthodox community of Postville, Iowa, and its raucous religious effect on the tranquil town:
"An hour must have passed, and then, as though on cue, a great roar of voices
erupted from within the shul. The worship had ended and the men broke into
raucous song. These liturgical melodies were booming and boisterous, each
lasting twenty to thirty minutes. Soon, the singing was accomanied by banging.
The men were pounding the metal tables with fists. They were stamping the
shul's wooden floor with the heels of their shoes and boots. The collective sound
signaled to me that they must have been drunk .. I was eavesdropping on some
sort of loud, inebriated religious reverie ... The sounds shooting out from the
shul's windows and front door were deafening on this otherwise serene Iowa
night." [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 36]
He also notes, once he is actualy among these worshipers, that they "seemed drowned in showmanship -- who could wail loudest, bow farthest without falling over, read the longest Hebrew passage fastest and without taking a breath." [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 203] They also get drunk as part of their relgious activity: This was an old fashioned chugging contest. Tast after toast followed ... [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 206] "Rapturous song, powerful drink, and overwhelming body heat was the Holy Communion of these believers. Everything about the day was intense and bodily: the dirty mikveh [communal bath], drinking, singing, the body odor, the pounding of fists and feet." [BLOOM, S., 2001, p. 207]