Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chanukah Rights?!

What a shame. I really liked the melody. The performances are great; the images entertaining; the singers talented, clean cut, and obviously Orthodox. Overall it is a very cute video, humorous in parts, with pretty decent production values.

And yet the lyrics of this video were troubling.

Starting with the very title, ‘Chanukah Rights’ - it sends the wrong message. The idea being that Orthodox Jews have to fight for our rights to celebrate Chanukah.

There is no fight here.This is as far from the truth about America as can be. If anything more non Jews - and even Jews - are aware of this holiday than any other Jewish holiday. For obvious reasons. It coincides with the Christmas season. And there is more attention to Chanukah in the media than ever before. Remember the Maccabeats last year? They were featured on several national news programs where they performed their Chanukah song. As recently as last week Jay Leno had Matisyahu singing his new Chanukah song.

It is possible or perhaps even likely that they did not mean this as any sort of attack on America. Maybe they just meant that they would like to see Chanukah more prevalent in the atmosphere this time of year where everything is about Christmas.

But one cannot overlook the fact that they began the video with the image of what many perceive as an anti-Semitic ad for Vodka. It featured two pedigreed dogs – one with a Santa outfit and one with a Kipa. The ad said, “Christmas Quality. Hanukkah Pricing. Great Vodka. Priced Right”.

There were some Jewish organizations - like the ADL that saw this ad as anti-Semitic… as some sort negative stereotypical reference to Jews being cheap. I did not personally see it that way. I thought it actually made us look like smart shoppers in knowing a good value when we see it. I saw no real slight. Be that as it may, I can understand why some Jews might be upset by the ad. The Vodka company has apologized and pulled it. That should be the worst form of anti Semitism any Jew ever encounters.

Back to the song. At the beginning of the video the performers look up at the ad and shake their heads in dismay, and then proceeds to sing a song of protest.

Do they not realize how widely accepted the Jewish People are in America today?

Is there some stereotyping along the lines of those who saw the ad that way? Sure. Are there minuscule pockets of virulent anti-Semitism like Neo-Nazis and the KKK? Again, sure. I will even admit that there is some latent anti-Semitism in some small and isolated communities all over the country. But none of it rises to the level of any great concern. (I leave out the anti Israel Academic environment – as that is a subject of an entirely different nature and not the classic anti-Semitism that this song seems to make a semi-veiled reference to.)

Not only is there little to no anti-Semitic activity in America today, I would say the opposite is true. Judging by the media, entertainment industry, and the political support for Israel by politicians of both major parties… not to mention the current Evangelical love affair with the Jewish State and the Jewish people, I would say that Jews are perhaps the most admired minority in America. The fact that we stand out so much in a positive way and are less than 2% of the population says a lot about us... and about Americans.

What this message ends up doing is planting a seed of distrust in the Jewish people against our fellow non Jewish Americans - even though that may not be its intent. It implies that there is some sort of battle going on between Jews and Christians. That we must somehow fight for our right to observe Chanukah. How absurd that is! And how damaging such a message is. If American Jewry were to adopt this attitude we would forever be walking around with a chip on our shoulders and seeing as anti-Semitic every little thing that has even the slightest possibility of being interpreted in a negative way. We would suspect of every gesture of friendship as having an ulterior motive.

This is not Czarist Russia. This is America. And there is no better example of how the vast majority of Americans feel about us than what happened a few years ago in a small town in America. An entire neighborhood of Christians all went out, bought Menorahs and put them in their window. Why? To express love for and solidarity with their one Jewish neighbor. That neighbor had a brick thrown through his window by a group of hooligans who saw a menorah instead of a Christmas tree. There are a lot of stories like this.

A song like ‘Chanukah Rights’ completely ignores the truly great country that we live in - a country that was founded on the principles of religious tolerance. There is no other country like it in the world. This song thrusts a subtle and undeserved characterization of anti Semitism upon the American people. This is wrong and I protest it.

Update (12/15/11 8:32 AM CST)

Upon further review and reading the comments to this post, I have reconsidered my view. This video is apparently a parody of the very attitude I objected to. I still feel that the opening focus on that ad can mislead one down the road I took.

I am leaving the post up as I originally wrote it so that the commentary responding to it will make sense.