It has been a bad couple of weeks for my people.
No, I don’t mean journalists. I mean the Jews.
First, it was Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers slugger who was suspended for 65 games for violating Major League Baseball’s drug program. As the New Republic’s Marc Tracy put it, “Braun used banned performance-enhancing drugs, and then lied about it and impugned the character of his urine collector, and then lied about it some more and in ever more flamboyant manners.”
Technically, according to Jewish law, Braun, who grew up in Los Angeles, isn’t Jewish. His father is Jewish but his mother is Catholic, and the home run hitting outfielder has said that he did not have a bar mitzvah, didn’t observe Jewish holidays and didn’t attend religious services.
But he was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Hall of Fame, has identified himself as Jewish and was quoted in USA Today saying, “I'm extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids.''
Jewish and non-Jewish athletes have cheated before, and they will cheat again. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who isn’t a member of my tribe (or the Tribe), apparently is going to get an even longer suspension — something even Yankee fans are rooting for, since it will help his team get under the luxury tax next year. But Braun’s behavior, including denials, is a blow to those of us who took pride in his accomplishments.
But if Braun has proven to be a disappointment, what is there to say about Anthony Weiner? Are there any words to describe this guy? I’ve heard him described as “sick” and “narcissistic.” I’d add delusional and arrogant, though most of the words I associate with him are unprintable. He, too, is an embarrassment for the Jewish community.
It’s as if Weiner is an addict who can’t live a modest private life of humility. He needs attention. He needs people to vote for him. He needs power. Actually, he needs a punch in the nose.
“I won’t let political pundits influence my decisions,” Weiner said about calls for him to exit the race, apparently not understanding that his inner voice ought to be telling him to slither out of the public square.
Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, who is not Jewish, doesn’t deserve any of the praise or sympathy she has received for standing by her man. By “supporting” his ego trip and delusional goal, she has been an enabler, not part of the solution.
Obviously, Weiner isn’t the only embarrassing, insufferable, ego-driven politician, Jewish or otherwise. Rep. Mark Sanford, for example, isn’t Jewish. But it doesn’t help that the two other current politicians in the news for their past or current scandals — former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and current San Diego mayor Bob Filner — both are Jewish.
Neither one seems to feel the kind of shame and humiliation that both should. Having a handful of high-profile Jewish politicians in the news in such unflattering ways has to make many Jews uncomfortable.
Even in the area of business, things haven’t been great. While hedge fund founder Steven A. Cohen hasn’t been indicted, his firm SAC Capital Advisors has been indicted by a grand jury on fraud charges.
I always figured that every group has good and bad people, folks worth admiring and those who should be regarded with contempt. There are good rabbis and bad ones, good priests and bad ones, and, yes, good teenagers and bad ones.
I don’t know if other ethnic, religious or racial groups react the way most Jews do. Catholics certainly were outraged at the Church’s sexual abuse problems, but I don’t know if a major concern was how non-Catholics would view Catholics.
Do African-Americans worry about how people who aren’t black will view blacks when blacks commit crimes? Do Asians or Hispanics? I don’t know, but I haven’t read anything or heard anything that suggests that they do.
Many groups seem to adopt a defensive crouch, raising questions about the motives of critics who are not members of their demographic group, and it is certainly possible that Jews are overly sensitive to how non-Jews evaluate them.
Of course, some in the Jewish community immediately turn to the old anti-Semitism defense. And, to be sure, there still are people who are anti-Semitic. But I’ve always thought it a good thing that Jews are especially embarrassed by the misdeed of other Jews, fearing that the behavior sends a bad message to those outside the community.
Self-examination, humility and personal responsibility — not the self-absorption and arrogance demonstrated by Weiner, Spitzer, Filner and even Braun — are things worth encouraging. And that’s something that people in all communities should engage in.