An Annus Very Horribilis

THE HOUR

By Leonard Fein

Published December 29, 2006, issue of December 29, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Time magazine notwithstanding, I don’t believe I am “Man of the Year.” That is not an instance of false modesty, nor, for that matter, of true modesty.

Just so we understand each other, I don’t believe you are “Person of the Year” either. That is just not how it works. I mean, what’s the use of the competition if nobody can come in first?

If Time cannot bring itself to name a winner, why not focus on the losers, those who bogied their way through the year? There, there’s real competition.

Just to remind you. here’s a sampling of some of the news stories we’ve read (or might have) these last almost 12 months:

Let’s start with Rep. Virgil Goode, a Virginia Republican. He complains that newly elected Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and African American Muslim, plans to take the oath of office with his hand on the Quran. “When I raise my hand to take the oath on swearing-in day, I will have the Bible in my other hand…. [I]f American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.” And so forth.

Goode evidently forgets that the Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office and that the oath of office is an entirely secular ceremony. The speaker of the House administers the oath to the entire body, which stands with right hands raised and left hands dangling uselessly. Goode evidently did not realize that nonimmigrants, such as Ellison, can be Muslims.

Until Goode’s intemperate remarks, the word “xenophobia” was known only to Jews, who repeat the word several times during the Yom Kippur confessional, at least in synagogues that use the English alphabet of transgressions. It was a cozy word, and meeting it each year was almost like greeting an old friend. Now Goode has wrecked it for us.

But perhaps radio talk show entertainer Dennis Prager has retrieved it. Prager’s rant on Ellison, which actually preceded Goode’s, goes much further: He mutters that the act of taking the oath on the Quran “undermines American civilization” and “will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones,” leading ultimately to “the Islamicization of America.” “When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9/11.” Welcome home, xenophobia.

Next is Judith Regan, until recently O.J. Simpson’s putative publisher. The official reason for her dismissal? Antisemitism, as in calling Jews “rodents.” As in, says The New York Times — her lawyer denies it — the claim by two HarperCollins executives that Regan was reprimanded by her employers three years ago “after an editor complained that she had boasted of removing the scrolls from her neighbors’ mezuzahs and replacing them with torn pieces from dollar bills.” If she did it.

Now on to Rep. Robin Hayes, a North Carolina Republican who, in a recent speech to the Rotary Club in Concord, N.C., said: “Stability in Iraq ultimately depends on spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will toward men. Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the savior.” What a creative way to end sectarian violence in Iraq; the Shi’ites and the Sunnis would become brothers in arms overnight.

Though he hardly would qualify for this distinguished list, with Hanukkah just past I’ve been thinking of Tom Lehrer. Just to refresh your memory (it’s been awhile), it was Tom Lehrer who wrote, “I’m spending Hanukah in Santa Monica, wearing sandals, lighting candles by the sea,” which concluded with: “But in December there’s just one place for me. Amid the California flora I’ll be lighting my menorah, like a baby in its cradle I’ll be playing with my dreidel, spending Hanukah, in Santa Monica, by the sea!”

Now we need Lehrer’s delicious satiric talents once more. It turns out that Dr. Sigmund Freud had a — what shall we call it? a relationship with his sister-in-law. Oh yes, the idols have feet of clay, or lust not only in their hearts, or some such.

There in the 1898 guest book of the Schweizerhaus, an inn in the town of Maloja in the Swiss Alps, is Sigmund Freud’s own John Hancock. He’d come there with his wife’s sister; they slept or whatever in Room 11. And in the guestbook, in Freud’s own handwriting, it says: “Dr. Sigm. Freud u frau” — and wife. Und frau? And how!

Well, why not? I mean of course not, but being Freud doesn’t mean being immune to the temptations that have seduced many men into seducing many women. (And vice versa.) Sometimes, the superego gives way to the id. It did. Oh, what a song Tom Lehrer could write!

If 1991 was, as Queen Elizabeth said, an “annus horribilis,” then 2006 was an annus very horribilis. The aforementioned, plus Mel Gibson and Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff and Donald Trump and Miss Arizona and so forth and so on and on and on. In such a year, no one comes in first.

May 2007 be an annus mirabilis for you and yours and me and mine and all others of good will, too.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.