Marc Tracy is the co-editor of the new book “Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame.” His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
In “Operation Shylock,” Philip Roth wrote a passage that, had he not written it, we would have needed to invent:
The radio was playing ‘Easter Parade’ and I thought, But this is Jewish genius on a par with the Ten Commandments. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then He gave to Irving Berlin ‘Easter Parade’ and ‘White Christmas.’ The two holidays that celebrate the divinity of Christ — the divinity that’s the very heart of the Jewish rejection of Christianity — and what does Irving Berlin brilliantly do? He de-Christs them both! Easter he turns into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow.
It is old hat to point out that the story of America is of the melting pot, and that the tension is between the assimilators and those who cling to their old identities. But as Roth describes above, the Jewish story in America has represented a distinctive twist on that. Yes, there has been plenty of overcompensating gestures toward Americanness, as all of those Jewish babies named Norman, Lionel, and indeed Irving testify. But just as frequently, and more prominently, Jews have stepped in and changed the culture — have moved the mountain to themselves rather than moving to the mountain — and did so in such exciting and obviously appealing ways that everyone else followed their lead.