Tapestry-8 \\ Ye nah
Thinking about the right response to Ye and antisemitism.
1. What I’m thinking
I’ve had an interesting interaction with Judaism in the last few weeks. On the positive side, I’ve just arrived back to New York from Melbourne, where I helped officiate a wedding ceremony that was non-religious in nature, but had elements of Jewish traditions woven throughout. On the less positive side, the last few weeks have also seen escalating examples of antisemitic rhetoric and actions. It’s something I’ve written at length about before (see below), and as those pieces laid out, antisemitism isn’t something I’m willing to silently abide.
In preparation for the wedding in Melbourne, I researched the elements of a Jewish wedding that we wanted to include in the ceremony. I’m very familiar with these elements, but they’ve perhaps become somewhat routine at each successive Jewish wedding I attend. The ceremony was cool because it gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with these customs. But it was much cooler to see how the customs and their explanations resonated with non-Jewish attendees, those who hadn’t encountered a Jewish wedding’s use of the Seven Blessings or marital contracts, or understood the way the breaking of a glass embodies humility and reflection. In that moment I was really proud of what our tradition stands for, and was equally grateful that we had the opportunity to share it with those around us. But in the following days, that feeling of pride grated against the increasingly dumb bile being spouted by that fool named Ye (or the artist formerly known as Kanye West).
Without restating his incoherent rambling, he’s spent the last two weeks on Twitter and podcasts promoting classic antisemitic tropes regarding Jewish money and control. I think the man is an entertainer, musical savant, and has had some interesting things to say over the years. But his current ramblings, whether impacted by mental illness or not, are dangerous, as “Ye’s insinuations that a Jewish cabal controls the entertainment industry and wider economy are racking up lots of views, along with approving comments.” Ye has 18 million Instagram followers, 31 million Twitter followers, and a reach which I’m sure is several times bigger again. There are 15 million Jews in the entire world, and with his broad following, he is amplifying and normalizing the same conspiracy theories — to an audience that dwarfs the actual global population of Jewish people — that have led to the murder of Jews for millennium, including members of my own family 80 years ago. Ye’s tirades are just the latest in a frightening normalization of an “ancient poison” that’s increasingly clear in many aspects of American life:
In Brooklyn, where it’s now dangerous to be visibly Jewish. At U.C. Berkeley, where there are now nine major student groups that have banned any speaker who supports “the apartheid state of Israel”—in other words the vast majority of Jews who do not, in fact, want the Jewish state destroyed. (Under their rules, the current dean of the law school would be barred.) In Los Angeles last week, several billboards were defaced with a sign declaring, “Zionist Jews Control America”—Ye’s dark, twisted fantasy blaring in bold letters.
And add to that, the truck in the header image driving Hitler around Berkeley this week. The question for me is what to do in response. The first thing I want to do — something I’ve tried to do consistently over the last few years — is make clear to Jewish and non-Jewish friends that this is a problem; that this isn’t an issue of hurt feelings, as incidences of antisemitic violence and institutional exclusion of Jews continue grow. But the second thing I want to do, with the help of feelings of pride I felt over the course of the recent wedding, is resist the urge to stoop to the depths of a debate over what is and isn’t antisemitic, and instead celebrate the incredible cultural and ancestral inheritance it is to be Jewish.
I feel truly blessed to have grown up amongst the customs and traditions Judaism cultivates, and given our history, feel a deep sense of responsibility for ensuring they remain strong. To my fellow Jews, we have a rich and wonderful culture to share, so share it, especially with those of different backgrounds. Sabbath dinners on Friday nights are a rich opportunity to bring people into a tradition that forms a weekly backbone of Jewish identity. Passover Seder’s are a storytelling epic of redemption and hope, and a chance to share the morality that sits at the core of our practice. The Day of Atonement is a shining example of reflection and accountability. And Jewish weddings can be a wonderful representation of both the gravity and exuberance of Jewish celebrations.
Like those before us, we are responsible for securing a future for those that follow us, and calling out dangerous rhetoric and threats is part of this responsibility. But we are also responsible for celebrating our tradition, and must counter hate with both facts and pride for what is a remarkable blessing. Antisemitic tropes and their associated conspiracy theories have been a constant in our people’s histories, and perversely, have arguably been the furnace that’s helped forge such a strong and persistent sense of Jewish identity, peoplehood and community. So to my Jewish readers, push back on this bullshit like we always have, but importantly, open your homes and apartments and bring your friends into our world. And to my non-Jewish readers and friends, if you come along, we may just show you where we hide all the gold…
2. What I’m consuming
A. Previous Tapestry pieces on antisemitism
Yes I’m referencing myself. It’s a topic I’ve expressed strong views on before and want to resurface two pieces in particular here:
Read the T-shirts: A personal perspective on our present moment. A piece from January 2021 in the aftermath of the Capitol Riot, which saw a diverse group of rioters in part drawn together by an unsettling antisemitic agenda.
Unfashionable: Why anti-Semitism is back, and why it's not just a problem for Jews. A piece from June 2021 in the aftermath of a flare-up of violence in the Middle East.
My understanding is that many of you read Tapestry to explore topics together. These two pieces do that in reference to antisemitism, and hopefully make it clear why it’s not a topic anyone should ignore.
B. Richard Reeves On Struggling Men and Boys, on The Dishcast
Richard Reeves is the author of “On Struggling Men and Boys.” The book, as summarized by a recent review, posits that:
Something is rotten in the state of manhood. Guilty of the crime of patriarchy, it is also tainted by toxic masculinity, the belief that most social ills – everything from murder and rape to online abuse – stem from men being men. Not only are men seen as (and too often are) violent and dangerous, in advanced economies men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives.
This podcast is an interview with the author, where he delves into the topics discussed in the book, including: the education gap between boys and girls, the need for male teachers, the variation of different gender pay gaps, and many other interesting, provocative and important topics. I’ve bought the book and am looking forward to a read, as I’m asking myself what healthy masculinity looks like, and why it’s important. Hopefully this read, spurred on by the fascinating conversation of the podcast, can help me address that question, and help me come to a view as to what modeling healthy male and masculine behavior can mean.
3. What I’m writing
I’ve been playing around with re-writing the introduction of the book with the new emphasis on distance. Here’s a snippet:
The distance between us and the different parts of our respective worlds has changed. From our central point of perception, we touch and interact with many things, people and concepts in the world around us. The nature of these interactions used to be defined and limited by the physical distances involved between us and things we could access, people we could directly interact with, and concepts we could engage with.
The story of technology’s growth and impact over the preceding decades is really the story of the conquering of distance. We have made the world a smaller place physically and conceptually, and have reoriented our individual worlds to be the centers of our universe. We overcame the tyranny of distance with technology, capital and globalization. We became the masters of our domains, able to effortlessly procure products, attain experiences and project personas, however and whenever we desire. We see this clearly when looking at how our products are made, where we travel and what we eat. We have little regard for where the goods we use everyday came from, or who made them. When we set our sights on travel, we begin with the far flung and remote. We have even optimized our food and produce for traveling vast distances from farm to our plates, just so we can consume seasonal and exotic produce year-round, irrespective of origin or season. Distance is no longer a barrier to obtaining goods or experiences, and our worlds have consequently become a lot smaller.
While our control over the physical world is clear, our power within the virtual domain is more nuanced, but equally relevant to this discussion. We now express a large portion of our identity virtually and invest enormous time and energy cultivating our optimal digital avatars. We are able to effortlessly project – and receive others’ – online personas and everything they purport to communicate about values, lifestyle, career and aspirations. The benefits for communication and commerce are clear. But an important and less desirable outcome is that we’re constantly consumed by how our avatars are received and assessed by those in our dispersed network. Regardless of where we physically find ourselves, our mind wanders the digital expanse. We are preoccupied with what’s happening in the minds of people we cannot see, with no constraint on where those people may be or how “close” we are indeed to them. And as a result, our world can feel infinitely larger.
This week I’m trialing a new routine, which I hope will help me move through the remaining chapters of the book with a bit more purpose. Until then, I hope you enjoy these little excerpts.