Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jews Kicking Ass

"This is the face of Jewish vengeance." -- Shoshana Dreyfus, Inglorious Basterds

The Holocaust killed sixty-seven percent of the Jews in Europe, including as much as ninety percent in Germany, the Baltic states, and Poland (3,000,000 of 3,300,000). According to an Israeli demographer, without the Holocaust there would be thirty-two million Jews in the world instead of the current thirteen million. Utter devastation. Everybody's heard the numbers, everybody's heard the mantra, "Never forget." It was a devastation of the sort that informs the cultural outlook of a group. That kind of stuff stays with you for a very, very long time.

Indeed, even though the Holocaust was a large step on the way to the founding of Israel, the hurt is still relatively fresh. And with good reason, of course -- there are still many survivors still living and even the first or second post-war generations feel the pain through their relatives or through their education. The Holocaust is an integral part of Jewish education. We learn history so we are not doomed to repeat it. We learn it so we can be ever vigilant, always the outsider in most societies. We learn it so that we can remember the hurt and appreciate what we have.

But at what point is being taught to hurt damaging? The Holocaust is a story of millions of Jewish victims. Victims, helpless to stop their murderous destiny. The books, the stories, the movies -- so many about how the Nazis preyed on the helpless, harmless Jews. Sixty years later, we're still being taught these lessons about a people who were incapable of standing up for themselves.

There is an outcry, though. Small at first, but I feel like it's gathering some steam. I've heard it from other people, but I can only speak for myself, especially on such a sensitive issue. I'm sick of hearing this victim stuff. I don't doubt that the Jews were helpless, but to focus on that teaches us a horrible lesson for our own lives. We should never forget, but we should also learn to take action to help ourselves in the future. It's time to get past the victimization and learn some new lessons about our ability to fight. It's time to focus on some stories of Jews kicking ass.

Leon Uris wrote Mila 18 about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; the story of the Bielskys, Jewish resistance fighters, was turned into the movie Defiance; and maybe the best Jews-kicking-ass story yet, Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, is in theaters now. I saw it today and it is extraordinarily well-done -- it is a Tarantino movie with his usual great camera-work and some Oscar-worthy acting by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as a Nazi detective. More than that though, given my mindset on the Holocaust, it has stuck with me emotionally. I want to write more below a spoilers alert, but I'll leave it to you to go see it and let me know what you think. Maybe I'll touch back on it another time after it's been out for a while.

Hopefully we'll see more of these types of books and films. Even more hopefully, the idea that Jews really can kick ass will be taught in Hebrew school. Israel certainly hasn't hurt that hope, so maybe it's closer to being a reality than I think. In the meantime, we have what I would refer to as the "Jewish revenge pornography" that Quentin Tarantino has delivered. Inglorious Basterds: funny, beautiful, emotional, my favorite movie of 2009, and maybe, after I see it one or two more times, the newest addition to my Top 100 list.

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