Was Thomas Jefferson Jewish?
In an earlier post I made it clear that employment status, or even being an MOT, are not requirements to join Jews Without Jobs. In fact it was necessary to articulate this further in the video as there had been an outpouring of whining as to the stringent requirements of the organization.
So why do so many Jews worry about work, success, and getting ahead? Certainly Judaism is the one religion with a scriptural imperative to get literate, I mean I don’t know if the Big Guy actually said “My sons (or daughters) the doctors”. But it seems as if he wanted everyone at least to read. There was this Talmudic requirement….study study study….Maybe that’s why there aren’t many Jewish farmers. Farmers have to work too hard. That said, Petaluma, California, the former chicken capital of the world was originally populated by many European Jews plying their poultry prowess. But that’s a horse (or chicken) of a different color.
I don’t think our upward mobility goes as high up as the Big Kahuna. I think the real culprit (or hero, depending on your point of view) was Thomas Jefferson. Now I know it’s been reported that his Y chromosome has some interesting middle eastern uniqueness, but even without that just look at what he wrote. It’s got Jewish all over it.
When he claimed Americans’ pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right in our Declaration of Independence, Jefferson codified a belief system that lies at the basis of all that seems natural and right about being Jewish . But, from Jamestown to Levittown, and from Jonestown to the Great Meltdown of 2008, the pursuit of happiness has led to material riches and unfathomable disasters. Seldom has it led to happiness.
When our families headed over the water to this new land, they bought it hook line and dredel. No one bought into the American Dream more than the Jewish community. I mean my family did everything they could to “assimilate.” Their quest was a uniquely American one, but overlaid with an extra dollop of striving. Somehow they believed the suffering their parents had undergone would be mitigated by just getting that better job; just by moving up the wrung a notch or two. When those folks couldn’t get into the country club, they bought it or opened their own.
But what happens when that economic underpinning gets pulled out from under us, when the entire sense we have of “success” is predicated on the job we do and the money we make. Self worth and flexibility take a serious hit. In good times we excel; we’re the envy of the world (or at least our neighbors) but when times are tough we keep looking for economic well being as the salvation.
Now I’m not suggesting it’s time to go live under a tree and forget your overdue mortgage, your student loans or you cell phone bill. But given the realities of being unable to change your situation immediately, there must be some way other than getting another job of getting a handle on all this misery you’re going through.
Economic calamity strips away our options, but it presents some new ones if we just know where to look. It’s interesting that behavioral researchers are finding that happiness actually increases when options are limited. In his NY Times best seller, Sumbling Into Happiness, Dan Gilbert a psychologist at Harvard notes that when we’re confronted with too many choices and possibilities, we drive ourselves crazy with “what if’s.” But when options disappear, humans have the unique ability to create their own happiness.
Jefferson never said we were entitled to happiness itself and maybe that’s what Jewish humor is all about: coming to an acceptance of the incredible disparity between expectations and reality. The fact that this unique form of humor emerged though the woes and suffering of an entire people may just offer the solution for our reactions to today’s economic woes.
We need to keep trying, as the First Lady admonished the graduates at UC Merced, to “never give up.” But when happiness is just over the hill, we never quite get there. Sometimes it helps just to know this is the hand you’ve been dealt and to know the only thing you can really change is your attitude.