Sermon from Friday night Ma'ariv service, 10/13/2017
My wife and I have been big fans of Bill Maher, his show on HBO, “Real Time”. In fact, we saw him live last summer. I don’t always agree with what he says or how he interacts with some of his guests (or vice versa),but I like the uncensored and unabrogated discussion. Every now and then he goes a little too far, but I’ve always thought that was the price for free speech.
Since his show airs on Friday nights, we’ve been recording the shows and watching them later. Such was the case with the show that aired on October 29. This was, of course, Yom Kippur. There was a lot going on that weekend, so it’d be a few days before we got to catch up.
It started out like any of his other shows. Towards the end of the show, he said he was going to do the thing that CSI shows and cops do. He revealed a board of pictures of people associated with the current administration and red threads connecting various people. He then proceeded to describe each person’s role in the latest scandal. As he identified each particular player, he used three different terms, reminiscent of crime nicknames. He came to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and an informal advisor, he identified him as “Jared The Jew Kushner”.
I was aghast. He was using our heritage as an insult. But there was more to it, in my mind.
A number of months ago, Mr. Maher, in an end of the show commentary, referred to himself as the “house ni…”. We can’t even say the word. Not that any of us would want to, but he was making a point using what has become a sort of slang; many of us have heard it used.
People went off the rails. He was criticized and castigated all across the media, despite the fact that I believe he used that term in front of a person of African descent and no one batted an eyelash at the time. The following week he invited notable black people on his show so that he could apologize for his insensitivity and reiterate that he is a champion for civil rights.
Not so here. Apparently, Jews or people of Jewish descent, don’t seem to be entitled to the same respect. Not a word from the media anywhere (check the internet—I have).
There are some points that bother me. First of all, this was on the same day as Yom Kippur, our most holy day when we are taking stock of ourselves and working on becoming better people. The second is that, to reiterate, not a word from anyone. This is disappointing as he’s had lots of prominent Jewish people on his show: Al Franken, Barney Frank, Rob Reiner, Barbara Boxer, and just last week, the week after the gaff, Billy Chrystal. Oh, and Bernie Sanders. Not a peep from any of them. Last week he described Cornel West—outspoken in his denigration of Israel as oppressing the Palestinians—as his “good friend”.
But isn’t this par for the course? We Jews don’t seem to stand up for ourselves unless it’s do-or-die. The Torah warned us, beware lest you acquire wealth and forget your commandments. It seems like we’ve integrated so much into society, being Jewish is an occupational hazard, a minor inconvenience.
Contrast this to the Middle Ages. An article I read reiterated something I—and probably a lot of other Jewish leaders and clergy—considered, that when the King’s men are patrolling the streets looking for errant Jews committing the heinous crime of observing our religion, we’re down in semi-dark basement, rubbing the name “Haman” off the souls of our shoes rather than sounding a grogger lest we be discovered and put to death. When we’re free to do what we want, who cares?
Now I get it, Bill Maher is a political satirist. He pokes fun at people in government to make a point. He has to come up with jokes that are appropriate to their positions, situation and character, many times as he sees it. And he has to appeal to his audience. Jared Kushner is an Orthodox Jew and it’s been proclaimed in the media many times to the point that Mr. Maher would rationalize satire. In fact, it’s probably true that there are more Jewish people serving in the current administration than any other administration in the history of our country. And this monocle is something that would definitely set Mr. Kushner apart.
Some might also contend that Bill Maher is in fact Jewish himself by virtue of being born of a Jewish mother. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. Mr. Maher’s mother has never practiced Judaism as an adult. Bill Maher has never practiced Judaism and is a self-proclaimed atheist, referring to the Torah as “The Book of Jewish Fairy Tales”. That is his opinion; I obviously vehemently disagree with him, but again, I respect his opinion.
I am troubled by this double standard. I admire people of African descent for standing up for themselves. Some may argue in the current events that they’ve gone too far. Possibly. But I contrast that with us, that we don’t go far enough and sometimes, like now, we don’t go at all.
Some may criticize me for being too sensitive. I’m just worried that if we don’t address this, the next time it will be more brutal. I feel that now, more than ever, we HAVE to be diligent. There are Nazis marching openly in the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Now this. We said it could never happen here in the US. They said it could. They were right.
Let’s nip this in the bud before it gets worse and we’re back to observing our religion in dimly-lit basements.